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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