Monthly Archives

February 2012

“It’s the vibe of the thing”……can you explain your culture?

By | Culture, Leadership, Results


Last week I spoke at a boardroom breakfast to a group of leaders from infrastructure, mining, legal and local government.  The topic was on my blog “technical competence without people skills –  what is it costing you”? I was a little apprehensive prior to the presentation knowing that most of the people in the room were technical experts and here I was about to tell them that they needed to develop their leadership skills!  I shouldn’t have been concerned.  The input, debate and discussion was encouraging.

There was one question that came up about three quarters through my presentation “you’ve spoken a lot about culture today…. what is culture anyway?”.  As a public speaker, there is always a small sense of dread getting a question that you may not have an immediate answer to…. but this one, this one I could talk about for a whole other session!

My immediate response was that culture is the values that guide internal behavior and action within an organisation.  Someone else in the room quoted the movie The Castle saying, “it’s the vibe of the place”, another said, “It is the unspoken expectations of how things are”; another said, “It determines whether you fit it in or not”.  It is such an intangible element, yet the most important aspect of an organisation.  A cohesive work culture is a powerful retention advantage and an organisation that stands by its values in everything it does – action, behavior and consequence is important to staff.

It is the number one question I get asked at interviews about a potential new employer “what’s the culture like?”. This can sometimes be hard to articulate and to describe to a third party – but it is an essential step in winning over a prospective employee.  Why should they leave their current role to join your company? In this day age, it has to be more than the job description and the pay because you can be assured there is a comparable job down the road. Culture is the differentiator – it is the intangible ‘something’ that can get a star candidate across the line.

I had a marketing executive call from Melbourne this week wanting to discuss the Adelaide market and potential opportunities.  He understands that finding a similar level role and remuneration may be difficult, but he is more interested in the right ‘cultural fit’ and returning to his home state.  He will only move if this match is right.  He is representative of a large proportion of the ‘passive’ market that is open to change and opportunities, but still need to be ‘sold’ on culture and an employer’s value proposition.  The problem is that so many companies still can’t successfully articulate this offer.

I know recruiting for myself; it was only when I could confidently communicate the culture at interview stage that my rate of hiring the right people and keeping them skyrocketed.  I didn’t do the big sales pitch – just here it is, warts and all. I learnt what were the two things about our culture that made people thrive and stay and they were also the two things that made people leave. It was not uncommon to get to the end of the interview and agree that it wasn’t the right match for either of us. Better now than later I say.

The same with clients. I was recruiting for the mining industry last year and I had a technically competent candidate who ticked all the boxes in terms of skills and experience.  After an hour and a half, I knew that there wasn’t a cultural match – he was motivated by flexibility and being able to blend his work life with family life.  For this particular organisation and role, the culture required strong achievement drive and a commitment to long hours and travel.  That’s okay of course; it just wasn’t the right fit.

The hardest part for recruiters as well as companies recruiting themselves is to be able to articulate the internal workings and behaviors of the company without being apologetic about it, in an honest and compelling way. Then sticking to it – even when you know it’s a great candidate in front of you, being able to walk away because ultimately you have different values and ways of operating is critical to long term retention.

Not sure how do you articulate your culture? Ask your staff!  They will tell you and usually come up with better descriptions and examples – especially about the unspoken culture.  My first week at Recruitment Solutions back in the late 90’s, I went to head office wearing a pantsuit.  The girls in the Sydney office looked me up and down, took me to lunch and told me that women weren’t allowed to wear pants! What? That wasn’t in the manual! I had been through induction that covered values, behaviours, standards etc, there was nothing about not being able to wear pants! Internal culture – you won’t always find the answers in the training manual.

Remember that in the race to recruit and retain the best and brightest means being able to convey your culture – what is so great about working here? Include this in your recruitment process – at the end of the interview have a 5-minute spiel about culture, expectations and values. Save yourself and the individual a lot of time, money and emotion by getting the culture fit right upfront.

Culture is everything. It is still one of the most important elements to attract (and keep) the best people to your organisation. Get a jump-start on your competition and recognise that at the core of what makes good companies great is a strong organisational culture.

Of course for those that don’t have a great culture…don’t worry about trying to articulate it….perhaps we should get together and discuss how to improve it?

Don’t sweat the cold call….how to get your Consultants on the phone & winning business

By | Recruitment, Results

In my recent blog “head in the sand vs action junkie ….what’s your mantra?” I wrote about a Consultant who worked for me who didn’t enjoy prospecting new business as she felt that she was annoying clients when she rang. This generated a range of comments and questions asking how I helped her overcome this.

The recruitment industry is notorious for its continuous flow of calls to clients asking for appointments.  This in itself gives us a bad name.  Now, I agree, don’t get me a wrong, a cold call with no purpose, interrupting my day for what seems like only their benefit, is completely annoying.  I tap my foot thinking yes? So what? What’s in it for me? I assume that many clients feel the same way when Recruiters ring.

