21 September 2017

The Power of Community: Thank you Robert van Stokrom and Charles Cameron

As I considered the impact of the 2017 RCSA International Conference: The Power of Community I started to write about the impact that the conference had on me. Then I read Aspect Personnel’s Founder and Managing Director, Matthew Sampson’s blog on the same topic.

Matt perfectly captured what I, and I suspect many other delegates, experienced : The sense of community with my fellow delegates, the Conference exhibitors and sponsors and, most importantly (for me), the Fijian people (especially school children).

This sense of community does not happen by accident.

It does not happen because some marketing person or event organiser coins a conference theme highlighting community and this automatically creates a sense of community.

A sense of community happens because a leader creates it. In the case of the RCSA, we have two leaders to thank for this; our retiring (after four years) National President of the RCSA, Robert van Stokrom and our Association CEO (of 16 months) Charles Cameron.

Robert has been tireless in his commitment to fulfilling the aims of the RCSA over his four years as National President. He has presided over one of the most significant transitions that an association can have, namely the installing of a new CEO and the inevitable changes that come from having a new association leader.
From where I view things, and from talking to other industry players (both RCSA members and non-members), it’s clear that Robert has nailed this critical part of his role.

Although it is still relatively early days, it is clear that Charles Cameron has been an outstanding appointment for our industry. Charles has led from the front. He has done the most important thing for our industry – he has been out there in each state, and across the Tasman to New Zealand, multiple times in order to meet and engage with RCSA members and non-members. Just as importantly, Charles has met and engaged with industry vendors and governments of both sides.

The building sense of community in our industry is creating momentum to fulfil on RCSA 2020 Leadership specifically the Mission; Through our leadership in the world of work, and empowerment of members, we will improve lives, communities and the economy.

At the Conference dinner, National Board member Steve Heather provided a wonderfully appropriate tribute to Robert (see photo). I was very glad to be there to witness it. Thank you Steve for doing Robert’s service some form of justice.

The Power of Community in the recruitment industry – it’s real, alive and growing. Thank you Robert and thank you Charles for your respective leadership in making this happen.

Everybody get on board - we have a very exciting future ahead of us! 

Note: You can view a six minute video capturing the mood of the 2017 International Conference here. 

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06 September 2017

Clarius Results: Sales slump in booming market and another full year loss

Clarius (I still can’t bring myself to call them by their awful new name, Ignite Services) has just reported a disastrous 2016/17 financial year result.

In a year when Hays reported their combined Australian and New Zealand operations drove gross profit up by 11 per cent and operating profit up by 14%, Clarius managed to go in the other direction to an embarrassing extent.

Financial Results:

Change from
FY 2016
Gross Profit
Operating profit
Net Profit/loss
Calendar year- end share price

Breaking down Clarius’s four operating units yielded no good news anywhere.

Their core Australian recruitment business sales dropped 18% (This reduction was primarily due to the decline in demand from our largest customer from the prior year. Annual Report page 7).

The On Demand division results dropped 25.7% to sales of $9.8 million (This decline was mainly due to the completion of several major projects in the first half of the 2017 financial year and the subsequent reduction in demand associated with a key customer, Annual Report page 7).

People Services went backwards a calamitous 30.8% to $2.7 million (… due to the unsuccessful investment in and expansion into new geographic markets. Annual Report page 7).

The least worst news was that China dropped back less than 1 per cent after impressive gains in the China North Region were cancelled out by a very poor performance in the China South region (In order to address this underperformance a more suitable regional director was appointed subsequent to the reporting date. Annual Report page 7).

If you went looking in the Annual Report for any evidence that Clarius understood, and was addressing its core problem, then you would be disappointed.

All I found was more depressing corporate navel gazing dressed up as a 2020 Vision.

Mission and Vision

In the second half of the 2017 financial year we developed and announced our new mission statement:

We exist to:
·       Ignite the potential of our people and our customers;
·       Reimagine the future of the working world; and
·       Deliver exceptional and sustainable outcomes for all our stakeholders.

