The Change Code

What’s the one thing that drives employees crazy? Adoption new technology? No. Not enough PTO? Probably, but no. The biggest thing? Change.

Seriously, it’s the top contender for the most disliked thing a company can do to its employees. I know, some claim they’re all about change—love it, embrace it, advocate for it. But let’s get real. Those folks who shout about embracing change? They’re the same ones devastated when their favorite TV show gets the boot. Truth is, most people hate change. They like things steady—the same morning coffee routine, knowing their familiar doctor is on their insurance plan, the predictable paycheck schedule. That’s their jam.

So, here’s the secret to keeping your employees around.

Your folks don’t secretly plot their escape route. Starting a new job, dealing with a new boss, different location? It’s a headache! They actually want to stick with you. But, and this is a big but, they don’t want their job or the company to become unbearable. That’s where the problem lies: Change is bound to happen, but it’s also what they can’t stand.

How do you navigate this without causing an uproar?

Simple: Communication is key. Many HR departments tend to blow small changes out of proportion by drowning everyone in unnecessary info. New payroll system? Cue the panic. Checks arrive on different Fridays now! The usual reaction? Form a committee, plaster posters, rewrite policies, and talk about it endlessly for months. But hold on.

What’s needed is straightforward talk. At all times. Hey team, our payroll’s getting an upgrade. Less errors, more savings for the company. Checks will come on different Fridays. Get ready, and if you need help, your supervisor’s there for you. Change kicks in the next pay cycle. Done!

Here’s the thing: People hate change. So, let’s not make a big fuss over small changes! Only communicate the big stuff. When major changes happen less often, it won’t feel like a constant whirlwind. Your employees WANT to stick around. They HATE change. Stop bombarding them with unnecessary upheaval just to look busy.

Employee retention? Not rocket science. Because, deep down, your employees would rather stay put.

The Unbeatable Top Email Subject Lines for Recruiting

This holiday season, I’m stepping away from my usual writing to bring you some of the top-read posts from 2023. Enjoy!

What Email Subject Lines are Getting the Best Candidate Response?

Recruiters love to talk email subject lines! I think I could run my response data every month, and it would easily be my most-read post each month. It’s part of the secret sauce of talent acquisition, especially as ultra-low unemployment continues to make it very difficult for recruiters to get responses for candidates.

G*d Dammit, Tim! Just give us the secret magic subject lines so I can use them!

See? It’s like giving out that first hit for free! You give them a little taste, get them addicted, and now they can’t live without it. You start feeling itchy, so I’ve heard, and you can’t focus on anything but those free guaranteed-to-work subject lines!

Calm down. I got you, baby.

Try these on for size:

  1. “We need to talk” – Like any good subject line, this comes from a place of personal psychology. Usually, when you see this in a message, it’s not a positive thing. Most likely, you’re in trouble, or you’re getting broken up with. Which, like any good subject line, is why this is so good. This gets extremely high open rates because it triggers something personal in people.
  2. <Just Your Last Name> – It still works as well as any subject line I’ve tested over the years. I use this one more than any other subject line in my toolbox, and 60% of the time. It works every time! This works because no one does it, so the person does not view it as spam.
  3. <A question that speaks to someone’s expertise> – This works because most of us have this psychology of wanting to help others and show off all at the same time. “Hold my beer. I need to show this person how smart I am, and make myself feel good that I help others…” A good example of this might be something like: “Tim, Can you help me with a recruiting issue I’m having?”
  4. <Salary Data Subject Line, Personalized> – Why does someone change jobs? Nope. You’re mistaken. It has very little to do with their manager. It’s most likely someone else has shown them they can make more money by making this change. At least, that’s what all “the new” data is showing! “Software Engineers are getting 28% salary increases by making this change.” “A Technical Recruiter in the ATL is making $140K.”
  5. <Anything specifically personalized to the receiver> – If you take 13 seconds to look at the resume or profile of a person you’re emailing, you can get something personal from that information to use. School mascots for men work well because you’re gambling that person is a sports fan of the school they graduated from. Or maybe you saw a post they like some certain professional team. “Go Green!” because I’m a Michigan State fan would get me to open that email every time.

Honestly, most of these subject lines work simply because they just don’t suck. 90% of recruiters still use lame subject lines like “I’ve got a great opportunity I would like to discuss with you” <vomit face emoji>! Actually, the vomit-face emoji alone in your subject would be a great subject line to test!

Try these out and let me know how they work.

Also, if you’ve found one that works great, help a brother out and share it in the comments below!

Posted on  by Tim Sackett

Are you chasing shadows?

