17 January 2017

Interview with 2016 SARA (NZ) Recruitment Leader of the Year: Brien Keegan of Randstad

In mid-November last year, one week after the equivalent Australian awards, Seek announced the winners of the New Zealand SARAs. The winner of the Recruitment Leader of the Year was Randstad's Brien Keegan.

After completing his undergraduate degree at Massey University in 2001, Brien worked at Telecom New Zealand for just over 18 months before he commenced his recruitment career. Having left New Zealand in mid 2006, Brien subsequently worked in various Randstad's businesses in Melbourne, Vancouver and Kong Kong. 

Brien's current role is Country Manager for Randstad New Zealand, based in Auckland. Randstad New Zealand offers specialist recruitment services in Construction & Engineering, Accounting, Banking & Financial Services, Education (child care teachers), Technologies (ICT professionals including sales & marketing), Call Centre, Assessment Centre & Business Support and Government, in addition to a suite of HR products and services. Randstad New Zealand operates from four locations.

Brien kindly agreed to answer my interview questions just after he returned from this Christmas/New Year break.

Ross: What was your background prior to becoming a recruiter and how did you come to choose recruitment as a career?

Brien: I'm perhaps the first person to ever say this, but as a young person I wanted to look at a career in recruitment. I believe it is an excellent industry to have a positive impact on individuals' lives and also to help organisation's grow and prosper. I am really interested in people and in business, so it is a great match.

What aspects of recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?

Just managing time and ensuring you meet and exceed expectations, of our clients and candidates. Too often we get criticised as an industry for being underwhelming in our customer experience, For me it all starts with the basics of follow up; doing what you say you will do.

How long did it take working as a recruiter before you were offered your first leadership role? Tell me a little about that role.

I started in the industry in January 2004 and led my first recruitment team (accounting and business support) from October 2005 (with Drake in New Zealand). I was asked to take on a team that had not been profitable for a number of years and had been through various leaders, so it was a great challenge. We were able to turn the business around, which was hugely rewarding.

Funnily enough (and this is not a paid editorial!), I was fortunate to attend one of your training sessions for new leaders and to this day, I still heed the advice you gave me in terms of what to look for in new recruits to our industry - thank you!

What did you find to be the biggest challenges in moving from a consulting role into a leadership role?

Just managing the balance between the organisational requirements of a leadership role (i.e forecasting, budgets, planning, hiring etc), but not losing sight of the fact that the reason you are a leader is due to your ability to connect to people; not just your team, but also your clients and candidates. I am passionate about being in front of our customers as well as still helping our team source and fill the occasional position myself.

Tell me a little about the opportunities Randstad provided to you to work in both the Canadian and Hong Kong markets. How did those opportunities arise and what were the most important things you learned in each of those markets? 

A huge advantage in working for Randstad is the potential to work in other markets. I was lucky enough to get support from Randstad to work for the Canadian business, rather than having to work on ski slopes, when I wanted to visit Canada. It also enabled me to learn more about IT recruitment through the strategic sourcing role I had with Randstad Technologies.

Hong Kong was an unbelievable experience. We grew the team from 13 to 50 in my time there and the learnings were massive both professionally and personally. In many ways there are many differences in working in Hong Kong, but it cemented to me that no matter where in the world you are recruiting, it is about your ability to connect with people. The better you connect, the more successful you will be.

What sort of formal and informal leadership development have you experienced in your time at Randstad?

I have been very lucky to have had significant leadership development opportunities both locally in New Zealand and Australia, but further afield in Asia and Europe. I have been fortunate to be involved in leadership development programs, visits to other locations to learn best practice, structured training on both hard and soft skills of management/leadership and in addition to that have been supported by some amazing mentors right across the Randstad world. The development, learning path and career opportunities that Randstad provided me, has been what has set Randstad apart for me personally.

What books, blogs, podcasts, websites or other external resources have you gained the most from in terms of developing your leadership skills?

I have read numerous leadership books and watched various TED Talks. I am a big fan of Simon Sinek's, ‘starting with why', as I think it is important to understand motivations deeply in this industry. I follow the Harvard Business Review, as well as McKinsey. I also like to keep up with those blogging in our industry as well.