This mission statement is supported by our 2020 vision: To be one of Australasia’s leading providers of recruitment, on demand and people services.

To achieve our 2020 vision we will continue to focus on our people, our customers, our candidates and our operating efficiency. The combination should deliver a return to profitability in a timely, sustainable and scalable manner.  

Could this be any more generic, uninspiring and, frankly, unnecessary? It’s like the captain of the Titanic deciding a new paint job is in order immediately after the iceberg was struck. Any company that can publicly release a Mission Statement that contains the phrase ‘we exist to reimagine the future of the working world’ must believe that Utopia is a documentary series. Do they expect anybody to take this sort of stuff seriously? I mean, c’mon people.

But wait, there were ‘People Initiatives’!

Our People: 
Focus on our people has commenced and includes a range of initiatives that will:
·       Improve the leadership capabilities amongst our executives and business leaders;
·       Reduce the time and investment required to take a consultant from induction to productivity; and
·       Increase the productivity of our consultants through a new technology enabled sales platform.

These initiatives should improve our ability to attract, acquire, train and retain our people

Other equally limp motherhood statements were rolled out under sub-headings: Our Customers, Efficiencies, Reporting and Deliverables.

It was all uninspiring and was the opposite of what is obviously required at Clarius: Stop friggin’ around with your non-core businesses – sell them or close them! The evidence is staring you in the face: On Demand, People Services and China (recruitment) are each, and all, a massive distraction. The underwhelming results in each of those divisions, in the face of booming recruitment-focused competitors, makes the action required obvious.

Clarius Board: You run an Australian recruitment business. Get back to core business.

Instead, you ruminate with Mission and Vision Statements and a Strategic Plan that avoids, or doesn’t demonstrate an understanding of, the focus required to return Clarius to profit.

In the past five years, Clarius has accumulated a net loss of $62.5 million. What other evidence do you need that the peripheral businesses you operate are a waste of time, money and energy? In that time there has been multiple CEOs, rebrands and board members. Nothing has stopped the rot.

Julian Sallabank was appointed CEO just before Christmas last year. After a six month probation period was completed, Sallabank was granted 335,000 five year options. I note from the Clarius Annual Report that Sallabank does not hold any Clarius shares, nor has he purchased any since he joined the Clarius Board in September 2014. A big show of confidence by the CEO in his own plans to turn Clarius around would be to buy a parcel of Clarius shares at an all-time low. I mean 100,000 shares would only cost him $7000!

After I wrote my blog criticising Sallabank’s appointment, I received a phone call from Julian Sallabank. He wanted me to understand what he was trying to do at Clarius. We met for lunch and spent a convivial 90 minutes together. I liked him – in fact it’s impossible to dislike Julian Sallabank, he’s a genuinely nice guy. But nothing he said to me in the time we spent together gave me any confidence he was the CEO Clarius needed to turn things around.

The Board must like what they are seeing from Sallabank as they have confirmed his permanent appointment. I can only assume that the business results in the back end of the last financial year were heading strongly in the right direction.

I mean if you can't get things back into the black in the current market, then you are totally screwed when the market turns, as it inevitably does.

The clock is ticking at Clarius, and there’s precious little time left.

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30 August 2017

What the Greatest Sports Coach of All Time taught us about high performance

ESPN had him ranked at number 2 in The Greatest Sports Coaches of the Twentieth Century behind NFL legend Vince Lombardi. Sporting News ranked him at number 1, ahead of Lombardi at number 2.

Who is this man so revered by his peers?

He is a man, I suspect, 99 per cent of readers would not have heard of: John Wooden.

Wooden earned this incredible level of recognition by winning 10 US national college basketball championships, including seven in a row (1966-67 – 1972/73), at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). When Wooden retired after the 1974/75 season (having won the NCAA Championship for a tenth and final time) he had a winning rate of more than 80 percent over 27 seasons.

