Will Gordon: My job as founder of Rec2Rec, Your Career is to find great recruiters new opportunities with top recruitment companies across Asia. I wanted to write this article to help aspiring recruitment consultants get a deeper understanding of what it takes to become a successful manager in this industry. I was keen to learn and share more about how top tier recruitment agencies measure the success of their managers and what it takes to develop and train a continually expanding skill set.

Simon Meyer, CEO and founder of FutureYou; Mark Nielsen, CEO of Talent International; Rob Sheffield, Group CEO of Nakama Group; and Michael Smith, MD – SE Asia Randstad.

How do you identify those in your business who will become great future leaders?

At FutureYou, Meyer explains they have a clear and structured performance pathway using their competency framework, with a focus on “How to connect without limitation” in regard to their employee’s career advancement.

“It’s based on values and purpose alignment as opposed to revenue and profit alignment alone – ultimately that’s the by-product of running a business that way. It’s interesting to see the shift from those joining FutureYou and how they develop out of the old paradigm thinking; that it’s all about hierarchy, that it’s all about numbers and it’s all about who shouts the loudest because they have the biggest revenue line. The environment at FutureYou provides the platform to think about what the market opportunities are, and how we can bring those attributes into play, that will really make a difference”.

Nielsen focussed on the need for “emotional intelligence” and the importance of looking at individuals “who can think strategically”. He adds “The ability to create a sales environment which is successful but at the same time is in line with culture of integrity and fairness”, in other words, those who have have a broader, less blinkered approach than just looking at their own desk performance. “They believe in the success of the business as a whole, not just as individualists”.

Sheffield explained, “there is an important distinction between leadership and management”. He highlights the need for “emotional intelligence, strong communication skills, empathy, the ability to delegate, confidence and being a subject matter expert”. Also important are “commitment, creativity, intuition, the ability to inspire and work collaboratively – they will need to be business leaders who can develop and inspire those around them”.

Smith explained that, “Our typical measure of leadership is a healthy dose of professional will and personal humility, your ability to make things happen and your emotional intelligence.”

Following on from identification I was very interested to know how they then measure aspiring Managers in regards to what KPI’s they need to achieve in order to be promoted.

What KPIs if any, do you use to measure/develop being a great future leader?

Meyer referred back to his company’s competency framework and the need to live and breathe its values, “The competency framework reflects the purpose and the values set and the performance pathway is built for those performing very well against that competency framework. This would include; results orientation, inspiring others, purposeful leadership and innovation.

“If someone is struggling with one or some of these and they want to step up to a leadership role our aim is for everyone to have the power (opportunity) without limitation. What is the limitation here and what can we do to overcome it? Instead of asking – what are your (revenue / KPI) numbers looking like / how many BD calls have you made, which is a pretty rudimentary approach to recruitment. Most sectors are moving away from that. If you speak to any business leader or successful HRD they will tell you they are challenging that old paradigm and recruitment really needs to look forward and advance.”

“FutureYou’s career pathway includes objectives that are quantifiable and results oriented.”

“It would typically highlight 3-5 areas including new business acquisition or the consistency of performance within a team”. Meyer added that, “The average experience is between 6 and 15 years, so given that tenure it can be based on a needs based environment”

Smith discussed the use of testing to help support the analysis of leadership in their aspiring managers, in addition to other traditional methods: “We like to test someone’s mettle for leadership using a variety of methods that cover both objective and subjective aspects. This could include gamified personality assessments, short term rotational assignments in other regions, business presentations and engagement surveys and customer feedback.”

Sheffield commented – all of its managers had an HBDI profile (Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) to understand how they think and approach problems under pressure. Nakama also looks at bottom line performance and checking they have a “high performing competency and are culturally aligned”.

Neilsen explained it was important for the individual to be a “successful sales person” to be able to effectively build “strong relationships and deal with C suite”. Also someone who is not blinkered and who cares to develop their team’s success and is motivated to “share the benefits”.

What does a good leader in your business look like?

