Recently, I asked a group of employees of a major AEC firm to name the most important person in their organization. After an awkward silence, I answered for them. “The most important person in your firm? You!”—the firm's HR staff.
It's no exaggeration to say that the future of virtually every AEC firm in the country hangs on whether they can recruit qualified people. There's hardly a firm that isn't scrambling to find breathing bodies. Nonresidential construction is blessed with too much work for the available supply of design and construction professionals, and this imbalance is not going to ease up anytime soon.
That's why your firm's human resources people are, or should be, at the top of your firm's totem pole. If HR can't find qualified professionals, your firm is going to be stuck in neutral. However, HR folks can't solve the problem on their own. They need help, and one important recruitment resource is vastly underused by most employers—your current employees. They can be a huge source of referrals, if you play it right. Here's how:
There's a sociologist at Stanford named Mark Granovetter who wrote a seminal paper in the American Journal of Sociology (May 1973) entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties,” in which he discussed how people get jobs. Granovetter argued that by extending their job search beyond those with whom they had “strong” ties—family, close friends—to people with whom they had “weak ties”—acquaintances, distant business friends—job seekers could improve their chances of finding out about openings in the “hidden” job market.
Granovetter also posited that roughly one in five workers are “reluctant maidens.” They're good workers, grinding away at their jobs for years. They seem happy, but given a better offer, they might jump ship—if they only knew about that golden opportunity.
Now, turn “weak ties” around. No matter how big your firm, you have employees, and they have long-lost friends, acquaintances, classmates, distant relatives, and so on. Each of those “weak ties” has a similarly expansive social network. Collectively, these “weak” networks embrace hundreds, maybe thousands, of contact points. And they have to-kill-for information: Andrea in Accounting's great-niece's college roommate, an MArch from Yale, hates her new boss and would love to quit for greener pastures. Malachy in IT plays softball with a guy whose sister, a top-notch construction manager, just got divorced and wants to leave Hoboken. You get the idea.
Your HR department could set up a system to have every employee—not just management—submit contact information on their “weak ties.” Then send out an eye-catching brochure about your firm and its great employment opportunities, with a personal letter from the CEO soliciting referrals. Offer the referring “link” a cash reward if the person referred gets hired. Your employee should also be rewarded.
This may truly be one case where being “weak” may make you “strong.”