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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10 August 2016

Michael Page in deep snow: A monumental failure of leadership

It's a month now since the Michael Page ski trip to Mt Buller became very bad news for the company, very quickly.

The resulting publicity was a nightmare of epic proportions (just search 'Michael Page ski weekend' to see how widely it was covered).

As you can read from an anonymous comment on my original blog about this incident (22/07/2016), it appears that the 'impact' made by some (or all) of the 22 Michael Page employees that weekend at Mt Buller wasn't just confined to Stephanie Sparrow and her father (managers of Reindeer Ski Lodge where the 22 were staying). It seems that the behavior of some (or all) was noticed by many other staff working at Mt Buller that weekend.

I wasn't there. I don't know what happened but Michael Page don't deny the incident, making the following comments on their Facebook page:

It is however clear what impact the behaviour of those 22 Michael Page employees had on Stephanie Sparrow:

'....the legacy left by Michael Page Recruitment at Reindeer Ski Club, it's one of verbal abuse and alcohol-fuelled violence.

For me, the name Page recruitment will bring forth memories of being abused by men and being left to fear what harm may befall myself and my family at the hands of your staff.'

As I mentioned in the previous blog on this topic, the Michael Page Australia website lists White Ribbon ('male led campaign to end men's violence against women') as one of the charities they support. When I contacted White Ribbon, their PR person, Selena O'Hare, assured me that Michael Page was not an accredited White Ribbon Workplace.

Given the specific nature of the allegations made by Stephanie Sparrow, I would have expected to see Michael Page announcing their intention to become an accredited White Ribbon Workplace as an obvious step to take in mitigating the fallout from this issue; clearly not in the eyes of Michael Page executives.

Michael Page had two clear choices in the way they could have handled this PR disaster:

1. Get on the front foot by being decisive and transparent with their response. This approach would mean a very senior executive of the company being prepared to front up to the media, make a definitive statement about the action taken against the employees, take some questions, provide some answers and, in doing so, demonstrate that the company was prepared to take it on the chin. This would undoubtedly lead to some very uncomfortable or embarrassing days for the company and some of their employees but, ultimately the company would, at least, be acknowledged for taking the issue seriously in a very public way.


2. Get on the back foot by declining all opportunities to have a (named) senior executive say anything about what happened. Instead, post a bland 'case closed' message on the company's Facebook page about the action taken to address the behavior ...

'... initiated planning for an internal training program ...' must be the most laughable statement of non-action I have ever read.

Although in an earlier post, Michael Page stated 'We have directly been in touch with the people who were affected by the behaviour of the individuals involved and offered our unreserved apologies.' they fail to say specifically, to whom they apologised and what restitution (if any) has been made to the 'people affected by the behavior of their employees'.

They fail to say whether Stephanie Sparrow and her father are satisfied with the disciplinary action taken by Michael Page.

Michael Page have failed to acknowledge that very senior leaders of Michael Page Australia (which includes Page Personnel, Page Executive and PageGroup) were within the group of 22 who attended the weekend (despite two of those senior leaders being named in various social media posts).

They have declined all media requests for further comment or details, stating 'Michael Page will be making no further comment'.

In short; close ranks and hope this blows over quickly.

No doubt Michael Page Australia brought in a crisis management expert from their PR agency to advise on responding to a screw up of this magnitude. It is unknown what this person recommended to Michael Page. What is clear is that the second option (see 2. above) was chosen.

In doing so, Michael Page have taken a risk, a very big risk. As a publicly listed company, the risk is even greater. They are gambling that the ‘small target' approach will be vindicated by the issue blowing over.

This high risk strategy assumes that clients and candidates won't take any action of their own to demonstrate their displeasure at the anti-social behaviour of their supplier's employees and/or their unhappiness with the public response of their supplier's leadership.

Large contracts, especially government contracts, always have catch-all clauses about supplier conduct and, in almost all cases, give the client the right to suspend or terminate the supplier for, shall I call them, ‘moral' reasons, not necessarily related to the performance of the services or products being supplied.

Just imagine if Michael Page was, via a ‘morals' clause, banned by one major client from providing any services for, say, 90 days?

What if that client, after 90 days, decided to extend the suspension? Or terminate the contract altogether?

Just imagine another client went further and terminated their contract with Michael Page and, for example, ordered the transition of all Michael Page temps and contractors to another supplier or suppliers?

Just imagine if Michael Page had a team of, say, 10 -12 people, serving this contract, who suddenly find themselves with no work to transact for the next 13 weeks?

What might that type of action do to the company's local results and staff morale?

You just never know what unilateral action clients of any size, might decide to take.

