RTT – Referral Programmes – the Secrets to Success

RTT – Referral Programmes – the Secrets to Success

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the most recent Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Thursday 5th July 2012 hosted by Eversheds, titled ‘Referral Programmes – the Secrets to Success’.  The event was co-chaired by Rob Brown, top motivational presenter and the UK’s leading authority on business relationships and referrals. The following summary has been prepared to reflect the discussion held amongst senior HR and Resourcing professionals from leading UK and international businesses.

For more information on the group, or to discuss membership, please contact Jeremy on 0207 88 444 | Jeremy.thornton@oasishr.com 

What does a referrals programme look like?

For both resourcing agencies and employers, seeking referrals is a cost-effective and credible method of recruiting talent. It’s commonly understood that if in individual is prepared to professionally endorse either a colleague or peer then their quality is likely to be of a high standard. As our recent RTT would suggest, referral programmes can embody many different characteristics, from the incentives offered for referring, the differences with rewarding in local currency, the ownership of referred candidates, to recruiting from diverse backgrounds and managing the process with tracking software.

Creating and sustaining engagement:

Firstly, one of the key starting points to building a successful referral programme is to make other members of staff care about it! This can be done from a number of angles, such as demonstrating its worth on the business agenda in terms of quality and cost, or publicising the incentive scheme and personal gain element. Often, one of the first tasks is to educate hiring managers on the benefits of referrals and then developing a communication plan to generate staff engagement. However, it has been highlighted that generally referral volumes decrease when communication levels drop, so the key is to sustain the momentum generated from the initial influx of referral response.

Secondly, our members posed a question around the best time to introduce a referral scheme to new recruits – when is too soon and importantly, when is too late? It was suggested that initially presenting the programme at corporate induction can be an effective way to create engagement. However, trust was noted as being crucial to obtaining referrals so it was argued that this could be too soon to be canvasing new recruits for their networks.

Our Resourcing members offered some top tips for raising awareness of referral programmes:

  • Create success stories of individuals who have received either money or other forms of incentives , and publicise stories with images of them enjoying their rewards – e.g. holidays and concerts
  • Put details of company’s internal referral scheme on people’s screen savers
  • Use paper advertising on lunch trays to encourage people to get involved with referral schemes
  • Publish the referral policies on a prominent area of the intranet.

Unlocking referrals:

As previously stated, one of the first things to crack with developing a successful referrals programme is creating and sustaining engagement. However, once this is established, actually unlocking the referrals is job number two:

  • Lead communication strategy with the ‘what’s in it for’ and be upfront about what the referrer will get out of contributing to the scheme
  • Make referrals part of recruiters’ KPIs
  • Run a ‘new hire-debrief’ six months into a candidate’s employment contract to cross-examine their networks and personally explain the process
  • Survey your employees to determine exactly who would be open to providing referrals and as such, target communication messages to these individuals
    • Typically, women refer three times as many people as men
    • Younger people, who commonly have wider networks, refer more openly and frequently.

Agency use for sourcing:

Commonly, many Resourcers turn to the services of agencies for ease of hiring from a cost and speed perspective, often without thinking about the unnecessary cost implication. It is therefore essential that hiring managers are bought into the concept of referrals to reduce the resourcing department’s expenditure. It was suggested that providing hiring managers with key statistics to present a strategic business case for developing a referrals programme was key, however then allowing them to make an informed decision once with regard to agency usage once all information was made accessible to them. Additionally, due consideration needs to be given to the management of referrals, as care during the recruitment process and upon job offer, must be handled effectively so as to not damage the employer brand and push candidates into the arms of agencies.

Incentivising referrals:

Whether a referrals programme is incentivised by money, material goods or quite simply a ‘warm fuzzy feeling’, the message needs to be clearly communicated and be as simplistic as possible. With regard to financial incentives, a decision needs to be made around when the money is paid, be it in full following a start date, paid in two instalments or at the end of the employee’s probation period. Additionally, it is important to establish whether there is one standard referral fee offered, or whether this differs at employment level.

Our experts’ thoughts:

a) Offer additional referral incentives for hard to recruit ‘hot jobs’

b) Avoid offering non-cash incentives, as from a tax perspective they are harder to administer

c) Run an annual draw to reward people who have made successful referrals – the more tickets an individual has in the draw, the greater the chance of winning a prize.


  • Develop a company strategy to coach people on how to network in order to benefit both them and the employing business
  • Ensure senior stakeholder buy-in is secured for developing the scheme
  • Keep it simple – sell strategy on quality of hire rather than cost
  • Highlight results and quantify the success of referrals
  • Understand who referrers are and why they refer to encourage them to be a champion and encourage others to do the same
  • Build an on-going referrals programme which is sustainable and which is supported by a marketing campaign
  • Target internal recruitment teams on meeting referral KPIs
  • Create referral champions and get them to stand up at inductions
  • Give people an easy first win to encourage them to do it again
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