Leading from the front: Insights from recruitment CEOs

Engage Sydney 2024

How can you continuously enhance your recruitment approach to thrive despite varying market conditions?

At Engage Sydney 2024, we were joined by three accomplished recruitment leaders – Brent Leahy from RGF Staffing, Penny O’Reilly from ManpowerGroup and Stephen Smith from Sirius People. Moderated by Matt Webster, the session explored how the leaders navigated economic challenges, empowered their teams to win new business and the importance of resilience. Read on to find out the key takeaways from the insightful session.

Navigating economic challenges

Economic conditions have been constantly changing over the last few years. From the lows of the pandemic, to a resurgence as businesses reopened then to another dip as businesses look to re-balance their needs. Recruitment agencies have had to ride these waves and find strategies to thrive. For Smith, it’s been Sirius People’s deep specialisations and enduring client relationships over the last 20 years. “The one thing that has always served us strongly is our depth of specialisation.” He continued, “We’re able to provide those skill sets which aren’t always easy to find as they may require some longer-term relationships from our consultant’s perspective.”

ManpowerGroup Australia has the benefit of being a part of a global business and having access to great data on market conditions which has guided their strategies. O’Reilly said, “There’s typically a lag effect” in the Asia Pacific region so they could see what’s happening in the US and predict what conditions may look like in Australia. She stressed ManpowerGroup’s focus on diversification, digitisation, and innovation (DDI), which remains their “North Star.”

Leahy agreed with the other panellists on the benefits of specialisation and using data to predict market conditions. He spoke about how RGF Staffing got external sales training for consultants, working with them to create the content being delivered. This was to create clarity for the business leaders and consultants on strategy and tactics needed during challenging market conditions. Leahy highlighted the need to act fast, “If you know that the market’s changing, don’t just wait for it to change and say we should have acted quicker. Let’s do something right now.”

Winning new business

Winning new business is always important, but it’s even more of a focus for recruitment agencies, given the fluctuating market conditions.

O’Reilly reflected on the transition from candidate-focused strategies to a business development (BD) focus within ManpowerGroup. She highlighted their need to restructure the business to empower specific roles with the right tools for BD activities. O’Reilly stressed the importance of retaining existing accounts noting the significant time and effort required to replace lost high-value contracts. She expressed the need for a balanced approach between short-term gains and long-term sustainability.

Leahy agreed and raised the issue of staff desperation to win new business, cautioning against accepting low-margin jobs just to get a quick win. He emphasised the importance of finding the opportunities that align with an agency’s strengths. “You need to pick your little niche, what you’re good at and really laser focus on that and making sure that you’re the best at what you do”, he stated. Leahy went on to highlight the importance of having the right people in the right roles, particularly when trying to win new business in challenging market conditions.

Building resilience

Resilience emerged as a central theme throughout Engage Sydney 2024.

During the panel discussion, Smith pointed out that for his team at Sirius People, it’s about focusing on and working towards positive outcomes during difficult times. He cautioned against being too optimistic but rather “find positivity in your business”, Smith said. “It’s really important to try and keep the momentum going with the staff because when it does get hard, they need to still walk out every day as much as possible with a smile on their face and feel like they’re having fun at work.”

O’Reilly spoke about her role in instilling confidence and providing a sense of calm and clarity to her team. “It’s definitely about you making sure that you are giving that confidence to your teams. That sense of calm, that ‘this is okay’ and that sense of clarity around ‘this is what we need to do’. We’ve been here before.”

Adopting AI in recruitment

Leahy noted the initial hype around AI with the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. He stated, “When ChatGPT was launched, there was a flurry of activity… it’s come down a little bit, to a level where we’ve got to think about things more practically – how can we use this tool in an application within a work environment?” For Leahy, it’s about using AI to assist recruiters with low-priority tasks so they have more time to build stronger relationships. “We need to use it in ways that are going to help us with some of those mundane tasks that’s certainly how we at RGF Staffing using it, to assist with ad writing and presentations.”

Sirius People recently adopted the Bullhorn platform, driven by the need to future-proof their business through AI and automation. Smith said, “AI is different now… I think it’s going to change things much more significantly than we’ve seen change before.” He emphasised AI’s potential to streamline communication and make recruiters more efficient at lower-level tasks while acknowledging the enduring value of personal interactions. “People still will want to work with people”, he stated.

O’Reilly shared ManpowerGroup’s increasing use of automation to give their candidates a more consistent and personalised experience. “We’re trying more automations just to make sure that we are consistently communicating in a more personalised manner”, she explained. On the AI front, Manpower’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is spearheading their efforts. O’Reilly noted Dr. Tomas, “talks about the fact that AI will absolutely beat IQ, but it will never be EQ.” Manpower is adapting AI while continuing to develop its consultant skills in EQ qualities such as empathy.

Find more insights from Engage Sydney 2024 in our Engage Content Hub.

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