For Managers Only: Developing Experienced Recruiters

By Steve Finkel

What strategy should a manager employ regarding growth in today’s market?

Clearly, there can be significant positives to adding to staff.  But there are risks as well, and many firms might be better off simply improving their existing staff.  Yet how is this to be done in the face of what may be resistance to change from experienced recruiters?

Several months ago, a reader contacted this author with a not-uncommon problem.  While he owned the finest training products in our industry, they sat, as he said, “on the shelf”, while his group of experienced recruiters continued to repeat errors and limit their production, showing minimal improvement.  He questioned why this was the case.

Reality

Unfortunately, the reader by his very phraseology appears to be denying reality, and therein lies the problem.  There are a number of excellent motivational products available, including the classic books Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh.  Everyone should be exposed to these outstanding works or their imitators.

Nevertheless, the reality is that most people — in the absence of a truly life-changing event — are not self-motivating beyond a certain point. The fault in this instance lies solely with the manager.  To let excellent training products “sit on the shelf”, as he says, and expect the non-self-motivated to improve is about as likely to yield results as purchasing exercise equipment for a non-motivated spouse.  Improvement by osmosis is highly unlikely.  Does this mean there is no hope? Of course not. But it requires personal involvement and work from the manager.

Newton’s First Law of Motion applies to many experienced recruiters as well.  An object at rest tends to remain at rest — unless acted on by an outside force.  That “outside force” must be the manager!

A Culture of Learning

The manager shapes the organization. He develops the corporate attitudes and forms the culture.  If it is left to each recruiter to utilize genuine training material as he or she sees fit, this sends the clear message that continued learning is an individual responsibility, and thus an option. That message is wrong! In the best firms, professional growth is not an option, and not individual. It is a permanent on-going responsibility of the entire firm.  But it is the manager’s responsibility to develop a plan — and to enforce that plan — to bring it about.

The Key

The plan itself embodies multiple elements.  But the key to these elements is group meetings which cannot be interrupted.  To allow calls to be taken during meetings addressing skill improvement is to send a message that these meetings are not of the highest priority, and to reduce the quality of the meeting.  Eventually, everyone will be filtering in and out of skill improvement sessions, losing focus and concentration for the entire group.

These skill improvement sessions should be conducted twice-a-week, in the morning, and not on Fridays.  A rough estimate of length might be 45 minutes.

Topics

The difficulty many managers have is arriving at topics and organizing the material.  Without sufficient preparatory work, they simply pick a subject and blindly stumble into it the morning of the meeting, relying on their recruiters to bail them out of their lack of structure by making contributions. This is rarely productive –and totally unnecessary.

In point of fact, there is no need for a manager to flail about, wildly seeking subjects or specifics, as the outline of our industry has long been established and codified, and since broadened and refined.

The superb foundational training book by Larry Nobles, Search and Placement!, contains 28 chapters.  This author’s own hardbound book, Breakthrough! Exploding the Production of Experienced Recruiters, contains 30 chapters and will accomplish what the title implies for its intended audience.  And the innovative new 42-chapter book, Real Recruiting! Winning Search Strategies, has been consistently described by major UK and US industry publications and buyers worldwide as “changing the way recruiting is done”. If you want creative original ideas and techniques to increase production, this is it.  Every person in the office should own his own copy and must review the chapter to be discussed before the meeting!

Each chapter of these industry-specific high-content books plus selected chapters from the best classical books on selling is repeatable, reviewable, relevant — and should be the foundation of solid sales meetings to improve skills and production.

Additionally, much goodwill and loyalty will be achieved if the manager takes the time to sign and personally inscribe each book to every recruiter.

Role-Playing

The reality, of course, is that people in our business do not get paid for what they know; they get paid for what they do.  Improvement is only useful if it translates to increased production.  There is only one way to go from knowing to doing — and that is role-playing.

New people should have this as an integral part of all training.  But for experienced ones, an analogy will be persuasive.  Regardless of how many millions a baseball or cricket player earns, every day — regardless of income — he does batting practice.

Role-playing is our batting practice, and we do it for the same reasons — to polish skills and correct weak points leading to improved performance.

An extensive article on this subject entitled “From Knowing to Doing! How to Implement” may be found at the author’s website www.stevefinkel.com.  It should itself be the subject of an entire meeting to clarify and explain why this is mandatory and how to do it.

The most frequent error made, however, is attempting to role-play face-to-face.  Role-playing to be effective must be real.  If the subject to be role-played happens on the phone, that means rehearsing on the telephone, not face-to-face.

You can’t consistently hit for a high average if you skip batting practice!

Management Evaluation of Calls

What does this mean?

It means that the manager must find out what the recruiter is really doing on the phone.  How?  By listening in to both sides of his calls.

A simple analogy will show the worth of this.  In outside sales, it is part of a sales manager’s job to travel the territory with the people he supervises.  While on some calls he will participate by adding clout on “key account calls”, on others his job is to listen, evaluate and then to conduct “curbside coaching” with the aim of improving performance.

The technology to do this is readily available, either at any Radio Shack or similar electronics store, though telephone software, or with headsets designed with an extra jack for recording and/or an earplug.

Speakerphones are not recommended, as they will alter the quality of the recruiter’s voice (reverberations are common), thus reducing the worth of the call.

