You have never had a test of your leadership until you have managed a recruitment business through a recession, or a prolonged period of subdued demand, such as right now.
It’s beyond tough. Balancing falling revenues while trying to retain key staff. Communicating critical fee generation targets while at the same time not “spooking” the troops and leaving people depressed and panicky. And then there is the myriad of decisions about cost control, pricing levels, and strategy.
Really, who would want to be running a staffing business right now?
But we cannot hide. We have to deal. And we must think both short and long term. Survival is key obviously, but so is preparing for the upturn. And it all hinges on leadership and the tone of that leadership.
In my experience there are three key areas you need to focus on to lead successfully in tough times.
Narrow the Focus
Desperation in bad times can lead to losing focus. Winners in a downturn narrow their business portfolios. Do not try to become all things to all people. You must walk away from bad business. Allow losers to chase unprofitable sales to hold market share. As a leader you must encourage the business to focus on just a few critical priorities that you know will drive revenue.
That could be several things, but it may be as simple as
- Grow temp sales in a targeted niche
- 70% of our time must be on face-to-face or on verbal customer contact and
- We only work on qualified job orders. These are clear business priorities.
They give your team focus. And that is what leadership must ensure during a downturn.
Bring People Together
When the pressure is on, it’s often true that recruiters become defensive and territorial. Maybe your teams even start seeing internal colleagues as threats. And when that happens, they take their eye off the real threat – competitors taking our business and customers drifting away.
Leaders have to stop this self-destructive behavior from catching on. Firstly, it’s important you spend as much time with your staff, ‘on the job’. Running job meetings, taking training sessions, going on client visits. Don’t lock yourself in your office. Be more visible, not less visible.
But you must do more. You need to actively encourage people to work together. That could include joint meetings of temp and perm teams to share ideas for example. It could mean encouraging people from different teams to go on joint visits. Or you could get a real “gun” recruiter from one part of the business to share her success ideas with those from another. Small steps, but important ones to keep people aligned with the common goal: Winning business.
Staff engagement – nothing is more important
It’s crucial that during challenging times, you open up a dialogue about what is happening with people in your teams. Don’t leave them in the dark. Lack of information promotes uncertainty and takes focus off the job at hand. As you go about making change, you need to make sure that people understand the decisions you are making and the reasons for them.
Some of the things we stepped up during those trying times include periodic emails to all staff on how the business is performing, monthly newsletters highlighting successes and wins no matter how small, increased training on specific ‘recession’ tactics.
Small things I grant you. But better than silence or continual bad news.
Some of the managers in our business have taken things even further. Trivia nights inter office competitions, and on several occasions the management team have come in and cooked lunch for all the staff! It’s not going to win more business, but it breaks the tedium of a tough market and brings everyone into the fold.
At the very least, it provides us all with a healthy laugh… and that simply cannot be bad!