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Building a Farm Team in a Down Economy

Building a Farm Team in a Down Economy

In a recent talk to Philadelphia executives, I explained how to build a “farm team” of strong potential employees. Farm team is a baseball term. Every major league baseball team has multiple minor league teams made up of players ready to be called up to the big leagues with little notice. In business, a farm team is your active list of strong performers who currently work for someone else but could be enticed to work for you if the offer is right. By taking the initiative to find and interview these people now, you build your own farm team of strong potential employees.

After the talk, a banker came up to me and said, “I am going to implement this farm team idea immediately. I get phone calls every day from job hunters, and I have been telling them that we are not hiring. Now I am going to tell them that we are not hiring right now, but I want to interview them anyway.”

Performance Principle: A bad economy is a great time to build your own farm team. In the midst of short-term pressures, take the time to interview and network. Here are some specific payoffs from building your own farm team right now:

1. Good people are available in bad times. Great performers shake loose in times like these. Now is the time to make connections with these people even if you don’t hire them immediately. Joel Spolsky in his book Smart & Gets Things Done estimates that one truly gifted computer programmer is worth at least five times as much as a competent programmer. The ratios may be slightly different in your business, but the principle holds fast across all companies and industries. If your interviewing yields just one terrific person, it is worth it.

2. Interviewing does not necessarily mean hiring. You are not making a commitment to hire anyone; you are simply meeting with them for an initial interview. The only cost to you is your time, and the investment of time is worth it.

3. Build your own network. Every person you interview today is someone that you add to your own network. If you treat people with respect and stay in touch, that relationship may well be valuable whether or not you hire the person.

4. Market intelligence. Having a regular schedule of interviews keeps you apprised of what is going on in the marketplace. Building your farm team makes you more intelligent about your marketplace and better connected within it.

5. Confidence to deal with poor performers. One of the primary reasons that managers don’t confront poor performers is that they do not have anyone to take their place. If your executives and managers have active candidates who can fill positions in their departments, they will be more willing and able to deal quickly and directly with sub-par performance.

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