Most of us have been in the unenviable situation of needing to replace staff- quickly. It always seems like you are heading into the busiest time of the year, or have some sort of massive activity pending, and you are suddenly short staffed. Although some unplanned staffing situations can occur, organizations can proactively create a potential “bullpen” while improving their staff quality and extending their organizational culture.

Proactive approaches to employee identification and development require planning, prioritization, and a clear understanding of what you are promoting. Getting off the hamster wheel of “I just need a competent body!” takes some time, but it can also provide you with some peace of mind that comes from a less chaotic work environment. Below are some proactive ways you can generate staff members of the future through some basic techniques.

1. Identify where your ideal employees are coming from, and intersect early in their process in meaningful ways. Some of our local businesses are highly dependent on graduates of certain programs to fulfill employment requirements. It’s a good idea to intersect with those programs early and often. Do classes need a speaker or a guest teacher? Are there opportunities to provide scholarships? Can you offer a job while people are still in their program? Can individuals shadow your business or intern? If you identify potential pipelines for employees, it is important to gain exposure to potential staff early and often. By the time official recruitment activities open up, you are on the same playing field as everyone else in your industry.

2. Your best clients might be a window into potential staff. Do you have people that rave about your products and/or services? Have you ever heard “this would be a great place to work” from clients as they discuss your business? Do you ever follow up with these people to cultivate potential employees? You can’t teach passion, and those that exhibit passion for your business or industry could represent future staff. Have mechanisms to collect information and cultivate relationships for potential future employment.

3. Consider interns, seasonal help, or other short term employment options. Long term employees can start as short term staff members. Many (most) businesses are seasonal in nature. Finding individuals that can serve as help in a defined employment period may provide you the opportunity to gauge their long term employment potential. A lot of people with young children exit the labor force for a time, and short term employment opportunities can serve as a reentry point for their career. Students in a given field may have short term employment windows that revolve around school breaks. Newly retired people looking for short term income to supplement retirement may provide a great “on call” list. These aren’t permanent solutions, but some strategies can grow into consistent sources of labor.

4. Provide incentives to your best employees to find the best employees. Have you ever looked at a star employee and thought “I wish I could clone them?” People have a tendency to flock together in tribes of similar values. By offering incentives to star employees for finding other star employees, you may be able to improve the quality and quantity of your staff. Have standards for what constitutes an effective recruitment that you can clearly share with staff (the minimum duration the hired staff member must stay before a bonus is realized, performance standards, etc.), but utilizing your current staff to assist in finding future rock star employees can be a solid workforce solution. Again, this isn’t something for every employee, just your top performers as an added reward for additional work.

5. Highlight your culture, not just your staff. A lot of businesses will highlight a staff member, or a few staff members for public recognition. Some businesses will show their staff out enjoying a company outing. Very few businesses make a concerted effort to talk about their company values, what makes them different, and why staff love working in their environment. Internal company culture is one of the major reasons staff is retained or attracted to your business, yet most businesses spend very little time developing a culture that they can communicate to the outside world. Yes, we get that your business provides products or services, and that you want to provide more products and services, but what is your company about? Most employees want to feel good about the place that they work, and highlighting internal company culture is one of the ways you can generate employment interest from those that may think “I could see myself fitting in there.”

6. Spend some time designing a great work environment (then implement the design). There is a reason that they call it “work” and not “happy fun time”. At the end of the day, employees have to create value beyond their own salary to support their employment within an organization. However, simply asking employees what you can do to improve their work environment goes a long way towards letting staff know that you actually care. Yes, you will probably get some input on salaries and benefits, but you will also potentially gain some insight into some simple fixes that may make the workplace a little more enjoyable for everyone. Improvements of the work environment by ownership/management, at the request of staff, shows a responsive workplace. Implementing better workplace design, based off of employee suggestions, can improve internal workplace communication and generate positive word of mouth for your business as a potential employment option.

7. Search adjacent fields for appropriate staff members. When looking for employees, don’t limit yourself to businesses exactly like yours. Take a moment to think about what the job you are hiring for actually entails, then think about all the places those people might work. Accountants don’t just work in accounting firms. Heating and air people don’t just work at air conditioning suppliers. People that are potentially good at retail sales don’t just work at a retailer exactly like yours. Opening your search to adjacent business types will undoubtedly increase your pool of potential employees.

8. Over hire, and offer solid probationary training. One of the core issues in many businesses that have persistent employment shortages is a lack of a quality training program. I get it; you are already short staffed, how will you have time for training? The reality of the situation is that if you don’t adequately train your staff, they will get frustrated with their work environment, under perform, and eventually leave. In a tight labor market, good training programs within a business offer firms the ability to teach the skills necessary for success, company values, and your corporate culture. Not all trainees will work out, so over-hiring and culling those probationary staff members that don’t meet your quality standards may be necessary.

9. Reward quality. This seems simple, but a few extra steps taken to reward those that go above and beyond the call of duty is an important part of employment, retention, and growth. It is important for staff members to understand that you are looking for positive behaviors from your staff. When employees are rewarded for exemplary behavior, it can permeate the rest of your staff. When employees communicate the reward process to those outside of your business (in today’s social media world, this type of communication is pretty common), it signals other potential employees and communicates staff appreciation. These rewards don’t have to be “big”, but recognition of a job well done can do a lot to improve company morale and build a positive staff culture. The impacts of employee rewards go far beyond the employee rewarded.

The presence of a tight employment market doesn’t mean that there are no potential employees for hire. When a smaller workforce exists in comparison to jobs available, successful employers must develop a more thoughtful approach. By approaching employment opportunities with a short, intermediate, and a long term strategy, your business can achieve higher levels of employment continuity with a better quality staff. You will always be on the “hamster wheel” of finding staff, until you develop and execute a better strategy. You won’t have time to develop a strategy, until you make time, and creating a more effective employee recruitment and retention program will allow you to focus on improving other components of your business.