What made Wooden so incredibly effective as a coach?

Fortunately we know the answer to this question. In 1974, two educational psychologists, Ron Gallimore and Roland Tharp, spent months attending every practise session of Wooden’s team enabling them to observe, record and codify Wooden’s coaching methodology.

The outcome of this research is detailed in The Talent Code: by Daniel Coyle (Bantam Books, 2009). Here’s what Coyle wrote about Galimore and Tharp’s research on Wooden’s coaching methodology:

Gallimore and Tharp recorded and coded 2,326 discrete acts of teaching. Of them, a mere 6.9 per cent were compliments, only 6.6 per cent were expressions of displeasure. But 75 per cent were pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity. One of Wooden’s most frequent forms of teaching was a three-part instruction where he modeled the right way to do something, showed the incorrect way, and then remodelled the right way. (page 168 & 169)

Gradually a picture came into focus: what made Wooden a great coach wasn’t praise, wasn’t denunciation, and certainly wasn’t pep talks. His skill resided in the Gatling-gun rattle of targeted information he fired at his players. This, not that. Here, not there. His words and gestures served as short, sharp impulses that showed his players the correct way to do something. He was seeing and fixing errors. He was a virtuoso of deep practise. (page 170)

He taught in chunks, using what he called the “whole-part method” – he would teach players an entire move, then break it down to work on its elemental actions. He formulated laws of learning: explanation, demonstration, imitation, correction and repetition. “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens it lasts”, he wrote in The Wisdom of Wooden. “The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning” (page 170)

Wooden was purposefully and relentlessly building ‘muscle memory’ in his players during practise so they could rely on this muscle memory at crunch moments during big games.

Repetition is the key to learning.

Two week ago I facilitated a program of company-wide training for a client in New Zealand. For many of the participants this was the third or fourth time I had covered this material, yet each time, new learnings emerged and the importance of mastering core material became even more apparent to the participants.

Repetition is the key to learning.

The recruiters who perform at the highest level for the longest time never say (or think) “I know this” or “I’ve heard this before” when they hear something they have heard before.

These elite recruiters always listen so that (a) they can carefully validate that everything they know works effectively, is actually reflected in what they do each day or each week, and (b) they listen for some small nuance or tweak that may make the difference in, perhaps only one area of their performance, but that one small thing improves their performance. The top performer knows that small improvements executed consistently make a substantial difference to performance over a long period of time. This is the 1 Per Cent Rule at play.

The 1 Per Cent Rule states that over time the majority of the rewards in a given field will accumulate to the people, teams, and organisations that maintain a 1 percent advantage over the alternatives. You don't need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to be slightly better. 

Do you think that Roger Federer says to his coach, or wife (or even to himself); “I’ll skip practising my first serve, I’ve hit enough of those in my life and I am the male record holder for Grand Slam singles titles, after all”?

‘Repetition is the key to learning’ is not exactly revolutionary as a concept but we have John Wooden to thank for showing us exactly how this repetition is executed when high performance is the desired outcome.

His words and gestures served as short, sharp impulses that showed his players the correct way to do something. He was seeing and fixing errors … He was a virtuoso of deep practise.”

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24 August 2017

Seek on the PR offensive: Move on, there's nothing to see here

It’s been a fascinating past couple of months in the story of Seek, via their fully or partially owned brands Onploy, Sidekicker and JoraLocal, competing against the recruitment agency segment of Seek’s own customer base.

It’s clear Seek have been mindful of the less-than-helpful publicity as a handful of my clients advised me that their Seek Account Manager proactively mentioned my blog posts in a conversation about Onploy. Another client told me that “Seek are not happy with your blogs”.

I am open to the facts proving me wrong or at least me being misinformed or under-informed on their products and/or their attitude to the recruitment industry. But oddly Seek are making no serious attempt to engage me on this topic.