I am currently looking into information, reading and support available around developing mental skills. I think resilience, or a lack of it, is one of the biggest reasons that individuals do not progress in our industry, which is a real shame. If you think about the All Blacks, they are not only highly skilled athletes, but they spend a lot of time on their state of mind and mental wellness. If anyone else is looking into this in our industry, I would love to connect and understand your learning and viewpoint (Ross's note: Both, Paul Lyons, co-founder of Ambition, and, Rob Collins, former Clarius CEO, have both pursued this area since leaving their respective executive roles).

What sort of statistics or KPIs do you rely on, and how do you use them, to effectively manage the leaders who report to you?

You can usually tell, when you walk into an office, whether a team is successful, which is why I don't think you can only rely on KPIs and statistics. They are perhaps an indicator, but rather than using them as a tool to ‘manage' people, I believe they are best utilised as a starter for coaching. I have eleven direct reports, all focused on different areas, so largely it is ensuring that I am setting clear expectations on what needs to be achieved and then hold the team accountable to that.

Back to KPIs; I truly believe the parameters you put around people drive their behaviour. I remember being aware of an agency that the consultants had to do 50 ‘dials' each day which makes it really hard to deliver quality calls. In the end the consultants were calling local supermarkets to get to their ‘dial' number towards the end of each day.

What do you attribute your win in SARA 2016 Recruitment Leader of the Year (NZ) to?

I expect it's due to the fact that I genuinely care about the success of every individual in our team. In the last 12 months we have spent a lot of time focusing the business, adjusting our structure and pushing ourselves to be better. In doing this, we have maintained high levels of engagement, so I am hoping that this is a sign that we are communicating effectively as a leadership team across the country. I am very enthusiastic about 2017 for our team in New Zealand as we have a great team in place and we are fortunate that the market conditions here are strong.

What are the most important things that a recruitment agency leader should focus on to build a team with strong morale, excellent skills and outstanding results?

Ensuring that all the basics are in place around setting a vision, creating a strategy to deliver that and then ensure that you have your team structured in the right areas to execute. Beyond that, it is important to ensure that there is a clear purpose in place, so that everyone is connected to where the organisation is going. At a more cultural level, creating a fun environment, not taking yourself too seriously, treating your team as individuals and setting very clear expectations, are all very important.

What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?

To not get tied down by emails - if you aren't in front of the team, your clients or candidates, then I think you may be in the wrong job.

Go to every meeting as though it was your last, I truly believe we can get stuck into routine, both in our internal and external conversations, so always to be in a position where you have perhaps made an individual think differently before they leave the room.

What's something about yourself that very few people, who know you professionally, would know about you?

I tend to hit an awful slice off the first tee. In general, my golf could be a lot better; love the game though.

What advice would you give to a recruiter who has leadership ambitions?

Lead away from the desk, get in front of clients, candidates and network with your team. The challenge can be in leading through the economic cycles and as such I think the saying that the real test of leadership occurs in the worst of times, not the best of times, is very accurate. In those tough times, don't completely change who you are; be consistent and your team will respect you for that.