Poor performers will resist this idea, as it will show them up.  Good performers will like being listened to, as they believe it shows them off.

Signs on the Phone

Habit patterns can be broken and poor habits improved only by practice (role-playing) and repeat reminders.  The manager should insist that the recruiter put signs on the phone as a reminder of habit patterns that must be broken.  Examples of this may be “slow your pace” for a person who speaks too rapidly or “who else?” for a recruiter that stops at one referral, i.e. leads to new recruits.

These notes must be changed periodically to retain freshness.

Conducting Sales Meetings

Aristotle wrote that “the truest knowledge of an art is achieved only by teaching that art”.  As the manager conducts substantive, structured, formal skill improvement sessions, this will be found to be true.  However, this benefit should not be limited only to the manager.  The experienced recruiters too will gain markedly by preparing for and conducting such meetings.

In a firm with five or more experienced people, the manager should eventually be conducting no more than 50% of the twice-a-week meetings.  Every experienced recruiter has a skill in one or more of the facets of our complex business.  Even if it is only playing a recording of a call and evaluating his own performance, he should be in charge of occasional skill improvement sessions.

The entire firm but especially the meeting conductor will be the beneficiary.  If a new person is hired and the experienced person wants to teach a subject (don’t force this), by all means encourage him to plan a module and then do so.

Numbers and Ratios

There is no point in repeating what has been covered in varied detail and perspectives in the three noted books for our industry. But at some point, keeping track of numbers and analyzing ratios is mandatory.

As top business writer Richard Sloma wrote in his excellent book No-Nonsense Management, “individuals can perform at their best only if they are regularly, formally and objectively measured.”

Or, as former President Bush said in promoting his “No Child Left Behind” education bill, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it!”

Advance Preparation

It cannot be too strongly stressed that “winging it”, i.e. no preparation, yields poor results.  And in fact, there is no need to do so.

The 100 chapters in the aforementioned three books mean that topics and structure are no longer a problem for any manager!

The owner should let his people know at the end of the week in written form what topics will be covered at the two meetings the following week.  The recruiters must thus do reading or thinking about these topics, and be ready to discuss them.

For example, if the subject is desk organization or expanding your client base, everyone must read the chapters which address the subject, underline or highlight, and be prepared to discuss these chapters.

Each person must have his own copy of the books which contain not just the foundation but advanced sophisticated innovative techniques for our business in order to give structure to the meetings. It is personal involvement and advance preparation by both manager AND recruiter that yield a productive meeting that translates into measurable results. This is how you do it.

Implementing

The manager who leaves it up to his individual people to improve on their own is at fault.

He is not doing his job, and is thereby cheating his people and himself by not instituting a culture of continued improvement in his organization. Corporate cultures can be changed, and the steps outlined in this article will do so over time.

Nevertheless, there will be a jolt when changes are made.  The manager should conduct an initial meeting outlining these changes.  He should commit himself to consistent implementation of these steps in front of his people.  He should put signs on his own office wall to remind him to continue to do so.  And he should get the clear understanding from each person of whole-hearted participation in these changes.

The reason our entire industry suffers so badly in an economic slowdown is clear.  We “confuse brains with a bull market”, to use a Wall Street phrase.  We quit expanding and upgrading our client base.  And we quit improving our skills.

Tell your experienced people this.  They know it is true.  And resolve to do your job.  Resolve not to let it happen to them.

Effective Commuting

A big problem with experienced people is that they are frequently on “automatic”, especially when not in the office.  Thus, when they arrive at work, their minds must get “in gear” to begin. In our business, a slow start in the morning is a great handicap.

The answer, presuming they commute, is to have them listen not to music, news, talk radio or politics on the way to work.  Rather, they should be provided with interesting high-content CD modules about each portion of our industry to listen to.  In that way, they’ll be thinking (and hopefully, learning) about our business on the way to work, and be ready to go intellectually when they arrive.

My suggestion:  the 24 30-minute module CD series Successful Search and Placement! by noted trainer Larry Nobles.  Visit Amazon US for specifics and reviews or this website.

The Difficult Recruiter

If you suspect that one individual will not participate in these changes, take pre-emptive measures.  Bring this person into your office and give advance notice of your meeting.  Flatter him.  Tell him you’re counting on him.  Tell him he’s the leader.  Build him up.  Repeat this to keep him on track with the program.  Ask for his help, and allow him to conduct sales meetings.

If despite all your efforts, this person not only fails to change but exhibits behavior which slows down the rest, there is only one right answer.

Noted business author Bob Half of the Robert Half recruiting organization wrote “One bad person can spoil an entire office, because bad spirit is more contagious than good spirit.”

A person who consistently exhibits a bad attitude over time and cannot be changed must be terminated, regardless of production.

Consistency

It is critical to realize that building a culture of continued learning into your entire firm is not a matter of “motivation” or of occasional shallow blasts disguised as “training”, as in signing up for a “webinar”. The focus must be on comprehensive repeatable reviewable products which represent a long-term investment.

A culture of continued improvement can be achieved only by a consistent ongoing plan which is implemented entailing the above steps and more.  This is the responsibility not entirely of the recruiters, but of the manager, who must serve as a coach, guide and shaper of the skill level of his entire firm.

Only in this way can the production of the firm and the individual people be maximized, and the full potential and profitability of our truly excellent industry be achieved.

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