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RCSA Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

6 Lessons to Introduce Flexibility in Your Workforce

By | Culture, Flexibility

I have recently returned from speaking at the International Recruitment Conference in Fiji where the theme was “Recruitment at the Speed of Tomorrow”.  It was an inspiring couple of days learning about innovative ideas that are driving companies forward. In my session, I shared some of the key lessons I learnt whilst building a recruitment business and combating two of the biggest challenges in our industry – staff turnover and attracting top talent.  The recruitment industry doesn’t have a good record in this area and I met several companies who had appalling staff turnover! One company has an average staff turnover of 60%! The owner openly admitted that he doesn’t incorporate any flexible arrangements in his business. I have a feeling that this might not be the only issue, but let’s hope he might take on a few of the following ideas:

Lesson 1: Business culture enables flexibility or kills it

I learnt the hard way that the traditional recruitment culture of long hours, where client is king and being available 24/7 makes it pretty difficult to attract and keep the best talent long-term.  It doesn’t take long for people to get fed up from inflexible conditions. They  suffer from burn out or pressure from loved ones ultimately deciding they can’t successfully integrate a work life blend. The recruitment culture typically demands 8am meetings, expects after hours commitments and compulsory candidate calling nights. It doesn’t genuinely embrace flexible arrangements successfully. It wasn’t an overnight fix – changing culture, implementing innovative ways of doing things and getting staff to trust that the new way is okay takes time.

Lesson 2: A leader’s support and mindset makes it possible (or not)

During the conference discussions, there were many leaders who have identified this is as the biggest area that is holding them back from being a truly flexible employer – their own bias, trust issues and the way they have always done things. If a leader can’t successfully change their mindset to trust, support and believe that flexibility will work, it won’t. Forget it. Don’t bother trying to implement, it will fail. Part-timers will feel constantly watched, guilty and that they have to constantly justify their arrangement. Leading from the front is critical.

Lesson 3: Flexibility isn’t a fad that will go away…….learn to incorporate it

Work/life balance, flexibility, part-time, working from home…are increasingly being demanded. The show of hands during my presentation suggested that nearly everyone had experienced some type of request in the past 12 months. As a business leader, being on the front foot and being prepared for these requests can ensure a higher success rate.  Meet face to face, be open to new suggestions, and probe to find out the “real” reason for the request and a trial period might be a good starting point.  I remember setting up structures to help make it easier for me to accept a request eg: abolishing 8am weekly meetings and moving to daily meetings to ensure all staff had the opportunity to contribute.

Lesson 4: Productivity and performance won’t suffer, it will thrive

A quick survey of recruitment owners via rossclennett.com, showed me that the biggest concern they had in regards to implementing flexible arrangements was loss of productivity.   The thought of Consultants reducing their core hours, leads to an immediate concern for a reduction in billings.  In my experience, through the implementation of team structures and providing tools of trade, it actually had the opposite effect.  When given the autonomy, clear expectations and support, part-time Consultants proved that they could actually be just as or even more productive than their full-time counterparts.

Lesson 5: Essential ingredients for flexibility to work – teamwork & communication

Part-time successful Recruitment Consultants can’t exist or achieve significant results as a solo effort.  Through trial and error, it became apparent to avoid full-time resentment and other’s ‘picking up the slack’; team structures and communication systems were essential.  We moved from individual responsibility and accountability to team’s responsible for clients, jobs and candidates. It was the shared goals, offering full-time staff flexibility through buddy systems and days off, sharing of fees and rewarding team participation that proved that part-time ‘client facing’ roles did work.

Lesson 6: Take Action!

None of this is relevant, unless you are prepared to take action.  So many companies talk about flexibility, put in their employer value proposition and hope that things will change.  The best thing I ever did was jump in and give it a go. Our systems, structure and approach certainly weren’t perfect – I had to keep adapting and solving issues as they arose. But I can tell you that the outcomes and results were worth the sometimes-painful journey.  I was able to say goodbye to thinking about people issues 24/7, retention rates soared to 5 – 6 years per Consultant, succession plans were developed, new consultants called us to join our business and the financial results increased.

Organisations who value workplace flexibility and embrace it will stand out from the crowd. You’ll not only start attracting more and better performing Consultants, you will actually start retaining them too! Don’t miss the opportunity to gain an edge on the competition to build a more productive and sustainable consultant workforce through fostering a positive and flexible culture.

