“Hope is not a business strategy,” said a resolute Markham McKnight, president of BancorpSouth Insurance Services, “and ‘I met a guy’ is not a recruitment strategy.” 

Those words kicked off my first day at BXSI and set the stage for a deeper dive into an industry issue that’s challenged me for most of my career, including my 10 years at The Council: how to successfully source, recruit and retain top insurance talent.

“I met a guy,” as in “I met a guy at the golf club,” or at church, or through any other method or venue, is a condensed version of what many firms consider their best source of producer and other talent: referrals. Referrals from employees, clients, family members and an endless array of other contacts.

While I’m in complete agreement that a referral is a great source of job candidates, for some positions maybe even the best, a referral can also create a hotbed of potential problems. Favoritism, cronyism, nepotism and all other manner of “ism” could play a role in a casual referral, and those “isms” don’t always translate into a candidate’s success on the job.

So how does a firm efficiently tap into the valuable but almost limitless web of referrals, sort these numbers to a manageable group of interview candidates, select the best fit, and all the while preserve the relationship with the referrer? The latter issue—preserving the relationship when a referral doesn’t pan out—has kept many agencies from implementing processes that might screen out, for example, an important client’s referral and cause a feared degree of pain for the employee and possibly for the agency. Unfortunately, by avoiding that type of pain, you end up with a different pain in the form of morale issues, interpersonal conflicts and financial impact when employees don’t work out and you have to replace them.

One solution found by BXSI and many other firms in our industry is to develop and implement a standardized, objective, results-oriented recruitment process. Many could argue that an initiative such as this takes a lot of time and effort. It might take people away from their regular duties. It might even require hiring a consultant. I would argue that without a sound process you are wasting that same time and effort, taking people away from their duties to meet and greet with no positive end result, and that you might have to do this all over again if the candidate, now the new hire, doesn’t work out.
If you decide to invest up front for a long-term benefit, there are at least three key elements that must be considered.

First, you must have a process. A start to finish, detailed process that allows for some deviation and flexibility. One that is easy to standardize. That is scalable. That can be written down like a roadmap going from Point A (personnel requisition?) to Point Z (qualified hire). The process must be easy to understand and follow, and easy to implement without turning anyone’s world upside down. It may even include post-hire processes to ensure a streamlined, fluid transition from personnel requisition through onboarding.

Second, you must identify the individual or group that will manage the process. These people are not the hiring managers or necessarily HR folks. They are employees, with aptitude, whom you will train. They will work with the hiring manager from start to finish. They will do the posting, screening, testing and initial interviews. Their primary goal is to present top candidates to the hiring manager for consideration and decision-making. As an added bonus, hiring managers, moved further up the food chain, are let off the hook. They can say to a client who refers a candidate, “Thanks, Joe. I will personally hand-deliver this résumé to the recruiter with my recommendation. But I have to level with you: It’s a tough process that every candidate has to go through, so I can’t make any promises.”

Third, monitor the results. A process is only as good as its implementation, execution and outcome. Keep track of post-implementation new hires in terms of success (meeting defined goals), cultural match (philosophy and values), workforce fit (interpersonal and team), and retention. Over time you’ll be able to identify trends, find holes in the process that need correction, and gain further support for the process as the results become apparent.

Finding, hiring and retaining top talent is the name of the most important game in our industry. Don’t rely on a flawed and inconsistent “I met a guy” approach to sourcing and hiring. It’s a losing “strategy.” Instead, make an investment in your firm’s future. Develop an efficient and effective recruitment process, communicate it, implement it, and measure it. That’s what will get you to the winner’s circle.