Rebuilding Dell's Employee Referral Program - HR Open Source

Referrals are one of the best sources of hire for most organizations, and Dell is no different. We’ve been working to enhance our referral program over the last several years to drive quantity, improve quality, and make the experience more meaningful for our employees. This is how we did it.

What We Did

Over the past several years, the Dell Talent Acquisition COE team reviewed, analyzed, updated, and enhanced our global Employee Referral Program. This included: reviewing and updating the policy so that it was consistent across all locations, providing clarity around payout amounts and timing, implementing a social sharing job tool/talent community, creating regional teams to promote the program and centralizing and improving the administration of the program.


Why We Did It


We knew we had serious challenges with our employee referral program given the volume of complaints in many locations. These comments were not isolated and came from multiple sources including employees, recruiters, and hiring leaders. We were expending a significant amount of time to constantly monitor and manage queries and complaints. We also realized that there was an inconsistency in understanding of the program so referral rates were all over the map - in some locations very low (single digit percentage). We knew had to make changes! We decided to take a step back to objectively review all of the operational components, assess our challenges, map solutions, and implement enhancements that could take our referral program to the next level.

Some of the challenges we uncovered during our discovery process included:

  1. Lack of consistent policy interpretation. This was because no global program owner was in place and the policy was managed and interpreted differently country by country. This included eligibility differences, payout timeframe differences, etc. There were also no regional owners or points of contact for the employees or recruiters when questions or issues arose.

  2. Manual process. Recruiters were spending their own individual time to manually track referrals on spreadsheets that sat on their own desktops. Not only was this a poor use of the recruiter's time, but if one of them left referral payouts were dropped creating exceptions, requests and frustrations on the part of the employee and payroll.

  3. Inability to payout for those making referrals in other countries.

  4. Inability to accurately track global spend.

  5. Managers had to manually key in referral amounts – even with the payout matrix (which helped) sometimes the amounts keyed in were wrong causing major issues with team members on the back end.

  6. Inconsistent lack of promotion and understanding of the program.

  7. Outdated or flat payout amounts ($250 USD for every level/role in the US). Some countries didn’t have an agreed upon amount and would have to ‘wing it’ when a referral was made by someone in that location.

  8. Incorrect logging. Less than half of all referrals properly made in the system of record creating manual work country by country to determine referral payout percentage (in 2010, referral rate was approximately 19% globally).

  9. No social sharing of jobs.


How We Did It


We approached this initiative by breaking down and rebuilding our Employee Referral Program (ERP) into the following sections: Structure, Promotion, Policy, Process & Administration, and Tools & Training. This is how we approached each section:

Organization/Structure and Administration

A Global Program Manager was assigned to lead all initiatives globally and across the regions. Regional teams were created to optimize ERP deeply in the countries in the region. Recruiters were identified in major countries and asked to help in the following areas: increase the promotion of the program, education of the program and ERP process/tools, and to develop new and innovative ideas to drive higher referrals.

We also created an Administration team within global HR Operations in India that was trained to support all administration and basic support (day to day queries) globally.


We tailored the ERP promotion strategy to each country and location to ensure local practices were used. This tailored local approach was a key learning in our ERP redesign. We also reviewed all of our global referral processes and procedures to identify best practices we could scale globally. In short, we have found that constant and consistent reminders about the program is critical. We’ve highlighted some of the unique promotions used around the globe below.

  • Digital assets and promotion including: internal promotional assets themed “What will you do with your referral bonus?” and visual graphics created and promoted that clearly outline program and process for referrals (posted on intranet, shared worldwide, post updates on ERP intranet page and Salesforce Chatter)
  • Bi-weekly emails sent to all employees in a particular location listing all of the latest job openings and requesting referrals from employees. [Asia region best practice]
  • Branded newsletters and monthly updates to regional recruiting teams. These newsletters are by location and/or business unit and include information about new job openings, training opportunities, and the referral program and include helpful links to learn more. [US best practice]
  • Communication during onboarding and presentation with new hire promoting program; follow up with new hires at 30-60-90 days via the Taleo onboarding tool and email to gather referrals
  • Reviewed communications from ATS (Taleo) to improve clarity around program.
  • Global recognition: ERP "rock stars" called out at team meetings and All Hands.
  • Local recognition (by country) of annual highest/most successful referrals.
  • Partner with ERG’s (Employee Resource Groups) to leverage diverse connections.
  • Competitions and events in major locations/countries including movie tickets/popcorn for all referrals interviewed and Dell product giveaways (tablets!). [Asia and EMEA best practice]
  • Internal career fairs include "Refer a Friend" booth. These are actual walk-up booths where employees can use one of the latest Dell tablets and submit a referral on the spot. Recruiters are also available to answer questions about the program, eligibility, and expected process. Our team members love it! [Asia best practice]
  • Friends and family referral events - EMEA region created toolkit to make it simple and actionable including: overview of event, logistics, links to approved branded assets, stakeholders, and contacts. [EMEA best practice]
  • Emails directly from executives to employees within organization.
  • Printable assets - posters, stickers, flyers, presentations, and Dell badge cards (that fit in team member badge holder) - [Asia best practice]


We reviewed all regional differences and nuances to create one consistent policy that makes sense for our leadership, HR teams, and employees. The policy was reviewed not just for eligibility but also based on effective referral flags beyond just source type.

