How Salesforce Built an Effective Internal Recruiting Program Using These 5 Pillars

February 11, 2021

Photo of group of Salesforce employees wearing blue shirts with the company logo on their backs

When Salesforce launched its internal recruiting initiative 3½ years ago, it was all about growth — employee growth for sure, but primarily company growth.

“A lot of tech companies, particularly a lot of the SaaS [software as a service] tech companies, are growing, growing, growing,” says Richard Liddington, the director of international internal recruitment at Salesforce. “Everyone talks about how many new jobs they’ve got but you’re never going to hit your growth numbers if you can’t retain employees.” 

At Salesforce, there is a team dedicated to internal recruiting and developing their current talent. That team, which is separate from external recruiting, is now over 50 strong. In 2020, the team partnered with the business to transform the careers of thousands of employees. 

Salesforce has built its program around what it calls the five pillars of internal recruiting: consistency, compliance, transparency, equality, and retention. Here’s how they work:

Consistency and Compliance: Everyone plays by the same set of rules

Consistency and compliance are two sides of the same coin. Consistency comes from creating a set of clear and easily accessible guidelines that everyone in the company understands; compliance comes from ensuring those guidelines are followed regularly and uniformly. Without formal processes, internal hiring can lead to underperformance and undermine diversity and inclusion efforts.

Salesforce has three requirements for internal movement, Richard says: Time in seat, performance, and support. Employees need to have been in their current role for 18 to 24 months, depending on location; they need to be receiving high marks for their present work; and they need their manager’s blessing. “We want their current manager,” Richard notes, “to say, ‘Absolutely. They are ready for their next role.’”

Once a company has developed and broadcast its processes, it can turn to compliance, which “means that it ticks all the boxes,” Richard says, “that lead to a transparent, open, and equal process.”

Internal recruiting at Salesforce works cross-functionally with everyone from external recruiting to sales strategy to understand where the business is headed and deliver a seamless hiring experience. “So, if all of a sudden,” he says, “one team over here is going to have to double in size and they need these specific skills, we can start looking at where those skills already are at Salesforce.” They can find out who’s right for the job and who’s interested. Then they can start promoting why people might want to consider making a move.

The goal of all of this intricate collaboration? “Let’s develop this over time so the right person moves into the right role at the right time for the right reason,” Richard says. “I have a little mantra I say to my team when people are being moved around: ‘Is everybody aware? Is everybody supportive? Is it in line with our policies and processes around when people move?’”

Transparency: Employees are clear about where they want to go; managers and internal recruiters are clear about how to get there

Employees and managers alike need to be transparent. Employees need to be clear about what their ambitions for the future are; managers need to be clear about what it takes to achieve those ambitions.

“If you were my manager,” Richard says, “we’d be having one-on-ones and quarterly check-ins and career conversations. First, as my manager you should be aware of my career goals. And, second, you should be helping me prepare and work toward the goal that I have laid out in my individual development plan.”

If an employee’s ambition is to become, say, a manager, then their own boss can ask them to lead a meeting or even step in for them while they’re on vacation.

“It comes back to the culture of transparency,” Richard says. “Everybody is aware of what people are doing, and we want people to support one another.”

At Salesforce, “everybody” includes the internal recruiters, who are part recruiter and part career coach, according to Richard. They are both “a tactical and a strategic thinker,” he says, not just filling reqs, but also looking to the future.

“An internal recruiter,” Richard says, “might say, ‘I know you’ve applied for this role now. We can facilitate that, but then let’s also take a step back. Where are you going in the future? Why this role? Are you building for something in the future?’”

Transparency doesn’t end with a clearly stated ambition and a well-articulated career path. When employees go after a new role in a company, recruiters and hiring managers need to ensure a strong candidate experience by keeping them abreast of where the process is at each stage. They also need to be sensitive to how disappointed an internal candidate may be if they don’t land the job and to make sure that internal recruiting doesn’t actually trigger attrition.

“If internal candidates are unsuccessful,” Richard says, “tell them why in partnership with their current manager. They need to understand why they were unsuccessful. And maybe even suggest some learnings for them.”

Equality: Internal recruiters facilitate diversity and inclusion

One of the main challenges for internal recruiting is that it can reinforce the existing makeup of your workforce and become an obstacle for achieving a more diverse organization. Talent professionals cited this as one of the top three barriers to internal recruiting in a survey for LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2020 report.

In May of 2020, Salesforce named Tony Prophet, the company’s chief equality officer, to be the global head of recruiting as well. “So, recruiting passes through an equality lens,” Richard says.

Salesforce has a “talent partners” team of internal recruiters who focus solely on employees from underrepresented groups. “The talent partners,” Richard says, “serve as career coaches to underrepresented groups of employees, helping them build whatever muscle needs building, from better understanding of career paths to building a network of sponsors to support them in their careers to identifying new internal opportunities aligned with their goals.”

Retention: Paradoxically, the company keeps people by helping them move on

Internal mobility has a number of potential benefits and retention is chief among them. Some 81% of talent professionals LinkedIn surveyed a year ago for our Global Talent Trends report said internal recruiting improves retention.

Richard sees two chief drivers of attrition: Employees who don’t see a clear career path in front of them and employees who have a broken relationship with their manager. “Both,” he says, “are very easily fixable.”

The importance of a discernible career path is supported by the experience of Schneider Electric, the France-based energy management giant. Schneider launched its own internal mobility platform two years ago after discovering that 47% of the people who left the company said they couldn’t find their next career opportunity there.

As to the problems with managers, Richard believes that the best bosses earn reputations for developing their top talent and exporting people to bigger, better roles. “If I’m a young HiPo [high-potential employee],” Richard says, “I want to go and work for that manager.” 

Richard’s advice to managers? “Be the manager who attracts, builds, develops, and exports talent because employees are going to go — talent will leave. They won’t work with you forever and we want them to go to another area of Salesforce.”

Managers anywhere who hoard talent are playing the short game. Employees, particularly high-performing ones, want new opportunities and new challenges, and if you don’t provide them, someone outside will.

Final thoughts: A robust internal mobility program is a win-win for employees and the company

Salesforce’s intense focus on retention is not only about sustainable growth and business results but it is also about company culture.   

Salesforce wants employees to stay and the company knows that new roles and career opportunities are a powerful retention tool, which just happens to benefit the company too.

“It is about progressing your career,” Richard says, “developing yourself further. If I’m better, the team is better. If the team is better, the business is better and the company is better.”

*Photo from Salesforce

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