Futuregov

Startup recruitment – reject show-offs, clowns and mavericks …

Bryan Keating - possibly the world's best Chairman

Bryan Keating – possibly the world’s best Chairman

From the warmth of my temporary California base this week I noticed with interest that successful scaleup Futuregov is advertising publicly for an Executive Chair. Why with interest? Well really it’s because these types of appointments are so rarely advertised in a scaleup or SME.

This got me thinking about small business recruitment in general and what a dark art it is. Staying with the Exec Chair campaign for a moment, I can understand fully why Carrie & Dom are going down this route – it widens the selection pool beyond their own (extensive) networks and it’s a more transparent, open and fair process. But will it get them the right or best candidate? I’m not sure. Inevitably, processes that open some doors also close others.

In my world, the more usual way to bring someone into your small business as Chairman or a NED is to go out to your network and then make direct approaches to people, or a person, that you think may be suitable. A number of conversations take place behind closed doors and the “target” individual will make a decision based on any combination of the following and more – do they like your business, do they like you, how much else have they got going on right now, does your opportunity complement or conflict with their other current activities, can they see clearly how they will add value, what are you offering them, how’s it going to look on their own cv, are your exit aspirations linked to their available forward timescales, etc

Many of the sorts of people that I might approach if I was seeking an Executive Chair would never participate in a public recruitment process. They wouldn’t wish to be open and transparent in their dealings or intentions and they simply wouldn’t compete in a public way with others – definitely not. So well done Dom & Carrie for being brave enough to run a process that rules those people out and good luck with finding the right person.

There’s a wider issue here and one that I’d never really thought about much – despite having spent an awful lot of my own time during the past 10 years actively recruiting people into my own teams. At a dinner in Dublin last year I found myself sitting next to the head of a very, very large software company’s 2,000 person development team. We chatted away and inevitably the conversation turned to how difficult it is for a small business to recruit decent tech talent. My dinner companion at this point happened to say to me that he has a rule whereby he never recruits people via recruitment agencies or headhunters. Never. No exceptions. His reason for this was simple and straightforward. He believes that only second rate candidates use their services. He recruits only via his company’s new graduate programme and he sometimes interviews people recommended by others in his network or team. His further rationale when I challenged him a little on this was that he may occasionally miss a good person in this way, but the amount of time he saves by not bothering with or interviewing “bad” candidates was considerable and the trade-off was worth it. It also saved him from the nuisance factor that recruiters & headhunters introduce into your business – once they’ve placed a candidate with you they continue dialogue with your employee so that they don’t miss an opportunity later to make more commission when they can persuade that person to move again.

Later on I thought about my own career path and realised that I’ve only ever formally applied for two out of the numerous jobs I’ve had in my working life – once as a new graduate (I got my first job by applying via an advert placed in the Guardian) and again when I was moving to a new country (Northern Ireland in 2000) and didn’t have an existing network. Everything else I’ve ever done has come to me through my network.

Recruiting the right people into your team is the hardest job of any startup or scaleup CEO. I don’t care what any recruiter or HR person says about this, recruitment into your team is a nightmare and often it’s completely random as to whether or not the appointment you make turns out to be a success. Drawing up endless criteria and scoring lists of candidates against them? For the most part a complete waste of time and energy and it turns the process into something akin to the very worst excesses of procurement. Recently I’ve heard of a couple of people in my own network who’ve been encouraged to apply for vacant posts by the Chief Executives of those organisations. Both have gone on to apply & attend interview and both were unsuccessful. What’s that all about? Were they being used as stalking horses by unscrupulous Chief Execs wanting to make up their interview numbers or was it that the panel had a scoresheet that had to be adhered to on the day and therefore the Chief Exec was over-ruled or outvoted and their preferred candidate ousted by someone who happened to interview better on the day. (Rookie startup CEOs – this is something else to definitely watch out for – the professional interview performers – great at interview but by the end of Week 1, you realise with a sinking heart what a dreadful mistake you’ve made.)

Instead, satisfy yourself in the first 5 minutes that the candidate really wants to work in your organisation for the right reasons and has a clear view of where and how they can add value. Also, reject all show-offs, clowns and mavericks, no matter how interesting or compelling they seem. Believe me – all they will bring to you is a huge time sink and disharmony in your team.