Regional TA leads are encouraged to challenge elements of policy and provide feedback or ideas for improvement. Our aim is to continually iterate in a manner that is cohesive globally, but practical locally.

Process and Administration

In an effort to create better visibility and transparency, all payout amounts were reviewed in local market and currency and posted online. All team members can now see what the payout amount is for a certain grade level in any location. A process was also designed to support cross country referrals. For example, if a team member in Russia refers someone in the United States that team member is paid based on Russia payout terms and currency (not United States even though the hire may have been made there). The rationale is that people will always receive a fair and locally reasonable payout and never get paid a much smaller or higher amount. Other process and administration ERP enhancements include:

  • Monthly payout (payouts are made consistently 90 days in arrears) pulls all data from one source (ATS is Taleo and the official system of record) the same time each month.
  • Monthly global roll up converts everything back into USD (even though payout is in local currency) for ease in tracking and reporting up.
  • Each region has a lead within the TA group that reviews/declines/approves any manual exceptions - this rigor has created clear expectations amongst the organization including leaders, team members, and recruiters. The regional leads now routinely communicate to share their exception requests and express their opinions with each other - again, to create a consistent experience and improve over time.
  • Centralizing of referrals that come from executives, employees and external sources like LinkedIn creating a more ‘white glove’ process utilizing Avature (CRM) and monthly data/reporting. [US and Americas best practice]
  • Surge referral amounts. Allow for 1.5, 2, 2.5 or 3 times referral increases for critical ‘hot jobs’ or hiring campaigns (field modified to be drop down in ATS Taleo) and manual keying of amounts removed.
  • A payment macro was created and managed by the HR Ops team to ensure that the standard amounts for each location was correctly paid out.
  • Better use of data, Data provided to recruiters and recruiting leaders for filtering referrals attached to their reqs (not contacted yet), as well as referrals in progress, to constantly drive reminders about referrals. This data also helps provide updates to the supported businesses on how their referral progress is.
  • A quarterly dashboard by global and region was created to demonstrate volume of referrals (with trending from previous quarter), spend, business units hiring the most referrals, volume of exceptions, etc. This dashboard provides not only analytics and information but also a ‘common language’ and experience for all of our regional leads.

Tools & Training

We realized we needed to ensure our employees were better informed about the ERP, so focused our efforts in several area to increase education and awareness, as well as implementing new tools to help us manage the program. This included:

  • Fields and copy adjusted in ATS (Taleo) to simplify and make clearer.

  • Social Sourcing tool (Dell Talent Community) piloted in early to mid 2013 and rolled out globally October 31 2013. Since that time over 100,000 jobs have been shared socially and all socially shared jobs account for 30% of referrals globally (over 50% in key locations such as India which were early adopters of the tool).

  • Create experts in Dell Talent Community (DTC) to help use tool and educate.

  • Created user guides, training, videos for tools.


Results and Metrics

  1. 50-125% increase in global referral hires. Global Employee Referral rate now 38% globally, and over 50% in some locations (previously 19% in 2010).

  2. The new global referral program was one of several initiatives that resulted in a 20% overall decrease in CPH (Cost Per Hire) over past 3 year period.

  3. Consistent values in USD payouts allow for better global forecasting. Now that we understand spend by location, level and business unit, the recruiting team can better update and inform the business. At Dell, our businesses pay for our referrals directly.

  4. Consistent timeframes for payouts.

  5. Ability for recruiters to filter by job grade, function, region and BU to share with the organizations they support - much more accessible and flexible data!

  6. Enhanced global participation in ERP now that employees have clear guidelines on things like cross-country referrals, payouts and timing, referral levels, and amounts, etc.

  7. Realized administration time savings roughly equal to one Full Time Employee.

  8. Exceptions are now monitored consistently so we can easily identify and address if there is a policy or tool issue.

  9. Improved documentation (in multiple languages) to be able to support any payout or denial of payout - with a clear reason.

  10. Centralized tracking of referral sources to ensure allow for better reporting and dashboards, forecasting, and visibility.

What We Got Wrong


Initially, the Global Talent Acquisition COE believed that all program and policy decisions needed to be uniform across all locations. We learned that achieving consistency where possible, but allowing for local interpretation, drives more engagement and yields better results. Don’t assume one size fits all - we learned to leverage our local teams to incorporate local nuances and differences. We now rely on local recruiters and teams to help with events, promotions, and training/education of our local recruiters and teams. Some of the best ideas came from our regional referral program lead in EMEA or a recruiter in Panama!

Our team believed that we could ‘fix’ the employee referral program within 24 months. In reality, it took us five years of refinement and iteration to get our global ERP program where we felt it should be. Referral programs are tricky because you are dealing with behaviors, setting expectations, creating guidelines, and a lot of change management. Set a stretch vision for your program but be realistic with your goals.


Key Takeaways


Revamping your global ERP program can be a large undertaking. For centralized programs, it’s important that there is tight coordination between the global and local offices to ensure the program is managed equitably across the organization. In order for the program to be credible with staff (and valuable for recruiting), you need to leverage tools and systems that allow you to set clear expectations with employees, and track the referral and payout through a centralized system.  With a consistent program and usage of the tools and system of record, promotion of the program becomes easier (and participation increases) as faith is built in the program over time.


Technologies Used

Salesforce Chatter, Taleo, Taleo Onboarding, Dell tablet