06 September 2011

The 'gravity of success' prevents innovation: Summary of the 2011 RCSA Conference

The RCSA delivered another excellent annual conference last week at the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas, Queensland.

Over 300 attendees were treated to a varied and high quality program which ensured that recruitment agency owners and managers departed Far North Queensland with just as many questions about the future of their respective businesses as they did answers.


Peter Sheahan was the perfect speaker to open proceedings on day one. He provided an ideal context for what we were all to hear during the two-day Conference.

Here's my summary of the main messages I took from each of the speakers I heard:
1.    The ‘gravity of success' prevents innovation (Peter Sheahan).
2.    The assumptions leaders make drive how the future is likely to be viewed (Peter Sheahan).
3.    Innovation is about how you organise yourself and go to market (Peter Sheahan).
4.    Your narrative is critical because your customers' emotional response drives the buying decision (Peter Sheahan).
5.    I take work home therefore I want to bring home to work (Neer Korn).
6.    You have people, not employees (Neer Korn).
7.    Get out of the commodity market (Tom McKaskill).
8.    People in front of the customers are often the best source of good ideas (Tom McKaskill and Dom Thurbon).
9.    Innovation only succeeds if you have a senior person championing the innovation (Tom McKaskill).
10. Metrics and benchmarking are essential (Tom McKaskill).
11. Keep your people connected to the founders and the message (Amanda Gome).
12. Recognise the difference between a new opportunity and a distraction (Amanda Gome).
13. RPOs are hard to justify for a hiring volume of less than 100 people per year (RPO panel).
14. Each of the three stakeholders within your client has a different priority with respect to recruitment. These are cost (procurement), quality (hiring manager) and process (HR) (RPO panel).
15. Visibility helps make ideas real and drives accountability (Joris Luijke).
16. Don't get sucked into doing more than we can do well (Steve Vamos).
17. Lack of clarity sustains the misfits (Steve Vamos).
18. Potential of people is greater than ever before (Steve Vamos).
19. Alignment is critical - people need to be working and seen to be working on something that is fulfilling the company's purpose (Steve Vamos).
20. Solutions are often found outside our industry because people within the industry overwhelmingly look at the same problems the same way (Dom Thurbon).
21. To generate a culture of innovation you need to have a clear and simple process to both ‘capture stuff' (eg contacts, ideas, solutions, knowledge, and IP) and ‘access this stuff' (Dom Thurbon).
My observations and conclusions from all of the above and everything else I took from the Conference are:
  • The leader needs to relentlessly communicate the clarity of purpose (what we provide, to whom and how). Having all employees ‘on the same page' creates a culture that supports this purpose. This level of clarity drives a more vibrant and high performing culture, weeds out non-performers faster and ensures that all stakeholders receive a consistent message about the organisation's target market and capability.
  • Innovation, engagement and productivity are unleashed when you have transparency, accountability, measurement and feedback. Joris Luijke, the Global Head of Talent for innovative Australian software company, Atlassian provided an eye-popping peak into the Atlassian culture of openness, accountability and feedback.

    Using internal wikis, any member of the Atlassian staff can find out what any other employee (yes, ANY other employee, including Atlassian executives) is currently accountable for, is working on and the progress to date. Furthermore, wikis are set up so that any staff member, no matter where they reside or work, can provide their input to any project that any other staff member is working on.

    Just think for a minute how that level of accountability, openness and feedback would revolutionise the culture of recruitment companies. What level of engagement and productivity would be possible?
  • People at all level of your company want to contribute so make it easy for them to do so and make it a critical part of the culture. The CEO is often the most experienced person in the company, with the largest amount of industry experience and the biggest amount of authority. This combination creates a significant risk for the organisation with respect to the future if the CEO is operating from a set of assumptions that are not accurate or helpful.

    This risk is multiplied if the company's culture is not one that encourages and embraces the input of all employees, regardless of their age, tenure or experience.

    Consider the possibility that the future of your organisation is best seen by those staff who are not burdened by being part of the company's past, especially if it is a profitable past. But nothing will change unless you make it easy for them to be heard.
  • Don't let your current profit blind you. Recruiters have traditionally been measured on billings and high pay-off activities. These things are useful in ensuring the recruiter earns a good income and the employer generates a satisfactory profit, however these traditional areas of measurement are not of any interest or relevance to clients and candidates.

    Recruitment company leaders need to be responsible for a change in culture that ensures a focus on and measurement of the broader needs of clients and candidates.

    It's easy to lose sight of the shifting concerns and interests of clients and candidates and become blind to the alternative solutions available, mostly outside our traditional competitors. You only have to look at the example of how employer branding agencies and game developers have revolutionised military recruitment, to see how vulnerable the traditional recruitment agency business model is to smart and aggressive non-traditional competitors.

    This is where the role of the leader is critical. If the leader is spending a majority of their time job filling or focusing on daily operating concerns, then they are highly likely to be distracted by the here-and-now and miss what shifts are occurring amongst their stakeholders.

    If you aren't regularly taking time out of your business to work on your business, rather than in your business, you're in trouble. Bookstores, travel agencies, print media companies and recorded music companies are just four examples of sectors that have suffered huge upheavals due to the way non-traditional competitors changed the competitive landscape.

    A handful of smart traditional operators in those sectors have continued to make good profits because they understood what was happening and adapted their business model. A large majority have not. They are either no longer in existence (eg Borders) or are fading fast (eg Fairfax Media).

    Make sure you are one of the smart traditional operators who regularly takes time out to look around and investigate how things are changing, and why.

The 2012 RCSA International Conference is being held in Fiji. I hope to see you there.

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