Ever heard of the “decline effect”? It’s this quirky psychological phenomenon where the more you try to improve something, the more it starts to decline. That’s what’s happening with Employee Engagement. You can always blame the economy or limited options for employees, but that’s not the full story. There’s a deeper reason behind the decline.

Let’s talk about the obsession with Employee Engagement in the last decade. HR departments went all-in, focusing solely on boosting engagement. We measured and implemented programs. We celebrated the uptick in scores. But then, despite our relentless efforts to push those scores higher, they started dropping again. Blaming managers, employees, or vendors didn’t solve it either.

It’s like buying a house. The first one was perfect. Then came the bigger houses with more space, more to handle, and more problems. Happiness didn’t grow with the size.

We’ve thrown everything into making employees happy—new perks, freebies, and fixes. But there’s a limit. Employees were engaged before this frenzy. Seeking more doesn’t always lead to better results; sometimes, it leads to worse outcomes.

Employee Engagement isn’t about more—it’s about balance. Don’t fall into the trap of endlessly chasing more. It’s a dead-end road that gives you less and less over time. Find a sustainable approach to engagement that doesn’t exhaust your efforts.

A Holiday Wishlist for HR Pros

As the holiday season approaches, let’s get into the gifts that HR professionals across the board are actually asking for this Christmas. And no, it’s not just about world peace or the wishful return of a discontinued Starbucks flavor—let’s get real about what the HR world truly desires.

Among the top items on this list are new HR AI Tools. Imagine getting our hands on some AI Tools that could turn us into HR superheroes, making us 10 times more efficient! It’s like getting a power-up in a video game, but for real-life HR adventures in 2024.

Another contender for the ultimate gift? The ability to hire more staff. It’s not only about filling positions but about alleviating the burden on overworked teams and managers. And a gift that keeps on giving to the candidates hired!

Then there’s the gift of a revamped employment brand. Imagine having the appeal of companies like Google, Marriott, and Apple. Being in a workplace that has that kind of pull seems amazing. Even though it’s not all glitz and glam, having a standout brand makes you daydream about being part of that crew.

Of course, there’s also the quest for top-tier talent. This isn’t merely a single wrapped present but more of an ongoing pursuit. Securing the cream of the crop is the ultimate aim and promises to make an HR professional’s life exponentially easier.

Working in HR is like having a secret Santa superpower. With a sprinkle of time, a dash of influence, a pinch of strategy, and a dollop of luck, we wield the magic to grant these wish-list items to our organizations. It’s like being the HR wizards making holiday miracles happen all year round!

What’s your ultimate gift for HR this holiday season?

Maximizing Employee Referrals: The Key to Hiring Success

Referral hires often stand out as the cream of the crop in any company’s recruitment efforts. It’s a simple equation:

Good Employee + wanting to stay a good employee + employee’s reputation = usually good people they recommend to HR/Recruiting to go after and hire

I’m like Einstein when it comes to HR math! However, here’s the challenge: despite this equation, many companies struggle to receive enough referrals. We’ve analyzed our referral process, fine-tuned collateral materials, and even leveraged technology to automate referrals. Yet, the numbers remain short of our expectations and needs.

There’s a straightforward but often overlooked aspect: giving employees explicit permission to share job openings within their personal and professional networks every time a referral is needed for a specific position.

HR excels in roll-outs—we’re masters at initiating programs. However, where we often stumble is in the continuity of these programs post-roll-out. Brutal truth, but true.

So, how can you ramp up your referral game?

  1. Establish a program (surprisingly, not all companies have one).
  2. When in need of a referral, ask for it every single time. Assuming that employees will naturally share openings isn’t always effective.
  3. Specifically “give permission” to employees to share job openings on their social networks—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok you name it!

BEST PRACTICE TIP: Create departmental email groups. When a relevant position opens up, send an email to the group with standard referral language and an easily shareable hyperlink along with clear instructions.

Granting “permission” triggers action—it’s a psychological thing, and it works wonders. Think about it, like you were a 5 year old.  Your parents tell you, you can’t ride your Green Machine in the street.  Then, one day, Mom is out getting her nails done and your Dad sees you doing circles in the driveway on that Green Machine and he goes “Hey, why don’t you take that into the street?!”  What do you do?  You immediately take that bad boy for a ride in the street! Dad “gave you permission” and you ran with it!

Referrals aren’t quite the same, but it’s surprising how some employees question whether they’re allowed to share job postings with friends and family. Don’t assume—they might surprise you.

So, empower your employees. Give your employees permission to get you some referrals! Or what if you allowed anyone in your company to hire?