I initiated contact with Seek before I published the first blog on 6 July. After some communication they declined to provide answers to a list of questions I sent them and then didn’t respond to my last email on 4 July.

Thomas Amos, co-founder of Sidekicker, emailed me in response to the allegations contained in Wendy Mead’s letter to the RCSA, specified in my second blog. I immediately responded by inviting him to post a comment on my blog. No response was forthcoming. That exchange occurred over a month ago. 

A senior recruitment industry figure, acting as an intermediary, offered to arrange a coffee with a senior Seek executive. I immediately agreed and nominated a date, time and venue; then crickets. My nominated date came and went. A day later I received a response from the Seek executive advising me he would be in contact. That was at the beginning of last week and here we are, more than a week later and no further communication has been received.

In the meantime unhappy agencies press forward with their own action.

It’s emerged that in late May Randstad lodged an objection to the registration of the Onploy name due to Randstad having a business and trademark for “Ploy. The Labour market’s Uber”. Evidence is due in a couple of months.

Other upset recruitment agency owners are seeking legal advice regarding Seek’s use of the  Seek ad response data that has been generated via client-paid job advertisements, from both agency and direct-hire clients.

It’s legally ambiguous who owns the data. Does Seek, as the owner of the platform collecting the data, own the data? Or is the data owned by the paying customers who post the ads to which candidates respond?

This is an unlegislated area of data ownership that would be decided by a judge.

As one recruitment agency owner put it to me “It’s clear Seek that are acting unethically but it’s not clear that they are acting illegally”.

The case for unethical behaviour is predicated on Seek’s action in using data gathered from Seek customer purchases (job ads) to inform the construction and release of products (eg Onploy, Sidekicker, JoraLocal) that directly compete with the services of those same Seek customers. Advancing the case for unethical behaviour is Seek choosing not to advise these same customers of the existence of these products, both at the time of their development and, their subsequent public release.

In the meantime Seek Limited CEO Andrew Bassat threw fuel on the flames last week in his interview with industry news service ShortList after the release of Seek's preliminary 206/17 financial results. Bassat was unconcerned with recruitment agency unrest about Seek's forays into their territory saying that Seek's funding of these products was "focused on technological solutions rather than people solutions" which, decoded means, Seek is focused on finding way to use technology to replace what recruitment agencies do.  

ShortList also reported "Bassat stressed that Seek is not working in competition with recruiters. "I think our track record over 20 years is we could have been more recruiter-friendly. We could not have done more to seek win-win solutions in what we do"

I call BS on that, Andrew. Actually Seek could be doing a hell of a lot more to seek win-win solutions with recruitment agencies - such as telling your customers what Seek is doing with data collected from ads that Seek customers have paid for (to inform the development of products that directly compete with recruitment agencies). It appears that Bassat is too far removed from what's really going on at Seek, and the corresponding anger from Seek's agency customers, if he truly believes what ShortList has reported him as saying.

Further undermining Seek’s credibility is the issue of Seek potentially breaching their own terms of service. Here’s what Seek state in their terms of business:

Placing Advertisements

33.You must ensure that all advertisements posted to the Site comply with all applicable legislation, regulations, by-laws, ordinances and codes of conduct, including but not limited to the:
          a. Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) including but not limited to section 31 of Schedule 2 which requires that if you are a company you must not mislead persons seeking employment as to the availability, nature, terms or conditions or, any other matter relating to the employment opportunity being offered
34. ....You must adhere to the principles of truth in advertising set out in the RCSA's Code For Professional Practice.
...You may only post Advertisements to the Site that are in respect of a genuine employment opportunity that is current as at the time of posting the Advertisement, and for which you are currently recruiting. SEEK reserves the right to request any information from you that it deems necessary to verify that a genuine employment opportunity exists.

37. You may only post Advertisements to the Site that are in respect of a genuine employment opportunity that is current as at the time of posting the Advertisement, and for which you are currently recruiting.

"Heaps of fashion management opportunities available" is not advertising an actual job, instead it’s advertising a chance to be part of an online marketplace. They are two very different things.

