Unprofitable recruitment stems from blind eye to underperformance

Submitted By Simon Moss on Fri 22 Aug 2014

Recruitment companies that are unprofitable often have leaders who refuse to address underperformance as soon as it happens, according to an employee engagement and performance specialist.

Agencies generally wait between three and six months before addressing poor performance, by which time the damage has already been done, Employerbility performance specialist Kate Boorer told Shortlist. "You can quantify a recruiter as a business unit – it's very easy to tell if they are making you money or not – and the ease at which you can calculate that means you can't ignore it when it does becomes a problem," she said. "A lot of [recruitment] businesses operate under a three- or six-month [poor performance] period then you're out. Recruitment companies can't afford to carry underperformance, yet for some reason they do."

Assessing recruiters on their billings without clear expectations of what constitutes high-performance behaviour destines them to failure, said Boorer, who is presenting an upcomingShortlist subscriber webinar. "Recruiters can't get qualified and they can't get 'trained up' through skillset development: it's 'all on-the-job' experience. It's a function of where they've come from that determines what their capability is," she said. "If there's no clear expectations, no clear goals and no clear process, then you leave them to their own devices. Once that doesn't match up with the 'equation-in-my-head' expectation of performance, what are you expecting? "

For business development, things such as making 20 new LinkedIn contacts over any one week, 10 phone calls to potential clients we don't already do business with, one of five meetings need to be with new clients, are all things that would dictate the expected standard in behaviours."

Talk about underperformance today

Recruitment leaders without clear expectations will often avoid having performance conversations, said Boorer. "You need to ask, 'what am I not doing as a leader?' and then draw a line in the sand and start today. Go and set your expectations for behavioural high performance now," she said. "With clearer expectations, you can understand where the underperformance is coming from: skills issue, experience issue, confidence or a motivation issues. Those kinds of things can be addressed."

One recruitment company already taking this into account is TRC Group, which recently restructured, and centred its new culture on clear expectations and a "healthy fear of failure". Leaders should approach performance management with a collaborative mentality, Boorer said. "Far too often this kind of conversation starts with 'this isn't working', rather than 'let's have a look at where we're at and how we move forward'," she said. "It's as simple as saying 'forget what's happened, let's just focus on today going forward, and then [let's agree] on what I expect from you and then in a week, we'll talk about how you've gone'. "

Start small with underperformers, focus on improving one aspect of their skillset. If you can't improve one thing, it's unlikely you're going to improve 30 all at once." Before starting performance management, leaders should always gauge the employee's investment in the company, said Boorer. "Really find out if they want to be there. You can spend three months working with someone building up skills, but if they don't want to be there, inevitably, you'll be back to where you started when they leave... Recruitment operators tend to disappear into whole new industries all the time."

Jury still out on "billing managers"

When the market is tough, leaders often become billing managers out of necessity; however, this can have negative effects on other staff, Boorer said. "As a profession, recruitment has more challenges than other professional services. Billing managers arise out of necessity, rather than as a 'best practice' initiative," she said. "Billing keeps managers in touch with clients and candidates, and allows them to adjust strategy accordingly. However, managers have to know what their staff want, what their skills and strengths are, and be able to coach and develop them. "Not performing doesn't feel good; most people want to come to the workplace and feel good. The role of the leader is 'how do I help my people be successful'... [If you're the owner and manager], it's crucial you play a role in inspiring those people, because people don't want to work hard for owners they don't like."

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