related blogs
recent blogs

12 January 2017

Summer down under: the music recruiters will be listening to

I love music.
I can’t play an instrument but ever since I was about 9, I have been fascinated by music of all kinds. Growing up in 1970s Hobart there was only two commercial stations (7HO and 7HT) and the ABC. I listened to the only commercial station that played music all the time (7HT) with legendary local radio celebrity, Tim ‘Radar’ Franklin (who sadly passed away just over a year ago), spinning the latest records. I was especially taken with Carl Douglas’s Kung Fu Fighting and whenever I hear it played it evokes memories of those days.
Once I started at the University of Tasmania, there were plenty of memorable concerts at the Uni Bar and Activities Centre. Dragon played an especially ragged, substance-fuelled and memorable set, touring to support their (then) comeback album, 'Body and the Beat'. I don’t think I could repeat some of lead singer, Marc Hunter’s ‘requests’ to the young women in the audience, even to such a broad-minded audience as recruiters!
When I backpacked my way to London and stayed for nearly two years, I indulged in seeing the artists who would never have heard of Hobart, let alone toured there. I went to 21 concerts in 20 months, covering an eclectic range of artists stretching from Toni Childs to the Rolling Stones, from The Church to Prince and from Diana Ross to The Fine Young Cannibals. It was an absolutely brilliant time that I treasure greatly.
Music still plays a large role in my life and I especially enjoy discovering new artists whose music fits seamlessly into my very expansive tastes. Gallant’s Ecology is my latest discovery.
From my recent survey there’s a similarly eclectic music taste amongst recruiters. I made a request of about thirty of Australia’s and New Zealand’s recruitment industry identities to provide answers to my music-related questions. Twenty three responded.
Here’s a selected summary of what I discovered from the questions I asked about their individual music tastes:
Favourite recent release album:
Jorja Smith - Project 11 (Charles Cameron), Drake –Views (Stella Concha), Gang of Youths - The Positions (Guy Davey), Adele –25 (Patrick March), Metallica – Hardwired to Self Destruct (Jonathan Rice), Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome (Trevor Vas)
Favourite old album you still play a lot:
Cold Chisel - East (David Carman), Sarah McLachlan – Afterglow (Eva Grabner), I recently did a Beatles tour in Liverpool, I play Abbey Road a lot, it’s probably the best Album ever made, musically it brilliant (Robert van Stokrom), Natalie Merchant –Tigerlilly (Nikki Beaumont), It’s hard to pick one but probably Billy Joel – The Essential! (Sally Paris)

Favourite album to chill out to:
Pavarotti's Greatest on a Sunday morning (Tony Hall), Duke Dumont - I Got U (Nicole Underwood), Everything But the Girl - Walking Wounded (Nick Hindhaugh), Flight Facilities - Down To Earth (Stuart Freeman), Pink Floyd - Dark side of the Moon (Craig Watson)

Favourite summer song of all time:
Don Henley - Boys of Summer, (Trevor Vas, Paul Hamilton), Edward Maya - Stereo Love (Stella Concha), First Class - Beach Baby (Barry Vienet), Kooks – Seaside (Andrew McGregor), Give Up On Your Health - Teeth & Tongue (Luke Collard), Blur - Girls & Boys (Craig Watson)
The uncool song you secretly love (guilty pleasure):
Any Neil Diamond song (Alan Claire), Rick Springfield - Jessie's Girl (Barry Vienet), I rarely press fast forward when Katy Perry comes on in fact I’ve even been known to turn it up (Matt Sampson), The Nolans - Gotta Pull Myself Together (Stuart Freeman), One Direction – Story of My life (Andrew McGregor), Snow - Informer (Sally Paris)
Most common physical environment you listen to music (eg car, lounge, deck, etc):
On the stepper at gym (Tony Hall), Home, Car, Train, in no particular order (Guy Davey), In the kitchen, cooking (Patrick March), I always have Pandora going in the background (Paul Hamilton), Gardening (David Carman)
The three artists most heavily represented in your music library:
Fred Wesley (& the JB’s), Gillian Welch and Paul Weller (cos my wife loves him) (Charles Cameron), Rufus, Chet Faker, Angus & Julia Stone (Nicole Underwood), Andrea Bocelli, Sarah McLachlan and Def Leppard (Eva Grabner), Bob Seger, Richard Clapton and Phil Collins (Robert van Stokrom), Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rolling Stones, U2 (Paul Hamilton), The Stone Roses, The Smiths, The Pixies (Luke Collard)
Your upcoming summer holiday plans that involve music:
Going to see “the Specials” when they play Sydney in Feb (Alan Claire), Heading to GNR (in front of stage thanks very much) and Bruce Springsteen (Nick Hindhaugh), My wife and I are taking our baby daughter to Zoo Twilights (at Melbourne Zoo) to see the Rubens play (Matt Sampson), Inviting our friends over with their guitars for a pool side jam (Nikki Beaumont), Looking forward to Guns n Roses visit to New Zealand in February (Jonathan Rice)

recent blogs

20 December 2016

Vale Danni Cookesley: Fundraising champion and wonderful human being

I had planned on ending this year with a light hearted blog about the eclectic music preferences of those in the recruitment industry. I had the requisite responses from those whose preferences I requested but on Friday the Mother’s Day Classic posted a brief note on their Facebook page as follows. (click on image to enlarge)

Danni Cookesley 

I was shocked to receive this terrible news.