For me, this is an interesting topic because despite having built world class startup teams several times over on a shoestring, recruitment is something I’ve struggled with over the years. I’ll readily admit that some of the worst and most personally painful mistakes I’ve ever made in business have been recruitment related.

Interested to hear your views, hints and tips for others on small business recruitment so please do share in the comments section below. The photo above is of Bryan Keating, the best Chairman I’ve ever worked with or for. Although having said that I’ve always loved the story about how the founders of the Innocent drinks company used to employ a 50p piece in the early days that they referred to as “The Chairman”. They flipped it for a simple heads or tails decision when required. I don’t know if the story’s true or not but certainly food for thought Dom & Carrie?

Digital Future Gazing – 10 predictions for 2013

Breakfast with bright young things in the Soho Hotel

Yesterday I attended the 4th annual Digital Trends forecast presentation from digital PR agencies 33 Digital & Hotwire in the achingly trendy Soho Hotel.  It’s a world I don’t often stray into – marketeers, PR people, social media agencies, brands, influencing – inhabited by bright young things and beautiful people.  So what was I doing there?  I went because Peter Sigrist, MD at 33 Digital is part of my Twittergang & I wanted to see him present and also because who isn’t interested in future gazing & horizon scanning – especially when someone else is putting up the skittles & inviting everyone else to knock them down.

As it turns out, the bright young things were also well informed, fun and sincere & the event was very enjoyable.  I considered what impact the 10 predictions may have on my own public sector world – and my musings on this are below.  You can access the report in it’s entirety here www.digitaltrendsreport.com – it also contains some very cool b & w photographs.

Peter wants to encourage lively debate about the forecasts so feel free to join in on Twitter.  Use #hw33trends

  1. Internal Social Networks – yep – I like this one.  We’ve been using Yammer for years at Learning Pool & we know many of our public sector customers are trying to get started with something similar.  Our experience has been that it helps our dispersed team keep track of each other & it savagely reduces internal email.  In bigger organisations it allows everyone to communicate with each other on a more level playing field and it lets senior teams understand their own organisations better.  The challenge next will be to see if internal social networks will foster new ways to achieve business objectives and even sales.  We’ll see.  For anyone starting out with an internal social network, make it easy for your team to use & be patient.  There’s bound to be a few mistakes along the way but everyone learns and your organisation becomes more resilient as a result.
  2. Data Porn – the age of the data geek is finally here, Big Data has arrived.  The PR agencies are excited about the release of the 2011 Census data in early 2013.  This time around the data will be there in a format where everyone can access it & slice & dice until the cows come home.  What does this mean for the UK public sector?  A recent Policy Exchange report estimates that fully capturing the big data opportunity to drive up efficiency and cut out waste in the UK public sector could be worth a total of between £16 billion and £33 billion
    a year.  What’s keeping you folks?  For anyone out there who’d like to know more about what Big Data is, there’s a new e-learning course in the Learning Pool catalogue that we developed with the Cabinet Office & explains Big Data for public sector beginners.
  3. Digital Health – in 2011 global healthcare costs totalled £3.8 trillion according to McKinsey & in the US costs were 20% of GDP.  This prediction is about government encouraging people to measure & monitor their own health data to ultimately help them to help themselves to become more healthy.  I think whether we like it or not this is definitely on the cards.  I heard Nick Seddon of think tank Reform talk about this idea at length at July’s CIPFA conference and given that he was previously at Circle Healthcare he probably has a good idea about the way things are moving.  On a more positive note, people these days want to take charge of their own health.  We’ve seen that in our own team during 2012 with a number of people finally kicking the cigarette habit & the proliferation of bicycle purchases.

