The 2010 Bullhorn Lineup
2009 was a year of winnowing. And, what made it such a tough year was the fact that the prior four years were easy years of growth. Four years of wind at our backs had made us all soft. Even those of us who survived the dotcom bust, who knew that markets can turn at any time, had grown a little complacent. Relaxed spending here, relaxed hiring there, a little less scrutiny of the numbers and suddenly, the strategies that made sense in years like ’06, ’07, and ’08 simply would not work in a climate like 2009. Bullhorn was no exception. I still believe that we fielded a good team in 2008. People worked hard and we accomplished a lot. We had good raw talent, but 2009 required a different level of play all together. We were like freshmen showing up for pre-season practice: we were out of shape and our game had big holes. We simply didn’t have the benefit of the hard lessons of 2009. The hard-scrabble fight of a recession forced us to examine every aspect of our business, question prior decisions and make hard choices. While there were many sleepless nights along the way, I can’t argue with the results. If the Bullhorn team of 2008 were up against the team we’re fielding in 2010, it wouldn’t even be a fair contest. Even though most of the individual players are the same, we’d outsell, out-service, out-innovate and out-smart them at every turn. Those scrappy freshman are juniors and seniors now, all at the height of their game and all working together as a team. Of course, hindsight makes me wish we had been more disciplined from 2004 – 2008, but I simply have to look ahead at what we’ll be capable of in 2010. So, here’s where the team made big improvements in 2009:
Visibility and Process – We have always been a metrics driven organization. Our executive team dashboard used to contain 4 key metrics which we reviewed weekly as a team. The metrics were good diagnostics of the business’ health, but they were lagging indicators. It was only clear what had happened, but no one could tell what was going happen. For instance, we would look at Net Promoter Score (NPS) client survey data every quarter. Yet, we had no visibility into the leading indicators of client satisfaction: our Technical Support team’s ticket backlog or response times. So, we could never get ahead of potential customer service issues. We could only react. The same held true for our sales pipeline, or professional services productivity and even our development process. We spent 2009 tearing into every area of the business, retooling it and making it measurable down to the individual desk level (this was critical). Then we aligned functional, team and individual goals around making big improvements. We changed processes and operational systems in almost every area of the company: R&D, Quality Assurance, Technical Support, Sales, Professional Services and Finance. Now, when the executive team gets together, we have a whole series of charts, trend data and metrics we use each week that truly give us insight into what’s going on so we can get ahead of problems. It’s amazing the effect it’s had. Even something small, like instituting bi-weekly development demos so the entire company knows what the development team has been working on has had a big impact. It’s brought the company together and given each team much greater visibility on where we’re headed.
Culture and Team – We spent much of 2009 thinking about our culture. What makes a person a true fit for the Bullhorn team? What are the raw attributes of our best employees that make us win in the marketplace? Integrity, intelligence and hard work are obvious. What company wouldn’t value these things? The five core values that truly capture our culture are not so obvious. We have spent the past 5 years refining the core values list and I’m sure we’re not done yet, but my team feels more investment and ownership of the values than ever before and that’s a true sign that they capture who we are, rather than what we wish we were. In 2009, we held up a measuring stick to our entire employee base on the five core values: Passion, Impact, Energizing, Edge and Accountability. We rewarded those that stacked up well on that score and were very candid with those that didn’t. We had always stressed candid feedback, but in-depth leadership training for every manager and supervisor made the message hit home. Managers dug deep and had some very tough conversations with those that weren’t measuring up. Ultimately, that candor helped people understand where they stood at the end of the day so they could adjust – and most did. As a result, the entire company is performing at a much higher level. And, we have a strong template for hiring and measuring our employees throughout the year. We also spent a lot of energy balancing resources. We had grown quickly since 2004 and we had team sizes that didn’t necessarily align with the market. For instance, we were winning enterprise deals, but our resource allocation was geared to small and mid-size clients. We needed to segment our sales, account management and service staff to better service our entire client-base. Getting the mix of resources aligned to fit the market was an important step in getting our footing right for the next phase of growth.
Listening – The entire organization has tuned into the client much more than ever before. We’ve always been ahead of the curve here with things like Bullhorn Brainstorm and our use of NPS, but 2009 made us redouble our efforts. We knew that the economy was creating tremendous pressure for our clients and they themselves were in the process of changing and restructuring. We could either be seen as vendors or partners. We chose the latter and carved out resources dedicated to helping clients gain greater adoption of the system and conducting Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR’s) to help us stay close to our client’s goals as their strategies evolve. In the end, the organization has deepened its relationships with its clients and that will no doubt yield dividends as the market picks up in the years to come.
Innovation – 2009 was a year where we got serious about innovating. We’ve always invested a lot into R&D, but we really turned the heat up in 2009. We made the bet that every one else would be in hibernation mode, just trying to survive. And, we could really lead the market if we invested into the down turn. Not only did we increase our investment in our core product offerings, but we also wanted to invest in truly innovative initiatives. So we created a whole new R&D team dedicated solely to creating new products and services. That team is probably as big as the entire R&D team of our next largest competitor. The pay off of this investment will be big. We’ll be launching the first new product offering into beta in Q1. We had a very small alpha test in December and the early returns have been incredible. This team will continue to help Bullhorn lead the staffing and recruiting market in 2010 and beyond.
On to The 2010 Season – And we won’t stop refining our game in 2010. There’s a lot of work left to bring up our skills across the board. Every functional team will be growing in 2010. Adding resources while preserving and improving quality will be a challenge in of itself. And, just as we leveraged the new found discipline we gained from the dotcom bust during the years of expansion, we’ll leverage what we learned in 2009 into 2010 and 2011. While I don’t know if the wind will be at our backs in 2010, I do know that we’ll be a better company for having trained so hard in 2009. Bring it on!