I manage a 60-person department. My employees are financial analysts, with two to five years of experience, who support more senior-level financial professionals in various units of our company.
I have worked hard to make our department a fun place to work, and we do a lot of peer-led training, so employees get to share what they know and take on more responsibility over time. I have always been happy to see my employees move on and up after they've spent a couple of years in my group. Two of the Vice-Presidents in our company began their careers in the department I lead (before my arrival), in fact. But the "poaching" of my employees by other departments has become a real problem. I have a track record of hiring smart people, and now I see managers from other departments taking my new employees to lunch and generally beginning to sell them on other jobs as soon as they walk in the door.
To make matters worse, a couple of the folks I hired who were quickly pulled into other jobs flamed out in those jobs; ironically, they were told "you don't know enough about our analysis tools," although I'd had each of them in my group for less than six months. I feel that some of the managers of other units in our company are treating my department as a training department, but making no investment in that training, and then complaining when the folks they steal from me haven't learned enough to be useful in more senior-level roles.
I am glad I'm providing a service to the company by hiring and training the "feeder crop" for other departments, but enough is enough. How can I get my fellow managers to back off and leave my employees alone, at least for a year or 18 months?
This is a great question, and it goes right to the heart of the leadership culture in your company. If your workplace follows a dog-eat-dog, every-manager-for-himself leadership philosophy, you may have an uphill battle getting your fellow managers to give you some breathing room with your new hires. If you can show the company leaders and your HR chief how your "feeder crop" mechanism is important for the company, and remind them that pulling the seedlings out of the ground the minute they're planted is never a wise agricultural move, then you should be able to carve out some room to develop your people before they disappear.
I would start by compiling statistics to show how the rate of internal transfers out of your group has grown (if it has) over time. What you are doing under the present scheme is bearing the recruiting and training costs that your fellow managers would otherwise have to cover. Most companies have a one-year requirement for internal transfers; that is, a newbie must stay in his or her original job for one year before another department can get their mitts on him or her. This is one way to limit your internal-transfer turnover.
However, I'd go further and get your HR leader and fellow managers involved in creating a feeder-crop system that supports everyone's goals. Maybe your expectation is just 18 months for your new hires. If that's true, you can work with the other managers to make internal career opportunities available to your employees in an organized way that respects everyone's priorities. The movement of employees throughout the organization shouldn't happen via backroom deals and clandestine lunches. This is an important talent management topic that your leadership team can tackle as a group, if you can make the compelling case that the current ad hoc poaching scheme isn't benefitting anyone.