I first met Danni in 2012 when I started my MDC fundraising efforts following the death of my sister a few months earlier.

As described in the above post, I was immediately won over by Danni’s friendly nature, great attitude and wonderful enthusiasm for the cause of breast cancer fundraising.

Each year at the MDC in Melbourne, Danni and I would reconnect and she would thank me for my fundraising efforts. Last year The MDC CEO Sharon Morris advised me that Danni was on sick leave as she battled brain cancer. I briefly saw Danni at the 2016 MDC where she came across as her friendly, exuberant self. I was optimistic that the treatments Danni was receiving were having a positive impact

Sadly this was to be the last time I saw Danni.

Danni passed away last Wednesday at the age of 45.

Danni is survived by her husband Craig and her two young sons, Jack and Leo.

Thank you, Danni, for making a massive difference in the lives of many others, most of whom you never met. Your selfless contribution to help find a way to fulfill the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) goal of ‘zero breast cancer deaths by 2030’ has been an inspiration to many and is a legacy worthy of your life.

May you rest in peace, Danielle Mary Cookesley.
Related blogs

16 December 2016

Interview with 2016 SARA Recruiter of the Year: Clare McCartin of Davidson

When I moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 2001, I joined SACS Consulting under the leadership of Andrew Marty.

Early the following year Andrew hired three fresh-faced graduates to join the team. One of those graduates quickly stood out as being smarter, quicker to learn and more suited to the challenges of recruitment than the other two.

Andrew quickly gave this graduate a lot of responsibility for someone so young and green.

I left SACS a short time later but continued to watch with interest from afar as that raw graduate continued to develop her profile in the Melbourne executive recruitment sector.

Nearly fifteen years later I renewed my acquaintance with that graduate, Clare McCartin at the SEEK SARA Awards in Melbourne and watched with delight as she was announced as the 2016 Recruitment Consultant of the Year.

Brisbane based, Davidson (formerly Davidson Recruitment) have been on an aggressive expansion path over the past two years and one of their biggest coups was luring Clare away from SACS after 13 years, where she had risen to become a Director.    

Since September 2015 Clare has been General Manager Executive and Boards for Davidson in Melbourne and she is now embarking on the new phase of her career as Davidson continues its push into the Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland markets.

Clare kindly agreed to do a favour for a former colleague by answering my questions about her background, her SARA win and succeeding as a recruiter, now and in the future.

Ross: What was your background prior to becoming a recruiter and how did you come to choose recruitment as a career?

Clare: I joined the recruitment sector as a bright eyed graduate, having completed a psychology degree and a Masters degree in HR and after a brief stint as an intern in a psych testing firm. I thought I'd do two years in recruitment and then launch into a generalist HR role. However I quickly discovered that I didn't want to give up what I quickly grew to love: the recruitment side of the HR lifecycle.

What aspects of recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?

Definitely advising candidates they had been unsuccessful. People outside of the sector often think that recruitment consultants give people wonderful news all the time, but that only happens with 1 to 2 per cent of the candidates a recruiter works with. I used to dread making rejection calls in the early days, which was just after 9/11, when the market was tough, and some candidates really needed a job. I quickly realised that having quick, open and honest conversations, taking a strength-based approach to feedback, was the easiest way to go.

What sort of training did you receive when you first started as a recruiter?

Having started in a boutique, I received a mix of on-the-job (aka in the deep end) and a very structured modular training program such as ad writing, how to spot strong candidates etc. I actually think this was a great mix as there are technical skills you need but you also need to be really hungry to achieve. As I quickly found out, you can't succeed in this incredibly competitive sector unless you have both.

What niche do you recruit in and what have you found to be the biggest challenges of recruiting in that niche?

I recruit in government mainly. The biggest challenge is having clients consider a talent from outside the government, or closely related, sector. Having said that, in the past two years I've noticed a real shift in an openness to appoint outside the sector.