Welcome to the age of average

It seems like I keep having these Matrix-like experiences where I see the same thing repeatedly. The world has turned into a meme of an average housewife wearing their Lululemon crossbody fanny pack, Veja sneakers, or Ons (you pick), carrying your Stanley thermo cup, and driving your white SUV that looks like every other SUV.

We can make fun of this image because of how accurate it is. But really, we’ve all turned into this. My buddy KD makes fun of me for my propensity to buy shoes and clothes targeted to me on Instagram before he has the chance to buy them. IG knows if they target me, I’ll buy, and share with KD, who will cherry-pick the best buys after I try them!

If you look at sites like Pinterest, every kitchen looks the same. White cabinets, barn wood floors, and stainless steel appliances. The bedrooms all look the same. The bathrooms all look the same. Our houses, our vehicles, and our clothes all look the same. We have this desire to look like everyone else in every aspect of our lives. I’m no different.

This also extends to our professional lives.

I’ve been saying this for years, but employment branding professionals and agencies are basically just reproducing more of the same. There is very little differentiation from one employment brand to the next. Oh wait, you mean you are also an employer of choice?! How can that be!? You have great benefits, care about your employees, and are building an inclusive culture that values differences! As long as those differences match our differences, making us all the same.

I used to think the only unique employment brands were unicorn companies (Google, Tesla, etc.), but even those brands are all the same now.

We basically offer the same benefits, same work environment, same compensation, and same jobs. The only thing that actually might be unique is some micro-cultures hidden within the broader corporate culture, which is basically the same as almost every other culture. We offer average jobs, in average companies, for ordinary people. Yes, your people are ordinary because that’s exactly what you recruit. You definitely don’t recruit out-of-the-ordinary people. They would never make it through your hiring process!

By the way, I don’t have a problem with ordinary and average. We went through an entire generation who is desperate to think they’re unique butterflies, but by all of them being unique butterflies, it made them all average and ordinary. In the corporate world, we love the ordinary, and we hate outliers.

Generative AI will compound this issue, not make it better. ChatPGT and the like will push us further down the average and ordinary rabbit hole. Creatives will use AI to do their creative work, which will create the same thing repeatedly but faster. AI will learn what we like and produce more of it but in different colors and flavors. Original thought will become mass-produced thought.

How do we get out of the age of average?

Embrace the weirdos. Listen to the crazy ideas and actually try some of them. Tell your candidates and employees the truth. No, the real truth. Be willing to take some criticism over the stuff you tried that failed. As an employer, you are gaining nothing by being like everyone else. Be someone no one is. Some will hate you. Some will love you. Most won’t pay attention. Your goal as an employer isn’t to attract everyone. It’s only to attract the few folks who you truly want and who want you in return.

Does their crazy match your crazy?

We work so hard to try and hide our crazy. Then we are shocked when someone opts out of working for us and turns over. The best work cultures filter in and out with the same ferocity. If you welcome everyone into your work you’ll also be showing a lot of people the door at some point.

What is the Health Insurance Design Impact to Employer Paid Abortions?

Obviously, we had major news recently around abortion rights in America.

What I really want to talk about today is an amazingly quick response by organizations to immediately offer a new health benefit. Within hours of the announcement, we saw major employers come out publicly stating they would pay for the expense of their employees to obtain legal abortions if they could not get one in the state they lived and worked. Some employers also announced that they would pay for relocations for their employees to live in states with legal abortions.

All of this, just from a health benefit plan design perspective is quite remarkable!

Most employers can’t agree on offering smoking cessation programs for their employees or paying for gym memberships, but within hours, we are now paying for abortions. We have severely unhealthy obese employees, but we won’t pay for bariatric surgery. Organizations tend to move very slowly in making benefit design changes, and those changes tend to mostly be around cost/benefit.

Are we being “Inclusive” by offering an abortion benefit?

Again – I’m 100% in favor of a woman’s right to choose!

But we need to have a conversation about the hypocrisy of some of these decisions being made around this issue. This is what we do as professionals in HR. We discuss decisions we make as organizations, and how each decision tends to lead to other issues we can’t yet know what they might be.

So, we are now offering abortions as a health benefit. Why?

Let’s say we are willing to pay $5,000 dollars for our female employees to get an abortion. It definitely makes us sound like we are a very progressive employer! It’s interesting, though, that many of the employers who are willing to pay for your abortion are not willing to pay for your parental leave if you chose to keep your baby. They are unwilling to pay for childcare assistance after you have your baby.

Why is that?

Could it be, that not having children make you a more productive and less expensive to insure employee?

We must ask ourselves this question, if not only to ensure we are being inclusive in our insurance offerings to our female employees.