One of the problems is that many Consultants start their week, look in their calendars and realise that they don’t have any appointments for the next 5 days. Their weekly meeting with their manager is that day and they will be asked, drilled, coached, questioned or in some consultancies have strips torn off them for not meeting their KPI’s.  I’ve heard of these experiences from many Recruiters over the years…including one boss who waves $20 in the air for the next consultant who jumps on the phone and wins a client visit.   There’s another manager who stands directly behind her Consultants until she is satisfied that they are actually doing their marketing.  Hmmmm and we wonder where our bad rep comes from?

Picking up the phone will the sole intention of winning a marketing visit is a recipe for disaster.  The client can hear the desperation in your voice, they will detect that you need to meet your quota and that you’re just another ‘sales person’ trying to fill the week with appointments.  I’m sure with this approach most consultants don’t have a very high hit rate nor a very high job satisfaction level.

Tip 1 – Mindset

Changing a Consultant’s mindset from “I’m annoying”, “they don’t want to hear from me”, “I’m the 100th recruiter who has called them today”, can be a challenge to overcome!  Especially when you have a Recruiter who is a top performer and is streets ahead of the competition in terms of knowledge, results and ability. The shift occurred when I could get them to move away from thinking ‘get the appointment’ to ‘what’s in it for them’.  This successfully moved the mindset from annoying sales person to helpful expert. Approaching the conversation in terms of offering, differentiator, benefits and helpfulness broke down a lot of barriers and stereotypes.

Tip 2 – Strategy

This is where a lot of Consultants go wrong – they simply don’t have a targeted approach as to whom they will call.  Yesterday I was in a client’s office who was using the yellow pages for a screen monitor boost and that’s about all it is good for these days.  You can’t build a profitable client base from random lists or with a scattergun approach.   When starting a desk from scratch, I would recommend Consultants start with something familiar – perhaps an industry they have worked in previously to give them the confidence to start.  With no strategy, there will be no success.

Tip 3 – Always have a real reason to call

Don’t pick up the phone without having thought about what you are going to say first and please don’t ever ring to ‘touch base’ (a pet hate of mine)! . When I coached Consultants on this particular issue we would brainstorm all the reasons why you could ring to speak to a client and then what were the benefits for them in taking your call.  It is amazing how many reasons there are to call a new potential client – to tell them about a star candidate you have recently interviewed, to ask for their help/advice, congratulate them on a recent piece of news in the media, to follow up a previous conversation, to invite them to a function, to ask for an introduction to another person in the business etc etc. The list is endless. Just make sure you have prepared your plan of attack before picking up that handset.

Tip 4 – Technique

Do your Consultants know how to prospect new business? Might sound like a silly and very basic question, but have they been taught and shown how to make these calls? A client of mine recently instructed her team to make 5 calls to existing clients to generate referral business.  The instruction was clear – make 5 calls by the end of the week.  By Friday morning, no one had even started their calls.  They were petrified! After a further conversation, I uncovered that there was no strategy, training or instructions about how to go about making the calls and what could be said.  As soon as she ran through some scenarios, techniques and quick role-plays, the team was off and running. Never assume people know how to make effective calls.

Tip 5 – Big picture outlook

The amount of procrastination, excuses and palaver that goes on in consultancies in order to avoid ringing clients is amazing.  Two techniques I would use to help overcome this with Consultants were to get them to focus on the bigger picture – what is the goal? What are the benefits they receive in achieving them (see staff mojo….planting the seeds of motivation)? In the scheme of things, picking up the phone and having a conversation is pretty insignificant right? The other technique is to do your hard tasks first – speak to 3 clients, make 2 appointments etc before doing anything else.  This focus on taking action and “do it until it’s done” was another successful strategy.

Tip 6 – Referrals & common links

To ensure you never make a cold call again, use your existing networks as well as common links to make new connections.  This can be as simple as “I’m in the area visiting client ABC”, through to industry associations to suppliers to direct referrals.  People are always going to feel more comfortable doing business with people they know and trust or if their connections are already working with you.  The power of connections is proven with Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.  Every interaction is an opportunity to ask for new business or to ask for a new introduction or referral.  It takes discipline to form the habit of asking – but remember the benefit is no more cold calling.

Prospecting new business is a means to an end. It is a necessary ‘evil’ to get in front of new clients and to be given the opportunity to then develop relationships.  We all want the easy road to a full list of clients we love working with, but it takes discipline and action to achieve this end outcome. A shift in mindset is essential to move cold calling to a conversation and being clear on what’s in it for them to see you.

Get on the phone, get out of the office and remember being face to face is where relationships are built, opportunities are discovered and results are made.