For 18 years, Simon Meyer provided excellent leadership as Managing Director for Michael Page (Australia & New Zealand). The business grew strongly and profitably. Its brand was a major asset. Meyer left Michael Page at the end of August last year. In January this year he founded FutureYou with ex-Michael Page colleague Richard Wynn. Staff from Michael Page jumped ship almost immediately. The home page of the FutureYou website announces:

'2016 is our start up year and one that will see the FutureYou team embark on the journey to grow to more than 100 specialist recruitment consultants across a number of functional areas of expertise in Sydney and Melbourne.'

In Meyer's place, Michael Page appointed Matthew Gribble as Regional Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand. Gribble had big shoes to fill. Under pressure, due to the departure of senior Michael Page consultants to join FutureYou, Gribbles' first year would be a critical one in demonstrating he was able to rise to the challenge of replacing Meyer.

PageGroup Global CEO, Steve Ingham and Executive Board Director - Asia Pacific, Gary James also had a lot at stake given the importance of the Australia & New Zealand region to the group's overall financial strength (2015 results: Asia Pacific was 19% of group revenue, 24% of group profit).

When the fallout from the infamous Michael Page ski weekend of 9 and 10 July hit the proverbial, Gribble was nowhere to be seen, Ingham made no public statements (apart from two bland responses on Twitter) and James did not comment publicly.

It is in difficult and embarrassing times such as these that you see what true leaders are really made of.

Where was, and where is, the true leadership at Michael Page?

This leadership vacuum has not only let many people down, it has tarnished recruiters' careers and the recruitment industry as a whole.

The Mt Buller staff impacted by the behaviour of the Michael Page employees have witnessed a token response from the senior executives at Michael Page.

The real losers out of this leadership vacuum are the hard working and committed Michael Page consultants who either were not in the party of 22 at Mt Buller that weekend or did attend and kept their behaviour in check.

Theses (hundreds?) of Michael Page consultants are now suffering from a drop in work flow, loss of key accounts and candidates, dispiriting company morale and the acute discomfort (embarrassment even) of working for a tarnished brand; not to mention the almost-certain hit their future bonus payments are likely to take. All of these consequences were not of their making yet these core consultants will almost certainly bear the biggest cost of this fiasco. 

True Leadership: You don't know who has it until the white powder turns to sludge as you slip and fall.

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27 July 2016

Time to Fill: A recruitment disaster story (for some)

The 2016 Australasian Talent Conference was another high quality event from Trevor Vas, Kevin Wheeler and the ATC team. I took a lot away from the two days of listening to speakers, exploring exhibitor offerings and extending my network in the local talent community.

I attended a very informative session by CEB Executive Advisor in HR Practice Aadil Abbas about the trend in hiring ‘health measures' between 2010 and 2015 as assessed by CEB's annual global surveys of hiring managers and recruiters. CEB is a global best practice insight and technology company.

The (corporate recruitment) statistics told a very sobering story:

Health measure
Time to fill*
42 days
63 days
Quality of hire#
No. of open jobs (average/recruiter)

*business days from job opening to candidate starting (median)
# new hire performance rating (1-10) as assessed by hiring manager (mean)

In five short years we have seen a 50% increase in the time to fill and a negligible increase in quality of hire. While at the same time internal recruiters have a 25% higher workload.

How sustainable do you think this is?

Not at all sustainable, according to Kevin Wheeler, who closed the ATC with his traditional Fearless Forecast. One of Kevin's six 2017 predictions included:

‘More outsourcing of corporate recruitment functions'
This prediction just reinforced a long held view of Kevin's. Here's what we wrote over five years ago:

As the years have rolled by I have become increasingly aware of how poorly internal recruiting functions perform when compared to recruitment process outsourcing organizations or agencies. 

Given the state of recruiting functions today there are few compelling factors to recommend retaining an internal function.

The CEB data only reinforces how right Kevin was, and remains.

What a fantastic opportunity for effective recruitment agencies to take advantage of this trend.

As a friend and former boss of mine said so emphatically 17 months ago; Hurrah for the new ‘Golden Era' of Agency recruitment!

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21 July 2016

How the Six Degrees Executive back office team drives their culture

Six Degrees Executive RI (Australia) Awards 2016At the Recruitment International Awards (Australia), held in Sydney on 28 April 2016 Six Degrees Executive won two awards: The Best Company to Work For (Medium) and Best Back Office Team.

(Photo: The winning SDE team at the 2016 Recruitment International Awards. Co-founders Nick Hindhaugh is pictured second from the right and Paul Hallam is pictured third from the right).

Six Degrees Executive is no stranger to awards having, among other awards, won SARA Legend status in 2012. I originally interviewed Six Degrees Executive Co—founder, Nick Hindhaugh on the occasion of the SDE ten year anniversary, in April 2014.

