30 September 2016

Vale Marc Garside

Mark, Skye and WillowI was greatly saddened to hear of Marc Garside’s passing this week.
Although originally from the UK, the majority of Marc’s recruitment career was spent in Australia. Marc had leadership roles at Robert Walters, Recruitment Solutions and Chandler Macleod. He also established his own recruitment agency in the early 2000s and, more recently, established an online visa consultancy business.
In 2009 Marc was diagnosed with advanced oesophageal cancer and after treatment it was believed he had a good chance of beating the disease long term.
Earlier this year Marc and his family received the shocking news that not only had the cancer returned, it had spread to his pancreas and chest. The two tumours were unable to be removed and palliative chemotherapy was undertaken in an attempt to prevent further spread.
It was hoped that Marc may have had four or five more years more to live. A big fundraiser was held at the end of April to assist in the massive financial investment needed to have Marc treated with advanced new cancer treatments in Germany. Sadly Marc’s health rapidly declined and, as a result, he was unable to undertake all of the treatment.
Marc passed away last Tuesday, 20 September 2016 in the loving company of is wife of ten years, Skye and his 8 year old daughter, Willow.
A remembrance service was held at Tamarama Beach earlier this week. 
I only knew Marc briefly but he struck me as a passionate, optimistic and committed person who would be excellent company.
RIP Marc Garside; the Australian recruitment community remembers you and recognises your skill, character and commitment. We grieve with your wife and daughter and we want them to know that your fine contribution to our industry lives on through the impact you had on your employers, colleagues and employees.

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23 September 2016

At last, reference checking gets serious

Earlier this week the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA) released its Reference Checking & Information Sharing Protocol stating “To help banks employ only competent and ethical financial advisers, the banking industry has today announced a new, improved way of hiring financial advisers”.
ABA Executive Director – Retail Policy; Diane Tate was quoted in the accompanying press release:

“… the banking industry has developed a protocol to make it easier to check how financial advisers have performed in previous jobs.

“This will better identify financial advisers who have not met the industry’s minimum legal and ethical standards, and help employers make more informed recruitment decisions,” she said.
The protocol sets minimum standards for checking references and sharing information, through a series of standardised questions and record keeping practices.”

The protocol was developed with input from regulators and other stakeholders. Subscribing licensees will need to make changes to their recruitment practices to comply with the protocol by 1 March 2017. AMP, ANZ, Westpac, Macquarie, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, CBA, NAB and Suncorp, together representing 38 per cent of the financial advice market in Australia, have signed up to the protocol.  

Having read the twelve page protocol my conclusion is that it’s a heartening development in the importance of having a rigourous and consistent process in place for the reference checking of potential employees. The ABA have been compelled to act after recent scandals that have badly dented the credibility of both financial planners and the Australian financial planning sector.
Recruiting financial advisers is a tough gig (my search on Seek for Financial Advisor, $60k-$200k, all of Melbourne, generated 243 results). It’s very hard to recruit and retain decent ones.
Therefore whenever a financial advisor resigns or is fired, then starts applying for other jobs, they have little trouble obtaining interviews and, subsequently, offers of employment. As most recruitment processes call for reference checks to be done as the final step before an offer is made, there is a significant likelihood that the hiring manager is relieved to finally be at the end of an, almost always, long and frustrating process and, therefore, already emotionally committed to the candidate. This level of emotional commitment is likely to lead to an offer of employment almost regardless of what happens at the reference check stage.
This ‘relieved’ hiring manager, about to hire an ‘experienced’ financial advisor, most likely does one of the following: 
  1. Doesn’t bother conducting any reference checks (believing both what the candidate has told them and that they are a ‘good judge of people’).
  2. Intends to conduct reference checks but the referee (mostly, with good reason), doesn’t return their call(s) or email(s), consequently the reference check is never undertaken.
  3. Conducts reference checks with a person/people nominated by the candidate who is/are not relevant referee(s) (eg a colleague) or who are in not in a position to provide the depth of information that the ABA is clearly outlining in the Reference Checking and Information Sharing Protocol.
  4. Conducts a reference check with the right person but without undertaking the necessary preparation. Consequently few, if any, of the necessary questions to validate the person’s ethics or capabilities are asked. Without these questions very few referees will volunteer damning information that is likely to prevent the ex-employee from obtaining an offer of employment.
The predictable outcome of any of these four scenarios is that the candidate is hired; they deliver poor outcomes for their new employer; are fired or resign and the cycle starts all over again.
A recent example of the predictability of this pattern in any skills short market is the jailing of a payroll officer who stole $4 million from her employer, Visy, over a seven year period, having been employed by Visy shortly after being released from jail for (yes, you guessed it) stealing from two previous employers.
The rigour in the ABA protocol is to be found on pages 8 and 9 where the template reference check form lists a number of very specific, evidence-seeking questions to ascertain the facts of the financial advisor’s performance and conduct.
Overall I believe the ABA initiative is a welcome one. The reality is that all industry associations would be well advised to do something similar for their members as in my experience most reference checking, regardless of industry, is of poor quality and of little value to the prospective employer.
I’ll follow the outcome of the ABA Reference Checking & Information Sharing Protocol initiative with a great deal of interest over the next few years. Of particular interest is whether its implementation prompts other industry or professional associations to undertake something similar.
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16 September 2016