What do you do to keep up-to-date with issues in your market niche?

I'm fortunate in executive recruitment that I get to meet with CEOs, Executive Directors and Board members every day. These leaders give me a daily pulse check of their burning issues. In addition; I read widely, attend the various conferences and sit on sub-committees for various peak bodies supporting government

What do you do to continue the development of both your recruitment and personal skills?

Davidson has an in house L&D function and in addition to that I attend the occasional workshop or conference put on by leaders from our sector. We also share stories every week in our team catch up of successes and something that we learnt from the previous week. These on the job peer-learnings offer some real gems for our whole team.

Do you use statistics or KPIs to manage your performance? If so which ones and how do you use them?

Yes, the main statistic, (obviously in addition to billings) that we use is client visits. Whenever I feel the need to re-focus I always look at how many people I talked to last week and how many meetings I have locked in the calendar for the coming weeks.

Your 15 year anniversary in recruitment is coming up early next year. What challenges do you see as the most important ones for the Australian recruitment industry to affectively address in the next five years?

Critically we need to maintain relevance through value adding as a genuine consultant as opposed to just referring resumes. Our clients can also access LinkedIn Recruiter if they choose to, so we need to be genuine consultants, stretching our clients' thinking and collaborating with them to reach better outcomes than they could on their own.

What do you attribute your win in SARA 2016 Recruiter of the Year to?

The judges are probably best placed to answer this but I think it's the fact we had a pretty exciting growth story to tell due to a lot of hard work by the entire Davidson team.

Although Davidson Executive is a household name in Brisbane, we were unknown in the local Melbourne market so we were faced with the challenge of both a brand and team build. We went from a team of one to six within the space of twelve months and we are building a reputation to the point where we already have people approaching us to join.

The Davidson methodology is really information rich with clients receiving psych testing results on the long version of the shortlist along with their video interview responses. 

Additionally our shortlist reporting is incredibly sophisticated, offering something similar to what we know is offered by traditional search firms but at a much more competitive price point.

Lastly, but critically, we are spoilt from a back-of-house perspective at Davidson. I was privileged to partner closely with our amazing internal Communications Manager, Sarah Morgan. When I started at Davidson Sarah asked me what peak bodies and other industry representation organisations were important ones for my market. She got in touch with those peak bodies about me contributing to their respective publications, resulting in me writing 10 plus articles on topics and issues I specialise in and I could add value to.

What are the most important things that an individual recruiter can do to maintain his or her relevance and credibility in the next five years?

Write! Whether it's a short piece or a white paper get in front of your audience as a thought leader who adds value beyond your great recruitment work to your client base. Be present at your sector events so you are seen by your clients.

Set yourself up with a firm that offers you the chance to stand out who has a proper marketing/communications/ finance and technology division and are investing in the future of their business.

What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?

One that I learnt very early in my career was to "send yourself home a winner". You get out of this job what you put in so at the end of the day ask yourself "did I achieve everything I could have today?"

What advice would you give to anyone who is just starting their recruitment career?

Find yourself a great leader who will train you well and support you to achieve. Remember that inputs equal outputs and the old adage is never truer in our line of work "the harder I worked the luckier I got."

Recruitment can be a brilliant career, but more than ever I think it's critical to find your micro-specialisation, people love to deal with specialists and certain sectors are growing more than others so do your research and make sure you position yourself in those sectors that are growing.

related blogs

recent blogs

12 December 2016

Happy birthday, Mary

I am attempting to write this blog on Thursday 8 December.

Mary ClennettIt's a tough day to try and think of something to write about because I keep thinking of my sister, Mary; my deceased sister, Mary.

Mary would have turned 49 today. Instead she died from breast cancer one month after her 44th birthday.

By the time she had had a doctor's examination of the lump in her breast, discovered during her second pregnancy, it was too late. She was told she had up to five years to live. She made it a little over half way.

Many readers would know a little of Mary' story. For those that don't, and want to, you can catch up here, here and here.

It's very easy to get swept up in the holiday season and forget what it's really about: enjoying quality time with the people you love and care about. And remembering and appreciating those who are no longer with us.   

