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  • Charlie Laurer

Passive Employers

In our last newsletter, we talked about the different ways that companies are implementing new technology to identify top-tier talent ( This month, we delve into an old concept with a new understanding: Passive Employers. Is your company a Passive Employer? Are you ahead of the times in your talent acquisition process? Let’s find out!

We know that many organizations in this day-and-age crave the infamous Passive Candidate – very talented individuals who are currently employed (perhaps by a direct competitor). Their resume (if they even have one) can’t be found on the job boards, and they are not “active” on the market in pursuit of new opportunities. In today’s talent market, these passive candidates are considered ‘the cream of the crop.’

So, what is a passive employer, you ask? First off, passive in this context does not mean lazy or complacent. For our purposes, passive means ‘not actively or officially looking.’ Let’s start by using a basketball analogy to describe what we mean by passive employer. You are now the owner of a championship caliber NBA team. Your roster is set, but you are presented with the opportunity to sign an all-star point-guard in the off-season. Some members of your organization may say “we already have a point guard….we don’t need the all-star!”. However, as a passive employer, you recognize the differential in talent between the two point-guards, and realize that the all-star would be much more capable of getting you to the playoffs and winning it all.

Essentially, you were not looking for a point guard, but upon further analysis, you’ve realized that the point guard position was your weakest link on a very strong roster, and this new addition would take your team over the top. Relating this example to your company is very situational, as each operation has different structures for their chain of command. For example, you may be a sales-based company with 100 different sales representatives. Most of these employees are doing their jobs well (for the most part), but there might be a handful of employees who are simply just getting the job done, and don’t strive to exceed quotas and expectations. If you were a passive employer, you would be content with your current team, but you would certainly not be complacent. If you were presented with a candidate who has a documented history of overachieving, exceeding expectations, and continuously creating new revenue streams, you would bring them on board to replace an employee who is simply just getting the job done.

In the 1980’s, Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) called for his managers to terminate the bottom 10% of performers on a yearly basis, regardless of who they were and how long they had been there. Today, passive employers follow in his footsteps in efforts of continuous improvement within their company by replacing ‘sub-par’ performers with top-notch talent. Organizations that use the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach will find themselves falling behind the times, and the results of using this approach could be extraordinarily detrimental, in some cases even catastrophic, to your organization.

In his 2001 book Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don't, management guru Jim Collins emphasizes our concept by using the example of a bus driver:

“You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you. People assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going – by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.”

“In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with where but with who. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline – first the people, then the direction – no matter how dire the circumstances.”

Passive employers are always focusing on the who and the why, rather than the where, when and how. Because they know that just like in basketball, the team with the best players usually wins.

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