Given their recent Best Back Office Team award win I was especially interested to know how Six Degrees approached their back office operations so Nick, again, kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Ross: Congratulations on winning the Recruitment International 2016 Best Back Office Team, Nick. I understand that the SDE back office team have a slightly unusual nickname. What's the nickname and what is it meant to signify?

Nick: Thank you Ross we were delighted to win this award and more delighted to be able to publicly recognise some of the stars of Six Degrees who work so hard behind the scenes.

'The Force' provides high-level support across areas such as Commercial Operations, Innovation, Marketing, Research, IT, Talent Engagement, HR and Finance.

When recruiting for our support team, we prioritise potential and behaviours aligned to our competency framework over a prescriptive skill set. The result is team members who are enthusiastic and intuitive drivers of our culture, and consequently often the glue that holds us all together - hence they're known as 'The Force'!

There is tendency for sales based cultures to value revenue earners above all else. At Six Degrees, we want to ensure that no one is viewed as more important than another, regardless of the role they play. It is important we value all contributions to our success equally, and most importantly we treat everyone the same

Our business wouldn't function without this team and they are often the unsung heroes, so recognising them in this way shows how much we appreciate and value them.

What is the current structure of 'The Force'? How has this structure evolved over the 12 years of SDE's life?

SDE has a flat, integrated structure. 'The Force' sit in cross-functional teams so they can provide high-level support and, more importantly, share their infectious energy throughout the business.

We have structured the team in a way that is highly integrated and has evolved over time as we have grown, and as the business has demanded their services. We are constantly reviewing organisational best practice in back office services, especially in the professional services sector, to see what we can learn. Through these learnings we have built digital capability, a continuous improvement methodology and an operating model to support the evolving recruitment landscape. For example, we have developed a function of Talent Engagement Consultants to support the Recruitment Consultants in the continuous pipelining and mapping of passive talent, to allow us to be faster and more efficient at accessing talent ahead of our competition and our clients' internal functions.

Can you tell me a little about the core functions of each of the five service areas that make up 'The Force'?

'The Force' is structured to suit the needs of the business across five areas: Commercial Operations & Innovation; Team Support; Finance; Research & Talent Engagement Specialists (TES) and HR.

Commercial Operations & Innovation team - 'The Innovation Hub'.
This team focuses on enablement, making systems integrated, faster and better for consultants. Marketing/Brand, Events, Project Management, Digital, I&IT and innovation/ continuous improvement all fall within this team's remit.

Administration Team - 'The Engine'
The administration team creates efficiencies to enable consultants to do what they do best. They really are the backbone of the business, 'The Engine', if you like, that powers the entire team and the drivers of our culture.

Finance - 'The Brains'
The finance team are the brains of the operation. This department's role is to deliver financial operations and reporting with a particular focus on compliance and data, as well as optimisation of systems and processes.

Research and Talent Engagement - 'The Unearthers'.
In such a tight talent market this team are critical in unearthing passive talent. This team are also responsible for candidate care, delivering a high touch service including career advice.  The research function is critical in major search projects so we ensure The Unearthers are highly skilled and are equipped with the latest tools.

Human Resources - 'The Glue'
At Six Degrees we realise our people are our biggest asset and HR is responsible for creating programs, policies and processes that support and develop our people.  These include a clear competency and career development framework, training and development program as well as key initiatives such as a health and wellness and Employee Assistance Program.

How is the success of The Force measured? How are these successes measures communicated to the team members of The Force and throughout the wider company?

When we make budget as a business 'The Force' team members are recognised and rewarded with monthly incentives and bi-yearly cash bonuses.

We have a number of yearly and monthly team-wide awards, some are voted on by the executive leadership team and some are peer voted. Our monthly passionate player award has been awarded to this team the majority of the time despite them making up a smaller portion of the business than the consultants.

A team member from 'The Force' has received three of four of the annual Most Valuable Player People's Choice Awards ever given.

The fact that these team members continuously win peer voted awards demonstrates how much everyone values their contribution.  

How does The Force keep improving their standards?

One of our strategic pillars is a focus on quality and continuous improvement and we have clear metrics in each function to measure performance. The members of The Force, like all individuals in the business, have a tailored training and development program and are encouraged to further develop themselves through education, seminars, networking and mentors to ensure we keep raising the bar.

Tell me a little about the role of one or two individual members of The Force and how each of these team members have developed their skills and improved their value to SDE during their employment at SDE?

There are so many good examples of this it is hard to pick.

Lorrie joined us as a team assistant and six years later she has almost finished her Masters of Marketing and is our Marketing / Digital Manager.

Jodie, who has been with us since the start (12 years but who's counting!), was an integral part of setting up our administrative processes and has remained an important part of The Force through her many transitions. Now she works as part of the finance team. 