The best leaders do less, not more

Successful recruiters that consistently deliver high numbers do so because they are constantly in action. Every minute of every day of every week of every month is an opportunity to make more placements as quickly as possible.

To work in the same office as Graham Whelan or Andrew Marty was to witness an incredible level of personal productivity on a daily basis.

Once a recruiter reaches a certain level of success there is likely to be an opportunity to take a leadership role. Most recruiters accept this opportunity.

Then the real challenge begins. I don't just mean the challenge of being responsible for the development and results of other people, I mean the challenge of having to rewire your brain to truly get that your job now is to do less, not more.

To do less, not more, at first utterance sounds ridiculous. Most recruitment leaders reading this statement would be thinking "You have to be kidding! I still have a billing responsibility AND I have people responsibility. That's got to mean more work."

However the research on leadership, and the actions of some of the world's most successful companies, is unequivocal.

In July this year, Google, who are fanatical about using data to understand and perpetuate high performance in their business, were reported as follows:

The two fundamental things they found which drive the performance of their people include:
  • Ensuring goals are clearly written down.
  • Ensuring there are frequent conversations happening between the manager and the employee.

Early last month, GE, the benchmark for twentieth century corporate leadership development, announced that they were scrapping annual performance appraisals and replacing them with "a new system of feedback and coaching" that "will require managers to communicate better and more often with their staff and to act as coaches and facilitators."

At the recent RCSA International Conference I presented the CEB research on sales manager effectiveness that concluded that the two most important things that a sales manager can do with her time (in the context of recruitment) is to provide skills coaching to each team member and to work with each team member to ‘unstick' stuck jobs.

What does all of this tell us?

The most effective leaders prioritise spending time with each of their team members ahead of everything else. This time could be spent coaching (ie observing an interview or a prospect visit) or having a coffee with their team member or having a formal one-on-one.

All of these activities require something that many recruitment leaders find very difficult to do: allocate time for this type of interaction, be still, ask questions (resisting the temptation to tell) and just listen, in other words not doing very much but having a very large impact on that team member. Why? Because nothing demonstrates to a team member that their leader cares more than the time their leader spends with just them.

The addiction that recruiters-turned-leaders have to immediate results means that the investment in spending time with each team member, each day and each week, seems to generate little immediate or tangible return. Which in the short run, might be true but the real benefits accrue over the longer term as the time invested in each team member is returned via each team member's higher level of skill, greater commitment, higher performance and longer tenure.

The culture in most recruitment agencies is, typically:
  1. The leader spends the most time with the consultant who is performing the worst and the least time with the consultant who is performing the best. This creates the, unintended, message that any time a leader spends with a consultant signifies a problem.
  2. The leader should be billing or doing other (immediately) productive things rather than ‘waste time' or ‘distract' consultants by spending time with them. 
Smart companies know better.

The single biggest difference in leadership behavior between the High Performing Workplaces and the Low Performing Workplaces was that leaders in HPWs spend more time and effort managing their people than leaders in LPWs (29.3% higher).

Source: The Society for Knowledge Economics (from research involved interviewing 5,661 employees from 77 Australian organisations in order to understand what separated high performing workplaces from low performing workplaces (January 2011).

The single biggest obstacle to recruitment agencies adopting this leadership behavior is the core instinct of recruitment agency leaders is that they should be ‘doing' lots of things.

Leaders: do less, but have more impact where it really matters.

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08 September 2016

CareerOne's jump to our side of the recruitment industry: bad news or not?