If you want to be “inclusive” you offer a woman a full choice. Yes, you can choose to have an abortion and we’ll support you! Yes, you can have the baby, and we will still support you! If you only choose one side, you are being exclusionary. Why?

Abortion as an employer-paid health benefit

There are benefits we pay as employers that have very little financial impact but make us look like we are an employer of choice. College Tuition reimbursement was always the biggest one. We offer you college tuition reimbursement knowing almost no one actually takes advantage of it. It’s one of the lowest-used benefits a company can offer! But, we feel great about ourselves when we market this out to candidates and employees.

Are abortion benefits the next college tuition benefit? You offer it up, knowing it makes you look like a progressive employer, but you know it really has very little financial impact. On the flip side, offering paid parental leave and childcare assistance, well, those benefits actually cost us real money, so no, we won’t offer those!

All women should be allowed to make their own choice with their bodies. Period. Employers are going to decide if they should help women with that decision. I think we, as HR leaders and professionals, should be advising our executives that having a “Choice” is about more than one option. Our benefit plans should support any choice a woman wants to make, not just one.

Abortion is health care. Having and caring for a child is health care. Organizations need to support all choices that a woman might want to make.

Why is Walmart Struggling to Find $200K/Year Store Managers?

6.68% of Americans make $200,000 a year or more. Of course, that is centered around certain areas. States like California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, etc., have a much larger percentage than the average. States like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, most of the Midwest, etc., are under the average.

The Wall Street Journal had an article this week about how Walmart is struggling to fill their store manager jobs. Specifically, their General Manager job, the number one job in a Walmart store, which pays around $200,000 per year.

You would think with so few people making $200,000 a year, Walmart would have smart, ambitious folks knocking down their doors for a chance to make $200,000 per year!

But they don’t. Why?

First, most organizations tend to promote from within. Walmart is similar to this, but reality eventually hits the ceiling. An average Walmart store probably does a revenue of $50-100 million per year. The net income of those locations probably runs around $3-5M per year. There are roughly 350 employees in a Walmart store. Running a single Walmart store is like running a mid-sized enterprise business! Most SMBs in the country have a revenue well under $1M.

This means that Walmart can most likely train an hourly store employee to become a department manager but to become a General Manager, they are looking for some formal business education. You have to run a giant P&L. You have major risk factors. You need real leadership skills. In many towns, “the Walmart” is probably the biggest business in town!

College kids, on average, don’t want to leave State U for a $ 65,000-a-year job as a Manager in Training at Walmart. It’s not something you go back to the homecoming football game and brag about. Your friends took that $50k per year job with the tech firm in town as an entry-level, you make more, but they look down on you.

I know some folks are reading this and thinking, “So! You make more! You will continue to make more! You are in line to run a giant business! Who f’ing cares what others think!” Young adults do. Young adults care what other people think. If I’m frank, and I usually am, we all care what others think!

What would I do if I was at Walmart?

I love this game. It was the basis of my entire book! What would Timmy do if he ran your shop!

#1 – Stop trying to hire or require any form of formal education. Yes, you need smart folks, so give cognitive assessments. Find smart people who can learn quickly, who also have some “hustle” and “grind” to them. You probably have a ton of folks already working for you that you won’t consider. You also have to look at talent pools we tend to discount, most notably, in this case, 50 years and older, retired military commanders, etc. Walmart wants to solve this by talking new college grads into these jobs, I’d be talking failed executives into these jobs! Big salary. Big team. Big job. College grads don’t want that, your Dad does, and a retired military leader who is used to leading hundreds of soldiers does. Also, your Dad will work 60 hours a week and think it’s normal. A new grad will work a solid 40 and think it’s North Korea.

#2 – Build the Manager School. If a great GM in a Walmart environment makes them $3-5M a year, there are margin dollars to build more great GMs! Part in-person instruction. Part on the job training. Part virtual instruction. All the way in on fully engaging non-stop. Send them to manager boot camp. Make it exclusive. Bring in big-time celebrity speakers around leadership and performance. Do graduation with a gold watch.

#3 – Make it so lucrative they won’t want to leave. $200K is nice, but you need some other stuff. You need to make folks say, “F! You!” To their friends who don’t think Walmart is cool enough. What is that? I don’t stock options. Partner programs on profit sharing. Company SUV.

Here’s what I know. The profit difference between Walmart’s worse GM store and their best GM store is so big it would make you blush. It’s millions of dollars. So, making sure you hire, train, develop, and take care of the great ones is priority number one. Building the talent pipeline to successful GMs would be the job of a team of people that included great recruiting leaders, brand and marketing leaders, and technology and data leaders.

