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Tweak Performance – 201 Ways to Build a Recruitment Business and outperform the market

Tweak Performance – 201 Ways to Build a Recruitment Business and outperform the market

Written by James Osborne

Last edited May 3, 2023

Tweak Performance – 201 Ways to Build a Recruitment Business and outperform the market

The market’s evolved and we’d better evolve if we want to stand out. 110 Recruitment Leaders came together to turn strategic ambition into reality.Another year, another opportunity to build an exceptional recruitment business outperforming the market.

Bullhorn, one of The Recruitment Network’s Gold Partners published their research recently into the top trends facing the industry in 2018 (check it out – fascinating insight).  The report highlighted an optimistic outlook in the main, irrespective of the uncertainties of Brexit, economic growth, inflation rates and inflation. 3 key priorities identified by the 1,400 respondents for 2018 were:

  1. Increased profitability – 49%
  2. Candidate sourcing and acquisition – 41%
  3. Driving revenue growth 36%

Whatever our priorities and challenges, we’re not going to achieve our strategic ambitions by doing more of the same (i.e. what we were doing in 2017). The market’s evolved and we’d better evolve if we want to stand out. In January, 110 recruitment business leaders, members and partners of The Recruitment Network, came together to access at the Brewery in London to share some ideas about making 2018 another record year for our members.

The theme was Marginal Gains – those small enhancements which can turn strategic ambition into reality. For fast growing SME recruitment businesses, it’s rarely a big game changer which delivers long term value, rather it’s the consistent evolution of practices which impact productivity, profitability, efficiency, brand, and the candidate/client experience.  As ever the aim for the day was to give members thinking time, access to ideas and create a commitment to action which impacts business performance. Or as one recruitment entrepreneur said at the end of the day:

“The Recruitment Network forces you to take a breath, 2 steps back and the space to assess, interrogate and make effective decisions.”

One the many leadership challenges we help with at the Recruitment Network is ensuring that we balance Focus (making stuff happen and delivering results), taking the Overview (sticking our heads above the parapet), and Reflection (looking backwards to learn and improve). During the course of the day members accessed ideas from experts and colleagues as well all the successful recruitment entrepreneurs (the been there, done it guys who are happy to mentor and share their experience). At the Brewery the members were given some insights into the Future of the Workplace by CIPD Director David D’Souza and HR Guru Perry Timms. If we’re we are going to be strategic partners to our clients and be seen as talent experts, we’d better know where it’s all heading and help them evolve and understand the trends which will affect them.  The key shifts which will affect organisations moving forward (which we need to understand and respond to) are the shift from:

  • Top down hierarchical leadership >          autonomous socialised networking
  • Sequential thinking processes >          experimentation, reiteration, creativity
  • Internal R&D/policy making >          community and on-going innovation
  • Strategic planning/risk aversion >          emergent, experimentation and purpose led
  • Hard wired workforce >          flexible, on demand, lifestyle workers
  • Asset and ownership >          leveraged communities, communal sharing

That’s where it’s heading and that shift in workplace practices should influence our approach and the conversations we’re having with clients.

The principle of best practice and outperforming competitors by making marginal gains is inevitably best demonstrated by looking at existing recruitment businesses that are enjoying significant growth and outperforming others.

Ed Steer, CEO of award winning digital marketing recruiter Sphere Digital is a great example of a business leader’s obsession with marginal gains and continuous improvement. Ed’s been involved in and supported by The Recruitment Network for 3 years and is a great example of what can be achieved by small improvements effectively applied. That’s why, and Ed shared his story and lessons with the membership, since setting up the business 5 years ago, Sphere have grown revenue profits and reputation year after year (headcount at the end of 2017 reached 55). Ed’s obsession since day 1 has been on building an experience led business – deliver consistently excellent employee, candidate and client experiences believing that if you get that right the financial performance follows. Invest in the management, build employee engagement and productivity increases and Sphere’s attrition rate since setting up has been consistently between 10 and 15% by identifying marginal gains which will make Sphere better than the year before (individually personalised water bottles for 60 employees might sound like a small touch, yet the banter and fun it’s created is another example of a business always pushing to be better). Other areas where Ed and his team invest significant time – structured, facilitated quality thinking time involving leaders and the team – on areas such as:

