Poaching is a natural part of business, so how can you hold onto your best staff, asks Liz Morrell.

Last month’s revelation that in the US that Microsoft was poaching staff from Apple for its imminent chain of retail stores shows just how big a problem the issue can be for retailers – especially when the poacher is a competitor. But although losing experienced store staff is a pain, the bigger worry is losing senior talent to a rival.

Headhunters say retailers shouldn’t feel threatened by the process. Rather they should worry if competitors do not try to acquire individuals from their business, as it suggests a lack of talent.

But that isn’t much consolation for the retailer that has lost key staff, so what can be done to prevent your staff from straying? Russell & Bromley human resources director Ann Friday says you have to understand their reasons for a wandering eye. “You have to ask why do people go, and why are they tempted to go,” she says. Therefore everything from promotion possibilities to the office environment must be looked at to ensure staff are as happy in their roles as they can be. However, accepting you will lose some staff is also important. “A certain element of poaching is inevitable,” says Friday.

Pets at Home human resources director Ryan Cheyne agrees. “There is an acceptance that if you have got good people they are going to be a target. Our approach is about engagement and making it such a great place to work that when the phone goes the candidate doesn’t even consider it,” he says.

Retailers may try tougher tactics to ward off the poachers but these don’t always work. Some will try to dissuade a headhunter from poaching by offering business instead. But one headhunter, who asked not to be named, says that he soon sees through such a tactic. “It’s very transparent when people try to engage your services to stop you taking their staff,” he says.

Retailers can also try tougher tactics to tie staff into their companies. Long notice periods or gardening leave to ensure that for those that do leave for direct competitors, sensitive company information doesn’t go with them. However, it isn’t a strategy that Friday advocates. “You should earn the loyalty not demand it,” she says.

Looking after your own is key, she says. “Developing talent from within your organisation is the biggest retainer of all,” she says. “If you have that kind of culture people aren’t going to be looking elsewhere,” she says.

Cheyne says that talking is vital. “We keep our ears to the ground and if we catch wind that someone is thinking about moving on we will sit them down and talk to them to see if there is something we can do,” says Cheyne.

If there is then you may just hang on to that person. If not then perhaps it’s just time to feel flattered that someone you have helped mould is so in demand.

How to stop poaching

  •             Ensure staff feel appreciated and valued
  •             Offer challenging career progression and opportunities
  •             Encourage and promote a positive working environment
  •             Ensure staff are happy in their roles
  •             Listen and react to staff and their concerns
  •             Keep an eye out for staff looking to leave and find out why
  •             Use long notice periods and/or gardening leave