Neilsen explains they (their leaders) need to be “hungry”, have a “can do attitude” and “want to be part of the long term journey” of the Talent business.  They should show that they want to do the “right thing” by their candidates, clients and colleagues and to be supportive.

Smith went on to discuss the importance of creating a sustainable business, “For Randstad a good leader is someone who is able to build a team that will go on to be successful in the future without them needing to be there. The idea of building a sustainable and consistently high performing culture is something that is super important to us”.

Sheffield explained they look to develop someone who “embodies the important traits of; being highly engaged, competent and collaborative”. They need to be able to “communicate effectively and be able to effectively coach others”. The need to have good “character, commitment, courage and confidence”.

Meyer stated, “Coming back to my previous comment about having the power to connect without limitation, I expect my leaders to have an incredible (detailed) knowledge of their local markets and be a subject matter expert”  and to “spend 80% of their time focusing on bringing that to life and genuinely consulting – the reason that is so important is the customer insight that they gain.

“If they are really good this insight gives them the ability to innovate and challenge the status quo, in turn creating more market share and new opportunities.”

What ongoing training / development / mentoring do you provide your leadership team?

Meyer starts, “We have engaged an external firm who provide one-on-one coaching and mentoring for everyone in the leadership team, which is a sizeable task. We have only been up and running for 12 months and have already had two leadership conferences which, as a start-up, is a significant investment but one that has been absolutely fundamental in terms of creating a cultural landing point for so many people from different backgrounds.

“It’s created a real sense of unity and team spirit which we wanted to create at FutureYou. We have a senior leadership team which I would say is pretty hard to beat in ANZ who spent a lot of time training and mentoring”.

Sheffield points out to a similar framework at Nakama with the use of external coaching with mentors and a Group Leadership Programme that covers their various markets around their global offices. He also encourages his leaders to go and experience things outside the world of recruitment that can boost their leadership skills.

Smith explains that at Randstad, “We provide a mix of onsite and offsite leadership programmes. Every quarter we bring together our in-country management teams to discuss where we are at as a business and what we need to develop – this often involves external facilitators. We also have a Young Executive and a Senior Executive Programme that partners with INSEAD, TIAS and SMU business schools in a yearlong learning programme. Additionally, we also run team leader and management training series.

Neilsen describes tailored training in targeted areas based on the individual as well as “reading lists, TED talks, external university courses, (of their choosing such as studying a part-time business diploma) the managers tool for new managers, targetted residence based courses… or the AICD course”.

I finished the interview by asking the question that had been one of the major reasons I wanted to write this article. I felt that my journey in recruitment was one of being promoted to manager, not because I was a good potential leader but because I was one  of the companies top billers:

What do you think is the recruitment industry’s biggest failing in regards to its Leaders?

It would appear all I spoke to concurred with my observation of the industry.

I will start with Smith who told me, “I think that often we promote those individuals who are good billers rather than look at those who would be good leaders. This is a difficult choice because often being a good leader also has to do with having the drive to go above and beyond for your team”.

Sheffield agrees that, “There is a propensity to promote big billers…. There is a lack of investment by many agencies since it hits the bottom line… it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation”.

Neilsen added that part of the problem was that some recruitment agencies were “not developing leaders holistically” but were rather “moving sales people into leadership roles who can’t develop that bent or interest”.

Meyer: “The recruitment industry, probably 90% of the time, is revenue led in regards to the decision it makes about the appointment of leaders, and it’s a brave call in a boardroom to back somebody who is not one of your biggest billers for a senior leadership opportunity. However, I am here after 20 years to say sometimes that is the best thing you can do.

To lead and motivate a team of recruiters is very different to being the # 1 biller.

“If you are not a business of size and scale it is very hard to” [not look at the revenue numbers] since they need to “put food on the table every single month sort of mentality”.

I couldn’t agree more.

Recruitment is a tough industry – it’s both physically and emotionally draining, and if you are successful you will be providing a high level of profit to the business you work for and get paid well in the process. If  you have the drive and key attributes to be a successful Leader you need to make sure your company will invest in you, to develop into the best you can be.

Originally published in Recruitment International , Author Will Gordon.

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