    Peter Sigrist, MD of 33 Digital, revealing the first 5 predictions

  4. When businesses learned to be good – I like this one too & definitely agree that this is on an upward & escalating trajectory.  This topic even formed part of the CBI’s recent annual conference which included an entire panel session titled “Growing with Society – the need for new Business Models” led by Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman.  Modern businesses are becoming more transparent, more connected (and in a way where serendipity starts to play more of a role) and more community focused – both internally & externally.  For the public sector, I predict that the coming years will see a complete blurring between government, the private sector and the not for profit space as a new type of organisation emerges to deliver services to citizens.
  5. Smaller can be better – the rise of the niche social network and a move away from Facebook & Twitter.  This one is all about creating communities of interest where the measure is not the size of the community but the degree of engagement.  It’s what we’ve been doing for a few years at Learning Pool with our own specialist Learning & Development community and this is a fairly well developed idea within the public sector with many niche Communities of Practice available in recognised places like the LGA’s Knowledge Hub.  Peter talked about examples of “sub compact publishing” such as Bobbie Johnson’s “Matter” project – very interesting and described as – basically the opposite of all the received wisdom about online publishing — they only publish long pieces, they don’t publish very often, and they expect people to pay for content.
  6. Sentient World – this is where it starts to get a bit scary.  Social media gave interested parties the ability to listen to what we say; the sentient world will give them the ability to see what we’re doing.  Foursquare has launched a service for business this past week and one of their original co-founders is apparently working on a version of tweetdeck for Foursquare.  One for the public sector to sit back & think about I believe as we watch the early adopters.  Sometimes called the Internet of Things, to the layman it’s sensors & transmitters within inanimate objects connected via the internet – fridges that order more milk, shoes that can tell you how to get home, a lamp that when you switch it on in London lights your sister’s lamp in Co Tyrone so that she knows you’re at home, mirrors in shops that tell you more about the coat you’re trying on, thermostats that learn which rooms you don’t go into so they leave them colder.  I loved the story about the Fitbit & the leaderboard & this is something we will definitely be trying out in Learning Pool as the New Year kicks off.  Who can walk 1,000 miles first?  My bet is on Eddie Ryce.
  7. The Rise of Storytelling – every FTSE100 company now has a community management team.  Two years ago none of them did.  This is about using compelling stories with a beginning, a middle and an end to bring audiences to you, get them to stick around & ultimately to buy more stuff from you.  I see lots of examples of public sector organisations pushing out stories about the places they are in & the people they serve.
  8. The Un-Boxing of TV – yep – agree with this.  I can’t watch tv any more without Twitter banter running in parallel & everyone I know is the same.  Can’t think of a public sector application of this one as all that is televised is council meetings & I don’t think anyone watches them anyway.  Maybe use this medium & idea to push out campaigns about public health or to encourage more engagement in local democracy?  I have a horrific metric for you however – 70% of trending topics on Twitter are TV related 😦
  9. Selling’s from Mars, engaging’s from Venus – remember that you can only manage what you measure.  It’s easy to measure sales.  Engagement isn’t as easy to measure.  We had a good laugh about Twitter campaigns that have backfired & one that we discussed was the Waitrose campaign that asked people why they shop at Waitrose – cue hilarious results (Harrods is too far to go midweek, because I was once in the Holloway Rd branch & heard a dad say “put down that papaya Orlando”, Asda doesn’t stock peacock/unicorn feed, if you buy a full tank of helicopter fuel you get 10% off champagne and so on).  Rather than backfiring I think that campaign was a resounding success.  I think the public sector understands that if you want citizens to engage, you have to hold conversations on topics they are interested in but perhaps we don’t see enough of this happening.
  10. The User Experience of Social – this one is about thinking through the entire user experience that people have when they interact with us in more than one place.  In my opinion no-one does this right.  I’ve recently been accessing estate agent websites on my smartphone when I’m out & about & they are a curse – every last one of them.  This is about waking up to the fact that channels do not contain siloed audiences – the same people are using multi channels.  Everyone including the public sector needs to think a lot harder about UX from multiple devices & including more”helping hand services” that align service offerings & save time & energy for the user.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed yesterday’s event, even if I can’t extend the Soho Hotel breakfast to you.  I saw Jon Foster of Futuregov yesterday & we were debating whether or not local authorities really should start thinking more like brands.  We concluded that they probably should.  It’s certainly time for everyone to take better control of their conversations and interactions in a more holistic way.

As always, I look forward to your comments & your own predictions for Digital for 2013.