A flexible workplace culture WILL create high performing and productive Consultants who stay (AND attract others just like them)

Some fav pics from the RCSA Conference, Fiji and please visit here for video footage

Me, Greg Savage & Jacqui Cotterill

 

People leave leaders…..the uncomfortable truth

By | Change, Empowerment, Leadership

Last week I went to a Women in Leadership lunch hosted by CEDA.  One of the speakers (Jane Caro) said, “we only change when it is too uncomfortable to stay the same”.  It really struck a chord with me.  It reminded me of several stages in my career, where this was the final straw and my catalyst for change.

One was a reminder, when this week, 12 months ago, I left my corporate role to start my own business.  The other was highlighted when one of my clients’ celebrated her 5th birthday in business this week.  In our session, I was genuinely excited for her. What a fabulous milestone! As a high achiever, she is still focused on being better and reaching her goals.

In that discussion, she asked me what were the major points for me in growing my last business that turned it from being a good business to that breakthrough moment when things were easier and it “just happens”.

I said there were 4 key things in my experience:

  1. Business Culture
  2. Empowering Leadership
  3. Retaining Key People
  4. Consistency of Service

BUT it was only when things were too uncomfortable to stay the same that things changed.

I remember that point like it was yesterday. I wrote two pages of frustrations (which I still have!) and all the concerns I had in the business at the time.  I felt completely overwhelmed looking at that list thinking where do I start?

One of the biggest issues that were causing emotional and financial pain was the turnover of staff. I have mentioned this before in previous posts, that in the recruitment industry this can be up to 45% and new Recruiters only last 8 months on average! I was certainly experiencing my fair share of turnover in the first few years and it was agonizing.

The impact to the bottom line is significant in terms of re-recruitment, re-training, lost revenue etc, but for me it was also the emotional cost. I remember sitting down with the owner and he said to me “Nicole, people leave leaders, not jobs”.  It was cutting.  It hurt my ego more than anything. My internal story went something like I’m a good leader, I believe in my people, I want the best for them – I just have high expectations.”  So, I decided to put together a spreadsheet of all the people who had left and look at the reasons they gave.  Now of course, some people never tell you the REAL reason for leaving so I decided to be really honest with myself and acknowledge what deep down I already knew to be true.  There was a combination of culture and leadership reasons – that was consistent.

It was at that point, I realised it was too uncomfortable to continue as things were.  Things needed to change, and fast.

Business culture – to change a culture overnight is impossible.  To move from a traditional recruitment culture of “client is king”, “core hours are 8am – 6pm”, “you are available 24/7”, “you always eat lunch at your desk (if at all)” and “taking calls before and after work is normal” was going be a big shift.  It required small steps starting from the top including a shift in mindset.  I remember when I first started coming in late on Friday morning so I could attend a pilates class, how uncomfortable it felt. I would creep back in the office hoping no one would notice.  Ridiculous in hindsight – I should have been promoting it.  This was my in-built belief that hours = work ethic.  I learnt to accept that my commitment and dedication wouldn’t be any less just because my actual number of hours were less. This was a big mindset shift that had to start at the top and was slowly filtered through. (I will be presenting at the RCSA conference in Fiji in 2 weeks on how I implemented this).

Empowering leadership – the statistics prove the theory that people leave leaders.  Not all the time, but it is certainly a contributing factor in a lot of cases and it was in mine.  I engaged a business coach and learnt that people’s perception of my leadership style and their experience of working for me was reality, not what I thought I was doing.  I had to embrace their reality and move to an empowering leadership style where my fundamental values and principles were still the same around performance, expectations and outcomes, but my delivery become more cohesive, consultative and empowering.

These two changes had significant positive impact on bottom line results and other performance indicators. But just as importantly (or more importantly) the effect on my job satisfaction, the enjoyment for the team, the transparency of our communication and a re-invigorated approach.  This allowed us to achieve two things that I often find companies struggle to accomplish.  We achieved employee’s desire for flexibility, work/life blend and career satisfaction with the company’s objective of a high performing team, revenue results and profitability.

We proved that flexible arrangements and productivity can co-exist and don’t have to be at the cost of the other. It was one of the biggest lessons in becoming a high performing and profitable firm where people wanted to work and stayed long-term.

To achieve this requires being uncomfortable and only then are we truly learning and becoming better than we currently are.

*My next post will discuss the other two areas of retaining key people and consistency of service.