"We’re not a job board anymore”: CareerOne
CareerOne has abandoned its job board in favour of a "skills marketplace" …….. the company is now actively working to change perceptions about its business.
ShortList, 11 March 2014
CareerOne strategy “Flipping 180 degrees”
CareerOne is refocusing on its core job board platform as part of a strategy and website overhaul, with renewed hopes it can rival SEEK's dominance.
ShortList, 7 July 2015
CareerOne launches “full recruitment service”
CareerOne has launched a new offering that it says will provide a full recruitment service for the same cost as advertising a job online.
ShortList, 3 August 2016
CareerOne on recruiter hiring drive
CareerOne is currently advertising for recruiters for its new service, offering a 30% commission rate for the first 100 people accepted as a "recruitment partner".
Its advertisements say the recruiters will be independent contractors, and it is appealing to seasoned recruiters, along with graduates, parents returning to the workforce, and mature-age workers with great networks.
ShortList, 31 August 2016
Indeed forays into full recruitment
Global job board Indeed is testing the waters with a full recruitment service.
Indeed Hire is a pilot project where employers can effectively outsource their recruitment to the job ad giant and bypass agencies…
ShortList, 2 September 2016
One thing about recruitment; it’s never boring. Nothing stays the same for very long.
The past month has seen the announcement of CareerOne (majority owned by Acquire Learning Ltd) moving from job board to recruitment agency (CareerOne Recruit) and Indeed (owned by Recruit Holdings, the fifth largest recruitment agency in the world, by revenue) on that same path in the US.
No doubt the executives of both CareerOne and Indeed have thought carefully about the change in their respective business models that both companies are undertaking and the impact that this change will have on their traditional core constituency, recruitment agencies.
I won’t make any comment on Indeed Hire until there is an announcement about its intentions for the Australian market. For the time being I’ll focus on CareerOne.
Recruit2Retail founder and director Stephen Moir has already made his opinion clearly known by sending CareerOne a terse email, after one of his referrals conflicted with a CareerOne referral of the same candidate to a mutual client:
This industry is already competitive enough, without having to compete with a job board, a job board that mind you, I pay a monthly fee to. 
I am happy to be told I am wrong, but CareerOne needs to make a decision, are you a job board or are you a recruitment agency?  The saying "Don't shit where you eat" comes to mind."
The CareerOne commercial model of a $3000 placement fee, payable as 12 monthly instalments of $250, minimum two placements, or one-off $4k placement fee, (you can view the CareerOne Recruit terms here) can only be sustainable  on a low cost base and high volume.
The low cost aspect is the candidate sourcing and screening service to be run out of Manila. The volume will come from sectors with a large volume of roles (hospitality, retail, health care would be the obvious ones) identified and pursued by a locally based sales force; who are licensees of the CareeOne product (much like the traditional insurance sales model of independent business owners being exclusive sales representatives of a specific insurance company). Whether this means we will be seeing CareerOne Recruit ads on Seek or LinkedIn remains to be seen.
CareerOne will undertake all the invoicing, remitting the agreed commission back to the licensee.
When I met Dorian Van Zyl, CareerOne’s recently appointed Head of Recruitment Services, it was clear that the goals were lofty. Van Zyl is aiming for CareeOne Recruitment Services to reach 200 employees by the end of the next financial year, only 22 months away and to break even before then. A road show is currently underway along the Australian east coast to kick start the company’s recruitment drive. Achievement of the growth target would, to my knowledge, represent the fastest growth of a recruitment agency, from scratch, in the history of the Australian recruitment industry.
Van Zyl wants CareerOne to deliver a world class recruitment service for the CareerOne clients.
The challenge will be doing this without a wholesale departure of their recruitment agency clients, sufficiently annoyed by CareerOne’s play for ‘their clients’, to withdraw their custom (as Stephen Moir has done).
What does this all mean for the traditional recruitment agency?
I choose to look at it through the prism of Treacy and Wiersema’s three value disciplines (modifications of Michael Porter’s Generic Strategies, 1980) that create customer value and provide competitive advantage.
These three value disciplines are: 
  1. Operational excellence (eg McDonald’s)
  2. Product leadership (eg Apple)
  3. Customer intimacy (eg Market Life, my local fruit & veg retailer)
CareerOne have chosen Operational Excellence to be their competitive advantage. The agencies likely to be significantly impacted will be those agencies that compete in that same ‘Operational Excellence’ space (ie the transactional recruitment market).
Hays are clearly the current market leader in the recruitment ‘Operational Excellence’ category in Australia. Given the Hays dominance in the mid-market category (say $60k-$120k annual salary), you would think the obvious path for CareerOne to take would be to aggressively target the under $60k SME market where they would be bumping up against the likes of Adecco, Manpower, Workpac, DFP Recruitment, Programmed/Skilled and parts of the Randstad and Chandler Macleod businesses. There’s a much larger volume in this segment of the market, compared to the mid-market, but the competitors I have named are well-established and formidable , let alone the many locally-owned regional or suburban specialists also operating in this segment of the market.
It’s pretty easy to see where traditional agencies will be vulnerable to the CareerOne offering – the localised writing and posting of job ads followed by the manual assessing and screening of both ad responses and database/online search results. This process is currently high cost and, mostly, inefficient. Continual improvement in this area, using both technology and human skill will be critical as margins continue to be under strong downward pressure from clients and competitors.
Any agency who genuinely focuses on Customer Intimacy as their value driver (as loosely identified through having an agency having large majority of exclusive and retained work at above-market fees and margins) will have little to be concerned about by CareerOne Recruit, they simply aren’t competing for the same clients.
The Australian recruitment industry has grown in size and relevance over the past sixty years or so because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the many thousands of recruitment agency owners who have provided a service to their respective clients and candidates.
This has been the case, regardless of economic cycles, government regulation, overseas competitors and, now, recruitment vendors-turned-recruitment-agency.
The next year or so will be another fascinating period in the evolution of the Australian recruitment industry.
Competition; bring it on.

