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The DNA of Champions – Culture Led Performance

The DNA of Champions – Culture Led Performance

Written by James Osborne

Last edited May 2, 2023

The DNA of Champions – Culture Led Performance

It’s fair to say a man who has achieved world beating team performance winning the Rugby Union World Cup , and has been instrumental in developing principles and a culture to help a bunch of talented individuals and teams to achieve extraordinary success representing Britain at the Olympics, has earned the right to share a view on building performance. Especially when he’s also successfully applied those principles in business, both with his own and many well-known corporate brands.

Sir Clive Woodward joined the Recruitment Network at the June retreat to share his view on what’s required to build a consistently high performing culture in both sport and business. Joining Sir Clive, leadership guru Jeff Grout, performance coach Jamil Qureshi, athletics legend Derek Redmond and the 90+ business leaders from the Recruitment Network focused on how and what’s needed to get a group of ordinary individuals to consistently perform.

The conclusion that continued, sustainable high levels of performance and growth is both accelerated by and dependant on a clearly defined and managed culture will surprise no-one. Yet few in recruitment or business generally really get it right, relying on incentives and KPI’s to drive performance.

Irrespective of the incentives, objectives and activity focused targets in place, which will influence short-term results, unless we can create a culture which helps attract, engage, focus and retain top talent, we’ll fall short.  The following stats confirm how much culture matters when recruitment business leaders are fighting and competing to attract the best talent to work for them:

  • 50% of millennials would take a pay cut to join a business whose values align with their own (Source: Fast Company)

  • 69% of candidates are likely to apply for a job where the employer actively manages their employer brand  (Source: Glassdoor)

Jon attracts hugely talented people who might otherwise go elsewhere.

Just ask Jon Dwek, Founding Director of Pod Talent, who joined the Recruitment Network to share how transformational culture can be on building a sustainable successful recruitment business.  Jon has built a multi award winning, truly values and culture led business which has never suffered a ‘regrettable employee loss’ (as in a team member leaving he didn’t want to leave). What difference has a strong culture made to Jon and Pod Talent? Well he attracts hugely talented people who might otherwise go elsewhere, working in a ‘Pod first’ culture where cross selling and collaboration drives opportunity and revenue, and their reputation and the client and candidate experience creates levels of client retention, referrals, and lasting client relationships which have a significant impact on business performance. Equally Pod Talent have a stable, loyal, quality team building long term relationships. Oh, and they have a lot of fun!

So if it makes such business sense, why do so few really succeed in creating a culture that really influences business performance. A number of questions were asked and answered at the retreat relating to culture and employer branding:

Does culture matter when incentives can be so powerful in driving activity? Does the data drive the culture or does the culture determine the data? What data and processes underpin a strong culture? If you have the culture how do you create an employer brand which works to attract talent enabling future growth?

A number of truths were evident and undisputed, namely:

  • Culture can be managed, most of us either don’t or we play at it
  • With a strong culture, decision making and management becomes easier
  • The businesses who have a strong culture don’t do anything off the wall, just the simple stuff brilliantly, including:
  • systematically engaging and involving the team when developing and improving the culture (it can’t be top down)
  • creating collective ownership and accountability
  • setting expectations from day 1 – values, attitudes, behaviours – creating absolute clarity and removing excuses of not knowing
  • articulating associated behaviours to make values make sense
  • never compromising when it came to values (let the ‘wrong’ people go irrespective of performance)
  • aligning rewards, recognition and communications to behaviours and values
  • only having individuals in leadership roles who are role models
  • putting 50% more effort and energy and process into selecting for values when recruiting for ourselves
  • create consistency by developing processes to support the culture
  • using data which is aligned to the culture you are trying to build and the behaviours you want to see.

Culture requires data, just as culture requires process.


Picking up on the last point, Russell Clements shared how data underpinned the culture in the S3 success story, driving behaviours, shaping attitudes and creating the focus to succeed. So for example if you want a truly client led culture, delivering a quality experience to the client, then data on let’s say interview/placement ratio enables consultants to benchmark themselves and drive up how well they match candidate to clients. Joe McGuire from Cube 19 shared how many high performing successful recruitment businesses use data and analytics to both feed and reinforce the performance culture. In the same way that we can define the culture of the business, it’s personality, we need to align the critical data to help drive those behaviours. If it’s a performance culture we want, develop appropriate data. If we want a truly client led culture, develop appropriate data.

Cube 19’s top tips on making data influence culture and performance are:

  1. Recognise data is a tool for everyone, not just for management
  2. Engaging consultants will help improve data quality
  3. Culture and data should go hand in hand, using culture to drive data & data to drive culture
  4. Understand the data in your own business. What are YOUR key metrics?
  5. Help the business understand the importance of the info and how to use it. Who is on/off track, who are our best clients (not just the ones who gives us the most money), Where should we dedicate more/less time, etc, etc
  6. Making people understand data is there to help improve them, not hinder them (that’s a cultural thing), it’s not big brother.
  7. You can do this by making sure you are measuring the things that are relevant. Not a blanket set of metrics/targets for everyone.
  8. Data will show people how to be more efficient & how to make more placements (commission)
  9. Make it simple, make it fun, Gamify it!
  10. Data in real-time is really important to give everyone a reason to use it and be able to affect change. You can’t change things that have already happened.

Culture requires data, just as culture requires process. Having established the culture, recruitment businesses can start building their employer reputation and ultimately creating an employer brand. Reputations are built on what we do not we say, so employer branding needs to reflect the reality. Equally it needs to excite and stand out from every other recruiter looking to attract talent.

James sees and tracks how strong cultures and well managed employer brands influence the attraction and retention of talent.


James Silverman, founder and CEO of Hunted shared his observations with the Recruitment Network on how employer branding affects talent attraction and what the best do differently. ‘The best recruitment brands have an identity. No business can be the best at everything, so the best brands work out what they want to be early’

Hunted work with over 150 recruiters, have over 7,000 recruiters on their books looking for roles within the recruitment sector and have 30,000 recruiters checking out opportunities every month via Hunted. So James sees and tracks how strong cultures and well managed employer brands influence the attraction and retention of talent.  So to stand out – and let’s face it with 4,529 new recruitment agencies starting up in 2016 and 26,901 recruitment agencies in the UK by the end of 2016 we need to stand out – what’s influencing people’s choice?

Firstly the success that can be achieved and the enjoyment that can be had need to be spelt out if we are looking to attract experienced recruiters. Hunted’s experience is that to build an employer brand:

  • You can’t appeal to everyone – just be damned good at something, whether that’s career progression, compensation, flexibility/autonomy, learning and development or culture – and shout about that.
  • Don’t be vague – be specific about what makes you stand out as an employer (and if you don’t have anything specific, develop it!)
  • Spell it out clearly so rather than talking about ‘uncapped commission’ as an example define clearly how it works and the detailed earnings potential
  • Don’t confuse employer branding with corporate branding – you’re potentially trying to attract 2 different audiences

Ultimately the Recruitment Network members concluded that while culture is often seen as being intangible, with appropriate process and data and clearly articulated behavioural guidelines and expectations – what Sir Clive calls Teamship – to reinforce the values, culture can be both shaped and managed. In the time poor world in which we live, investing time and energy to unpack what performance defining culture is and understanding how to build it, can be transformational. As Ed Steer, founder and CEO of the award winning and leading digital recruitment agency Sphere Digital shared one week after the Recruitment Network Retreat – ‘implementing what we learnt, I have had the best week I’ve had in donkey years’.

Watch the roundup video from our #TRN Summer Retreat.


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