Happy birthday, Mary, I think about you every day. I miss your infectious warmth and optimism. I miss our conversations.

I grieve for your absence in the respective lives of Ned and Lola. I grieve for the conversations with their mother they no longer have.

Your life counted, Mary. And it's missed.

Happy birthday.

related blogs

recent blogs

02 December 2016

Decent research shows talent is very far from a company's #1 priority

In a recent blog, I tackled the ludicrous claim made by LinkedIn in their fancifully named 'Australia Recruiting Trends 2017: What you need to know about the state of talent acquisition' that Australian and talent leaders say that Talent is #1 priority at their company (79%).

I suggested that you would be hard pressed to find one agency recruiter who would agree with that statement and that there was little evidence, if any, to suggest that even a large minority of Australian companies prioritised talent ahead of everything else, let alone a large majority of Australian companies who do so.

It seems I may have been right.

The Wall Street Journal mid-last month reported:

"When asked to rank their businesses' most valuable asset, leaders said technology matters above all, according to a new report from Korn Ferry. Employees didn't make the top five."

The WSJ goes on to say:

"The Korn Ferry Institute, the research arm of the executive search and consulting firm, asked 800 chief executives and other top leaders at global firms about what they believe can generate profit for their companies and how workers fit into that vision. Two-thirds said they believe technology will create greater value in the future than their workforce will, and 44% believe that automation, artificial intelligence and robotics will make people "largely irrelevant" in the years to come."

"Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they "see people as a bottom-line cost, not a top-line value generator," according to the report, while 40% said shareholders have pressured them to direct investment toward physical assets like technology."

(my bold)

So, that's a survey of opinions about the present. What about the future? Surely CEOs are more positive about people's importance in the future? I hear you ask.


The concluding line of the WSJ's sobering article is:

"Looking ahead, leaders said the five most prized assets in five years will be customer-facing technology and products, innovation/R&D, product/service, brand and real estate, according to the report."

Specifically the Korn Ferry research notes "67 per cent (of CEOs) believed that in the future technology would represent greater value than people to a business, while 44 per cent said that the growing use of robots, automation and artificial intelligence would make people "largely irrelevant" in the workplace of the future."

Yep, people don't get a look in.

Can we trust the research? Well the Study Methodology notes:

"In August and September, 2016, Korn Ferry interviewed 800 business leaders in multimillion-dollar global organizations on their views on the value of people in the future of work. These leaders were in: the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Brazil, France, Australia, India, and South Africa."

Sounds like it's a bit more substantial than LinkedIn's "150 corporate talent acquisition leaders" doesn't it?

I think it's pretty clear that the people who actually make the key decisions inside a company take a vastly more pessimistic view about the value of employees going forward, compared to those people whose very job depends on new employees being hired.

CEOs might utter positive and soothing words to an employee's face in the office, shop or factory but when answering the questions of dispassionate researchers it's clear these same CEOs want technology to take much, or all, of the same employee's job as soon as possible.

Although this is a global study you would be naive to think this doesn't apply to Australia, a relatively high-wage economy.

In fact you only have to return to last week's blog in which I dissect new CEO, Peter Wilson's first two years at Clarius, for a compelling local example of what the Korn Ferry research reveals about the reality of human capital's importance in the minds of CEOs globally.

As I pointed out in the blog:

"... technology initiatives (the focus of, or contained within, four of the seven initiatives) in the Key Strategic Highlights section of the 2016 Clarius Group Annual Report ..."

"... not a single word can be found in the Key Strategic Highlights about the Clarius employees. You can read about branding, technology, back office systems, the operating structure, new products and services, China, clients and candidates but you won't find anything to enlighten you about how the consultants, and their leaders ..."

There you have it; evidence in our own country and from our own industry (supposedly ‘people-centric') that the relevance of intelligent and hard-working flesh and blood is quickly waning in the minds of many CEOs.

PS: Last week I was remiss in failing to acknowledge Jonathan Rice's, excellent blog on the demise of the Clarius/Candle brand in New Zealand, which he wrote six months before my own blog. I highly recommend you read it.

related blogs

recent blogs