Alycce our receptionist in Melbourne recently finished a degree in graphic design and is now providing important internal services to the business in digital design and development.

What are the most important things have the SDE Directors learned about building a highly effective back office team?

Hire on cultural fit and personality traits, invest time and resources into training, and it will come back in spades. 

What advice would you give to other recruitment agency owners about their back office/support function?

Don't underestimate then value of these vital team members and their potential. Given the right support and training they will help elevate your business from good to great.  

Thanks Nick, I greatly appreciate your time. Thanks for answering my questions and also thanks to you, and your co-founders, David and Paul, for demonstrating such great leadership for our industry.

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12 July 2016

Michael Page employees go skiing ... downhill all the way

Michael Page International has been operating in Australia for around 30 years. When I was a temp accounting recruiter in the Sydney CBD, back in the 1990s, Michael Page together with Morgan & Banks represented my strongest competition. I respected the company’s competitive nature and the skills of their consultants.

Until this past weekend, I would have regarded the Michael Page brand as a strong one, one to be respected.  

Unfortunately this past weekend has turned into a brand trashing nightmare for all Michael Page staff and shareholders.

All the major news websites around Australia published an account of an (unofficial) Michael Page staff weekend at Mt Buller in the Victorian snowfields, best summarised in Business Insider as Michael Page employees allegedly trashed a Victorian ski lodge with 'the biggest party of the season.'

The story opens as follows:

“Employees from the Australian arm of the global recruitment firm, Michael Page, have been accused of trashing a Victorian ski lodge at Mount Buller retreat and threatening staff, leading to the police being called.

Stephanie Sparrow ('Steph Eisma' on Facebook), who runs Reindeer Ski Club with her father, said on Facebook (in a post shared over 2900 times) that the group of more than 20 were heavily intoxicated, destructive and abusive.
She described it as “the biggest party of the season”, and alleges two men even threatened to "kick down her door and kick her head in.”
The post includes a photo of two easily identifiable men with a caption from Eisma reading “Below is the photo of the two men from "Michael Page Recruitment" who threatened to kick down my door and kick my head in early this morning.”
As The Age further reported “She (Eisma) called police. After police left, she pleaded via Facebook with Michael Page Recruitment to help discipline any staff members involved.
"I'm not sure what you expect of your employees when they head out on work trips or how you hope they represent your company, but the legacy left by Michael Page Recruitment at Reindeer Ski Club ... it's one of verbal abuse and alcohol-fuelled [threats of] violence."

Michael Page in Australia issued a statement that was reported by industry news service ShortList:
A Michael Page spokesperson denied the trip was "company funded or sanctioned", but nonetheless said the company had been in touch with the lodge and "offered [its] unreserved apologies", adding it was "very disturbed by the allegations made".

The company is investigating and will take appropriate disciplinary action, the spokesperson said.

"Michael Page has an extremely strict code of conduct for employees and we are extremely disappointed in the behaviour of the individuals involved in this incident. We are taking this extremely seriously and will do everything that we can to protect our company's reputation."

Whatever action is taken will not undo the enormous damage done to the Michael Page brand in Australia (and probably elsewhere).
When I typed ‘Michael Page’ into my favourite search engine this morning this is what appeared …

The Michael Page Australia Facebook page was awash with comments from angry posters who were appalled at what had been reported about the Michael Page employees’ behavior. The first official response from the Michael Page FB administrator occurred at 10.44pm on Sunday evening.

At the time of writing, no statement from Michael Page has been forthcoming advising of the action taken against the employees involved in the weekend’s wild behavior.

Unfortunately for Michael Page International this very ugly event has undermined all the work the company has done to position itself as a responsible community citizen.

From the Michael Page website we are told about ‘Giving back to others’ ...

One of the charities listed, White Ribbon, is a “male led campaign to end men’s violence against women”.
This is a very worthy charity to support but this support is dramatically undermined when the behaviour of the supporting company’s staff is the exact opposite of the charity’s aims. Here’s how Steph Eisma concluded her Facebook post:
“For me the name Page recruitment will bring forth memories of being abused by men and being left to fear what harm may befall myself and my family at the hands of your staff.”

It’s hard to imagine anything much more damning and brand destroying than a comment like that.

Although we may not like to admit it this incident will create fallout for the broader recruitment industry. The image of inexperienced young Brits on 457 visas coming to Australia and making merry as fly-by-night recruitment consultants will only be reinforced by this ugly event.

Let’s hope that the response from the leaders at Michael Page will be decisive and appropriate. Our industry cannot ever afford, in any way, to be or seen to be condoning, minimising or excusing violent behaviour or threats of violence by people who work in our industry.
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