If Onploy was not owned by Seek do you seriously think Seek would allow ads such as these on their site? I think we can be pretty sure of the answer to that question.

Not only are Seek (via Onploy) potentially in breach of their own terms they are also arguably contravening the ACCC’s directions on misleading job and business opportunities (see page 3, Not Advertising an Actual Job, Recruitment) and potentially in breach of the RCSA Code for Professional Practice (Principle 2 Honest Dealings). 

Whichever way you look at it Seek have handled this whole issue incompetently.  It’s been a customer relations disaster and a PR case study in how not-to.

The RCSA have had meetings and exchanged correspondence with Seek over this issue as they work out how to proceed with this delicate issue (Seek are a long-time sponsor of the RCSA). I suspect more will be known after the National Board meeting held just before the RCSA International Conference in Fiji in two weeks' time. Also important will be the input of the RCSA Online and Workforce Solutions working group (disclosure: I am a member of this group which was established a year ago to help inform the Board's response to the rapid growth of technology-based workforce platforms).

Where it ends is anybody’s guess.

Watch this space.

04 August 2017

Interview with 2017 RCSA Professional Recruiter of the Year: Erin Devlin of people2people

At the recent RCSA Winter Ball we had the unprecedented situation of three finalists for the 2017 RCSA Professional Recruiter of the Year being employed at one company. I am fortunate to to know the individual merits of each of those finalists (Catherine Kennedy, Sam Palmer and Erin Devlin) and would not have wanted to select a winner, let alone the competition from the other three finalists who I don't personally know (Emily Martyn, Stephen Veness and Michael Taplin).

Erin took home the prize on the big night and, after a recent family holiday on the other side of the world, kindly spared me some time to answer my questions about her win, her career and her advice on succeeding as a recruiter.
Ross: Congratulations on your win, Erin. I want to start bu discussing your background. Your path to becoming a recruiter was far from the norm in this industry – your first job was with The Australian Ballet. How did you progress from being a ballet dancer to choosing recruitment as a career?

Erin: Thanks, Ross. Amazingly, much of the same discipline applies in recruitment as in ballet. In both jobs you have to be very focused, self-motivated, resilient, and achievement and team oriented.  When I finished dancing in 2004 I travelled around the world working with Emirates Airlines. Settling back in Melbourne in 2007, I registered with Drake International as a temp. Instead I was offered a permanent job in their training department, where I observed the recruiters from afar, and shortly after approached the manager for a recruitment job.

I chose recruitment because for me it is the perfect balance between achievement, learning, teamwork, and rewards. I like learning about, and working with, growing businesses, working with high performing people, and being part of the growth of my clients’ businesses and candidates’ careers. I like that the harder you work in recruitment, the more you are rewarded, and it’s not discretionary. You work hard, you get rewarded – both financially and in outcomes.  Now for me it’s about seeing the growth of my team, including their individual careers, and the business overall.

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

Rejection: Even ballet doesn’t prepare you for the ‘nos’ you’re going to get in recruitment, but you very quickly learn to build your resilience, take nothing personally and move on.

How long did it take until you saw recruitment as a viable career choice rather than just a job? What was the catalyst for this switch in thinking?

For me this was after the first few placements. In how many other careers can you be rewarded for the hard work you put in in the same way that recruitment can reward you? You are in total control of your own success.

You started your own recruitment agency after less than three years as a recruiter. What motivated your decision to become an owner?

I’ve always had ambitions to run my own business. Even though I was only 24 at the time, I took on a franchise type arrangement with much higher risk, but much higher reward, and it paid off. This worked very well, but over time, ultimately it made financial sense to grow the business under my own brand into the future. I also wanted to deliver the highest possible level of service to clients and candidates, without restriction, and within an innovative environment. Now, still remaining an owner at people2people, but within a larger business framework, this has been the best recipe for success. I attribute this to the innovation, culture and leadership within the business.