  • Clarity of and team engagement with the business purpose
  • The consistency of approach when picking up a job
  • The consistency of approach when registering a candidate
  • Turning new business accounts into Key Accounts
  • The focus and productivity of the team

Sound radical? Of course it’s not. It’s the basics, but like most great businesses, Sphere focus on doing the simple stuff brilliantly.Johnnie Campbell, CEO of Social Talent, shared his thoughts on marginal gains that could be achieved around sourcing and acquiring talent (one of the top 3 priorities for 2018). Johnnie evidenced examples of how candidate sourcing and attraction could be transformed through refocusing adverts on emotion rather than rational thinking, creating an emotional argument, potentially linked to the client purpose which can influence candidate behaviour. Not a big change, yet hugely impactful. Johnnie, as ever, has the ability to convey simple powerful messages and provide powerful solutions to apply. One frustrated member shared at lunchtime after hearing from Ed and Johnnie: ‘This is my first Huddle and I wish I had known about the TRN before now!’

In a recent survey of The Recruitment Network members, we asked members to identity their priorities for 2018 and one area that was highlighted by the membership was the better use of technology. Hung Lee is The Recruitment Network’s recruitment tech guru, Hung shared 5 trends and 32 solutions which members could apply to exploit the tech trends and make marginal (and sometimes significant) gains in productivity, efficiency and client and candidate experiences. These tech solutions were shared with the members in the context of the 5 big trends which will affect recruitment in 2018 and beyond:

  • Data – how to thrive in a permission based world and how to turn data into communities
  • Automation – what might happen, what will/won’t happen and how to embrace and exploit it
  • Small social – how can you win the war for attention and create tighter and more intimate communities
  • Trust – how to build trust by embracing technology (assessments, videos, AI): without trust there’s no relationship and without relationships we’re stuffed
  • TTM – how can we exploit the opportunity and what’s the impact on the supply and management of resources

Alongside Hung, Steve Ward’s session focused on the 5 top tips for achieving marginal gains in the % of inbound candidates (versus outbound). Steve’s experience as a successful entrepreneur who built and sold CloudNine, a social media and digital talent agency built totally on using smart tactics to maximise inbound, putting themselves at the front of mind of the candidates and achieving competitive advantage. Steve presented an approach to sourcing candidates through a combination of events, PR, blogging and story telling.

I’ve always believed that coming up with ideas is the easy bit – it’s just a question of looking and asking. Clients, candidates, peers, competitors and your team will always provide plenty of ideas if you give yourself the opportunity to access them. At The Recruitment Network we’ve created an environment where through the face to face Huddles and Masterclasses and the online support we help members access leading edge ideas. As award winning recruitment CEO and Recruitment Network member Jonathan Keen (CEO of Cognitive) said after the Huddle “Each time I walk away with insightful, inspiring and simple things to achieve mine and the company’s goals.”

Accessing ideas is one thing, using them to positively impact the business is another  – how do you take concepts and ideas and get engagement from the team without imposing them? Leadership guru Mark Fritz shared a philosophy where performance is achieved by focusing on the outcomes rather than the team activities, and challenged recruitment leaders to obsess about the destination – business, team and individual – a little bit more than the journey to unleash business performance.  Mark’s observations highlighted successful business leaders who keep their ‘noses in and fingers out’ and ask coaching led, bottom up questions such as ‘ where do you want to get to and how will you get there?’ Inevitably such an approach creates shared leadership and high levels of engagement.

Bullhorn’s research highlighted optimism for 2018. What’ll help recruitment business leaders make 2018 as good as it could be is the chance to step back, the opportunity to identify and implement carefully selected marginal gains in key result areas.  The Recruitment Network launched 16 months ago and is the fastest growing network of recruitment business leaders because of a simple obsession with sharing ideas and stimulating action – 201 ideas were committed to on the day  members – and ensuring accountability combined with support.

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