I’m not saying this is an easy job. It’s enormously difficult and complicated. But, it’s doable. The problem is, that every organization thinks the solution to their problem is new college grads. They can help, but it’s only one sliver of the full pie that is needed.

Scarcity and authenticity are powerful!

I get asked multiple times a day about how organizations can find more talent. The desperation in today’s world around this one topic is concerning. People are losing their jobs and their well-being over it. Corporate recruiter experience is at an all-time low.

The formula for hiring and attracting talent has not changed and it won’t change. Like anything we desire in the world, it comes down to scarcity and authenticity. That being said, that is also extremely difficult to provide to a job seeker.

Why?

99.99% of us can’t present our jobs in a scarce way. Google can, you can’t. Turns out, you’re not Google.

There are very, very few of us who have the luxury of working for a brand that almost anyone would kill to work for. The unicorn brands, as I like to call them. These brands can create scarcity around their jobs. This scarcity feeds upon itself, where candidates will go to extraordinary lengths to get noticed for a job, just trying to get their “foot in the door”.

The “authenticity” part is where we in the 99.99% of us can fight back!

Whether you are big or small, if you have a non-unicorn brand, we can always be super authentic. It’s harder for those running the scarcity game to do this because part of the game is to have some mystery behind door one.

To be able to leverage your job postings with videos from potential co-workers, the hiring manager, and an executive giving deep insight and understanding of your jobs and brands can be something very powerful to pull in more talent.

Can you combine these? Yes, but you rarely ever see it. Mainly because if you’re lucky enough to achieve scarcity around your jobs, you feel like what do we really gain? We already have almost all the candidates we want, why do the extra work for a small incremental increase.

The key is you have to do one or the other really well. One you control, one you don’t.

What I find is too many organizations act like they have scarcity when they don’t. And almost none of the organizations that should be killing authenticity actually do it.

The formula didn’t change.

Mailbag: Can an experienced Recruiter be any good with 378 LinkedIn Connections?

I had a Talent Acquisition Leader reach out to me this week. She is having a hard time hiring recruiters and was looking for some insight. Now, she was looking for more of a professional generalist recruiter. Someone who can hire some hourly, but also corporate positions that include: finance, IT, operations, marketing, etc.

She mentioned she had gotten a resume of a recruiter who had four years of experience, but when she looked her up on LinkedIn, she only had 378 connections. Could this recruiter be any good with so few LinkedIn connections?

The Answer

No.

Okay, before you become unglued, let me explain.

Let’s say this four-year recruiter was only hiring high volume hourly. That would mean this person would never spend time on LinkedIn, since hourly workers, for the most part, do not have profiles on LinkedIn. So, now you’re thinking, “yeah, Tim, LI connections don’t matter for this person so they could be a great recruiter!”

Still, I say no!

Because, for me, a great recruiter builds a network of other recruiters and sourcers to constantly learn from. It basically takes almost no effort or skill to connect with 500 other recruiters, sourcers, HR pros, and your personal network on LinkedIn. Once you get to the 500 mark, no one knows if you have 501 or 30,000.

I challenge my own entry-level recruiters that have no recruiting experience to get to 500 connections as quickly as possible. Within six months, they should be able to do this very easily. So, if you run into a recruiter who is three or four years into their career, and they are under 500, they are showing you that they probably have very little interest in expanding their network and learning from others.

500 LinkedIn connections are like training wheels for a recruiter. I don’t expect every profession to have over 500, but recruiters, sales pros, and people looking for jobs should always have over 500. There’s no reason not to, it’s literally the easiest professional networking available to everyone for free.

Do more LinkedIn connections then equal someone is a better recruiter than another?

No.

But, wait, you just said…

Recruiters, of all types, need to get to 500. After that point, it really becomes more about the quality of the connections that you build. If you just accept every Open Networker on LinkedIn, that network will be full of Life Coaches and Pyramid Scheme sellers!

Great recruiters build networks that help them learn more and recruit better. I would say once you establish a network, you then become much more selective about who you invite and which invites you to accept. Right now, with my network that runs over 20,000, I only accept about 1/3 of the invitation requests I get based on the criteria I want in my network.

I know recruiters that quickly maxed out their LinkedIn networks with garbage and had to go back and scrub their networks, and it’s very time-consuming. But, I also see recruiters who switch industries and skills who do this as well. Your network should grow and change with you based on where you are at in your career.

So, LinkedIn connections matter and they don’t. That’s just reality in today’s world of recruiting. Whether you are recruiting doctors or truck drivers, you should still be using LinkedIn for your own professional development on an ongoing basis.