What types of roles did you recruit when you were at Drake and what sort of roles do you recruit now that you are Managing Director, Victoria of people2people?

At Drake I focused on sales and marketing positions. As MD, VIC at people2people, I now focus on senior positions, account management, as well as rainmaking and business development for the team. I also often grow a desk to hand over to a new starter, so that they have a head start.

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

Training has been integral to the people2people culture. I run many training sessions internally, and learn from my peers. At a personal level I learn a lot from my mentors, and continue to develop myself through resources such as Recruitment Juice, your leadership courses Ross, and undertaking RCSA courses. I have involved myself in volunteering with some of the RCSA’s committees, which also develops my professional knowledge further. I am also a mentor in the RCSA PEARL program. I also read a lot of books and industry publications.

When you were a full time recruiter growing your desk how did you use statistics or KPIs to manage your performance? If so which ones and how do you use them?

My highest pay off activities were having candidates meet with the right clients every week, and securing exclusivity on jobs and with candidates. I’d set clear activity goals for myself weekly around quality client meetings, interviews, marketing calls, floats and submittals. I liked to have at least 10 – 12 jobs on the go and a pipeline of top rated candidates that I was working with. I found that selling to solve the client’s problem, rather than trying to fit the exact brief was key, and I always had a focus on backing up my roles. Additionally, I focused on finding the right job for the candidate, not just trying to fit the candidate into the roles I had already. Overarching all of this was pace, decisiveness, influencing and partnering

Who have been important influences in your recruitment career and what have those people specifically contributed to you?

Greg Savage has been an enormous influence on my recruitment career. Over the past two and a half years he has helped me to evolve my leadership style, which has led to excellent financial and organisational results. He has challenged me, pushed me and inspired me, and assisted with some of the tougher challenges as the business has grown bigger each year.

Mark Smith has been an inspiration since we met back in 2014. He is an innovator and a market leader. People work for Mark because he is authentic, positive, innovative, does what he says he’ll do, and is always creating an environment at people2people where recruiters can be successful.

Along the way I have been lucky enough to be mentored by other industry leaders and developed relationships with RCSA councillors including recruitment leaders from Manpower, Aspect, Bayside, Smaart, Chandler Macleod, and other major agencies. Also the wider people2people team have had a big influence on my style and I have learnt a lot from being immersed in the company environment.

What do you attribute your win in RCSA 2017Professional Recruiter of the Year (2017) to?

I’m humbled to have been given this award. I think ultimately the award is about recognising those that have not only achieved financial success and rewards, but have also contributed to the industry for the better, and shown leadership and innovation. Financial success alone is not enough. I believe that you can achieve great financial success, whilst also being a positive influence on the industry and those around you.

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?

Innovate and don’t stop. Embrace the trends that are emerging now. Don’t be the last to get on board. Those methods that you have used for years may still be relevant, but could you be doing something faster, smarter, more effectively through technology, amplification or targeting?

Partnership and looking after stakeholders will never lose relevance either. If you remember that we are working with people every day, then you can continue to achieve great outcomes.

Also, find ways to add value to clients outside of the traditional recruitment process. Value yourself and your service. And, get off the email and pick up the phone!

What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?

Energy, positivity and innovation; every day.

Pareto’s 80/20 rule and ‘Done is better than perfect’, or ‘Just do it’. That is get moving!

Get up and work hard every day. Always find ways to work smarter too.
Look after yourself, your staff, and your customers, and this will lead to great outcomes.

Celebrate the wins, focus on the positives and develop people’s strengths.
Lead, inspire, and be accountable every day.

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

A career in recruitment is not easy, but incredibly rewarding. If you can focus, be clear on your goals, and put in the hard work, then you will not only work with some of the most fantastic individuals in business anywhere, but you will be financially, personally and professionally rewarded. Go for it.

Thanks for your time, Erin, I greatly appreciate it.

No problem, Ross, thanks for the opportunity.