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02 September 2016

Talent Agent: much talked about but still a very long way off

I was recently sorting out some old files and came across a presentation I made for an RCSA event in 2006. In this presentation I covered the changing market for candidates and made a prediction (far from new, even ten years ago) that agency recruiters would need to become Talent Managers as the balance of power in the employment marketplace had shifted away from employers and towards employees.

Other recruitment industry speakers have also been hot on this topic. Greg Savage has been relentless in his focus on this aspect of recruiter capability and relevance.

Last week, at the 2016 RCSA International Conference there were two keynote speakers who addressed the topic of the trends in the recruitment market and what that meant for agency recruiters.

Steve Shepherd (The Future of Work and its impact on the future of Recruitment) and Fiona Anson (Where is the Workforce Heading - and how does that affect us as Recruiters?) both predicted/recommended that the recruiter of the future will primarily be that of a Talent Agent (Shepherd) or Talent Manager (Anson).

The Talent Manager or Agent is more akin to the role played by agents in the world of sport or entertainment, where they represent a small number of high profile, high demand and/or highly skilled clients. This representation involves the agent aiming to find each client the right opportunities for their talent, ambition and availability. The talent pays for the service by paying the agent a percentage of their earnings (20% is common but it varies according to whether the deals struck are for employment or endorsements, which typically involve the agent receiving a significantly higher percentage).

Although it is illegal in Australia to charge candidates a fee for finding them a job, it isn't illegal to charge a fee for other services related to maximising employment opportunities (eg career coaching).

The concept of a Talent Agent/Manager in the world of agency recruitment is pretty simple - find the best 100-200 candidates in your niche market and ensure that you are the only person they wish to deal with in terms of employment opportunities (contract or perm). Rather than find jobs to fill, the Talent Agent seeks opportunities for their talent by contacting potential employers (in the late last century world of recruitment that I was schooled in we called that activity ‘floating').

So given the conversation about recruiters becoming Talent Agents/Managers has been going on for at least fifteen years and in the meantime the demand for skills has only become more acute, why has the Talent Agent role not become commonplace?

Yes, I know that many agencies now have Candidate Managers (or similar title) but in my experience these consultants are predominantly focused on the market for active candidates.

In my view, the legacy of the past (focus on winning jobs then post ads then sort through a lot of average, or worse, candidates to find the best ones) is so pervasive and institutionalised it's very hard to stop that approach and completely re-set the business model to one of Talent Agent/Manager rather than Job Generator and Filler.

