Thoughts for a Thursday – August 2021
– Month end comment and insight on recruitment issues from John Cassidy, Co-Founder and President, TALTRAN Global –
As TALTRAN Global expands we face many of the same staffing decisions as our clients and have found ourselves recruiting expertise to support and drive our business growth. With a core team that delivers great outcomes, we are increasingly selective about the talent we import. We are focused on locating, keeping and developing individuals who can be molded to our culture of excellence and delivery. This experience has given us even better insights into achieving the right balance between building teams internally, hiring in specialist talent and supplementing core staff with short-term support.
On the other side of the equation, we specialize in finding those individuals who are just starting to consider their next career move and don’t see a path forward with their current employer. They are often undervalued and victims of the company’s inertia and failing leadership. Every time we persuade someone to leave their job for a new opportunity, I wonder why the business they are leaving hasn’t done more to keep them and whether there is a succession plan to mitigate the disruption.
That’s why our recruitment methodology involves developing a full understanding of the needs of the business and the qualities of the existing team before we go out to find candidates. Clients are sometimes surprised when we ask about capabilities, transferable skills and potential in their existing staff and even more surprised when we are willing to recommend training rather than recruitment. It’s not what they might expect from a company that is focused on recruitment, however, our view is that it means everyone gets the best value for money, time and effort. We also find that placing candidates where leadership is not fully utilizing existing capabilities, or doesn’t have clear talent development plans, rarely leads to a successful long term placement.
We believe building the dream team has four main components and can often depend on where the business is in its life cycle. We’ve spiced up the steps with a few soccer team mottos and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to translate (or guess) and name the team. The answers are at the end.
Retain because ‘victoria concordia crescit’
We spend a lot of our time talking to experienced, skilled and totally disillusioned employees who do not feel well lead, cared for, recognized or supported. It is extraordinary how often outstanding candidates tell us that they just don’t feel that their current boss or the company even notices them. A primary task of leaders is to retain good people which means active management to understand personal motivations and communication to ensure they feel part of the company’s vision.
The price of failure is high with a Center for American Progress (CAP) survey suggesting that replacing senior executives can have a real cost of over 200% of salary but it’s never inexpensive or easy to replace good people no matter what level they are. CIO’s Sharon Florentine wrote a strong eight-point plan on retention earlier this year and it’s an issue the Harvard Business Review follows closely. Recognition, reward and progression can all play a part but the important thing is to have an explicit plan for keeping people who can align with your objectives and contribute to the company’s success.
Train ‘consectatio excellentiae’
My research, as well as direct experience with TALTRAN’s parent company Quotacom, suggests that the tech sector has taken employee skill building more seriously than most sectors and understand that it brings competitive advantage when talent is scarce. Smart companies recognize the pace of change and are interested in ways that staff with the right attitude and flexibility can be reskilled, upskilled and self-skilled. I invented the last one because it’s important that individuals also take responsibility for their personal growth and Forbes Coaches Council suggests there a plenty of ways to do that.
It’s important to have a plan and McKinsey make a number of valuable points about the weaknesses of companies that “use an ad hoc approach to their talent-building efforts”. Building something also means ongoing investment to maintain it as a genuine strategic, competitive advantage rather than seeing training as a ‘once and done’. Getting the best people, keeping them and developing them is the closest guarantee of business success there is.
Buy It when ‘nil satis nisi optimum’
There is a moment in the life of every sports team head-coach where the only answer is to buy the missing piece of the jigsaw. Liverpool FC, the soccer team I have been a lifelong fan of, was there or thereabouts in the hunt for trophies for several years but it took a record club expenditure to buy towering center-back Virgil van Dijk to bring the authority, skill and attitude to take the final step. Four major trophies in two seasons reinforced the view that there are moments when none of your existing options can develop far enough or fast enough so buying exceptional quality is the only answer.
The emphasis here is ‘exceptional quality’. That means more than just technical skills, also the ability to set standards that raise the bar as well as recognizing that teamwork involves shared responsibility and respect. There’s a page of quotes from Van Dijk which show his attitude – he takes personal responsibility but recognizes that he is part of a team where “in the end, we all do it together.” There is nothing wrong with recruiting a maverick “loner” but that is not the way you build and sustain a world-beating team.
Rent It when you have to go ‘droit au but’
In How to Get Rich, Felix Dennis gives eight “secrets” to becoming wealthy and they are well worth reading but he has been immortalized for his opinions on when you should rent things. In business, as in life, there are moments when it is best to bring in support that may meet short-term need, be on approval or just be unaffordable in the long-term. A niche part of our business is finding talent that can make an immediate impact for a client while a longer-term relationship is put on hold until both parties have sized each other up.
There is a place for interim cover and project specialism but it’s never an excuse for a company to prevaricate over its direction of travel and building a team. Sustainable high-performance is based upon solid foundations and deep relationships, finance should be a business partner rather than a gatekeeper. Having a personal and professional stake in the direction of a company is critical in securing the best people and extracting their full value.
Using this four-part formula as a tool provides context when we are working with businesses that face intense, immediate challenges or believe they can simply buy their way out of under-investment in personnel. From my own experience, I know that it’s no fun to be facing a crucial decision-making moment or a critical sales period without adequate tracking systems or the people to run them and provide insights. Compounding the problem with an ill-considered personnel investment is never the right way to go and the pace of our recruitment process means it is often as quick to find permanent solutions as taking stop-gap measures.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, we also believe in providing a consultancy service that can recommend career paths and structures for in-house teams rather than proposing fresh recruits for every position. Finding those hidden gems can be as fulfilling as placing a senior director and seeing them flourish builds confidence in our judgement and knowledge. It’s a win for the individual, the company and for us as we work to build long-term relationships with progressive and ambitious businesses.
There were three mottos in Latin and one in French. Arsenal FC, Sunderland AFC, Everton FC and Olympique de Marseille were the clubs and there is a little more about each of them below:
Victoria concordia crescit (Victory grows out of harmony) – Arsenal FC of the English Premier League. Founded in October 1886 as Dial Square Football Club and renamed Royal Arsenal in 1987 before registering their new name, Woolwich Arsenal, when they joined the Football League later that year. In 1914 they became The Arsenal but dropped ‘The’ in 1915. Some would say that the current team is still in search of an identity under relatively new manager Mikel Arteta.
Consectatio excellentiae (In pursuit of excellence) – Sunderland AFC of League 1, the third tier of English football. The club was founded as Sunderland and District Teachers AFC in 1879 or 1880 and renamed Sunderland AFC in October 1880 before joining the Football League for the 1890–91 season. The motto has been subject of much comment following the behind the scenes meltdown shown in a Netflix documentary series Sunderland ‘Til I Die which charted the season they suffered a second successive relegation.
Nil satis nisi optimum (Nothing but the best is good enough) – Everton FC of the English Premier League. Founded as St. Domingo’s FC in 1878 and renamed Everton in November 1879 before becoming a founding member of the Football League in 1888–89. Recent years have seen Everton finish below city rivals Liverpool every season since 2012-13 which has seen the motto come under scrutiny
‘Droit au but’ (Straight to the goal) – Olympique de Marseille of French Ligue 1. Founded in 1899, making it one of France’s oldest professional clubs, its motto ‘Droit au but’ (straight to the goal) comes from Football Club de Marseille, which was founded by René Dufaure de Montmirail (who was also OM’s founder)two years earlier. The last time an Olympique player won the European Golden Boot awarded to the top scorer across all European leagues was Josip Skoblar in 1971 so the route to goal has been less straight in subsequent years.