Here's how you recognise whether you are a fair dinkum recruitment agency Talent Agent:

1.      You have a defined and specific criteria that must be met in order to represent talent
2.      You frequently (politely and respectfully) decline to represent people who want to be represented by you
3.      You are highly skilled at distinguishing between average performers and high performers
4.      You are highly skilled at communicating, both verbally and in writing, the skills and traits of the high performers you represent
5.      'Candidate' is not a word you commonly use when discussing the people you represent; ‘talent' or ‘high performer' being more accurate
6.      You are competent to provide valuable career advice to your talent
7.      You receive a constant stream of high quality referrals
8.      You only accept a ‘job to fill' if this job directly aligns with the talent, interests, remuneration and availability of the people you represent.
9.      You never run ads on job boards
10.  You advise your talent to decline any offer (an offer that would, in almost all cases, generate a fee for you) if the opportunity and offer are not aligned with your talent's best interests.
Let's hope that I won't be hearing about Talent Agents/Managers being the ‘future of recruitment' in any recruitment conference keynote in 2031.

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19 August 2016

Banjo PR Disaster: The well-meaning but incompetent interviewer

Two weeks ago, Sydney advertising agency, Banjo, found itself in the middle of a social media storm when one of its hiring managers, at the end of an interview, said to the candidate (of Sri Lankan origin): "the client might be alarmed by having three brown skin people attend a meeting."

SmartCompany reported as follows:

Banjo chief executive Andrew Varasdi declined to comment when contacted by SmartCompany. However, the company said in a statement the situation was an "unfortunate understanding", and the interviewer, "who is of similar ethnicity to the candidate", made a "casual remark at the end of the interview", which was intended to make the applicant feel "at ease" ... There has been a lot of media attention on the issue of equality - including race, gender and sexual orientation, and age - in recent times and we acknowledge that emotions can run high."

As always seems to be the case when these sort of issues blow up in public, the offending company labelled the matter an "unfortunate understanding" ie it wasn't what we said that was bad, it was the fault of the hurt party for "taking it the wrong way."

I thought ad agencies prided themselves on, and were engaged by clients for their skill of being able to communicate a clear message?

At least Varasdi acted promptly in contacting the candidate to arrange a meeting:

"When I learned of the situation I immediately contacted both the candidate and our staff member to offer my empathy and support. I have arranged to meet with the candidate first thing in the morning (Friday 5 August) to reassure her of our policies on recruitment."

Varasdi's statement went on:

In Banjo's seven-year history, the agency's recruitment policy has always encompassed not only hiring the best possible talent, but also ensuring that the staff spans all ages, genders and ethnicities.

Varasdi said: "We couldn't possibly deliver on our promise that our clients come first, if our own staff did not reflect the Australian community. We are always prepared to offer our clients the best advice to connect with their customers."

Banjo's current staff includes 50% women in senior management and 50% women overall, and half of the staff are from ethnic backgrounds including India, Asia, UK and South America.

"We are extremely proud of the make up of our talented staff, which is reflective of the diversity of Australia. We hope that we will be judged on our record, and that all candidates who consider joining us at Banjo will do so too," Varasdi said.

That's all well and good; I am sure Varasdi was truthful about Banjo's recruitment policy and the diversity of his company's staff.

But in my view there was something significant missing.

Where was the statement about reviewing their interview training? One of his hiring managers had just demonstrated herself to be incompetent at conducting an interview; well-meaning but incompetent.

Varasdi may think the problem was an "unfortunate misunderstanding" but I call BS on that one. It's a skill error. No trained and skilled interviewer should ever make such a howler. Making a ‘casual remark' such as the one Banjo find themselves apologising for is as ignorant and stupid as making jokes about "a bomb in my bag" to airport security staff.

What interview training has been undertaken by the hiring managers at Banjo? If training has been undertaken, how recent was this training? What follow up has occurred? What auditing of recent interviews has taken place to ensure that the training is being consistently followed?

I suspect that, like most companies, no formal interview training has taken place. If such training has taken place, then I would almost guarantee that no meaningful follow up has occurred.

How many companies of Banjo's size would allow an untrained person to run their IT system or be responsible for the Banjo finances? Would Banjo seek legal advice from a self-taught lawyer? Of course they wouldn't.

Yet how many companies allow almost any employee to conduct an interview regardless of their skill or training? I would bet my house that a vast majority of companies make few or no enquiries as to the skill and training of their hiring managers before those same hiring managers make decisions worth tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars as they interview potential employees and make hiring decisions.

Memo Andrew Varasdi: Your recent PR disaster was caused by an employee's skill error. Unless you recognise this and take the appropriate action to rectify this skill error across your company then you are not fixing the real cause of the problem that your well-meaning but incompetent hiring manager highlighted.

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