Successful Adaption – Part Two

Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 by Alison Humphreys - Award winning NED and strategic advisor

One of the biggest fetishes in business is especially worshipped in the recruitment industry.

A “never give up” mindset, the determination to “power through”, a value system that celebrates “grit” and dogged repetition. Some recruiters I know argue that this is more important than ever.

I don’t agree. While determination to achieve is important, I have never thought that “head down, charging at things” was the same thing as true resilience in business.

But it may have worked for you – to an extent – in a boom market.

I know recruiters of (let me be gentle here) limited nuance and sophistication. They have been able to cover the ground by making high volumes of calls, and/or getting to opportunities very quickly. It’s when demand becomes tighter, or the customer becomes pickier, that they come unstuck.

Here’s a real-life example. A few years back I had a very driven, but not very sophisticated team manager reporting to me (not someone I had hired or trained!). He had high levels of “grit”, worked hard and fast. These were his tools.

What he did not have in his toolbox was sophistication, a high ability to learn/adapt, or a great understanding of how client businesses worked.

I asked that person to target a strategically important prospect, one of the biggest in the market, where this business had no track record. With six years’ experience, I let him get on with it.

That was a mistake.

Later, I found out that his approach had been this:

  1. He got hold of the CEO’s number and called him.
  2. Four times a day.
  3. For three weeks.
  4. He never changed his message. It simply said “It’s very important that I speak to you. Please call me back.”
  5. He didn’t even look at any other contacts we had in the organisation. He didn’t do any further research on it.

I found out when I got a letter from the PA to the CEO, effectively asking my business to cease and desist from harassment.

There was some important learning – and adjustments – for both of us there.

So what about 2021?

For anyone still holding their breath and hoping that they can just power on through, please stop.

A survey produced by Volcanic and IHR last year showed what many of us had been feeling:

66% of agency respondents said they were finding it easier to attract candidates than before the pandemic. That did not apply to most key worker sectors and some of the biggest global shortage sectors.

What they did find was that passive candidates were open to talk, but more reluctant to move. While demand for temporary roles has held up quite well, candidates are less willing to take them. And while active candidates have more flexibility, the right ones are harder to find in a deluge of totally unsuitable applicants.

In my last blog I wrote about reviewing everything you do in light of how your market has changed. Don’t just double down and do more of the same.

You can read about the first big learning I gave one engineering recruiter from listening to his staff here.

Here’s the second.

His staff hadn’t changed one thing about their candidate screening process. They just had to do more of it because of market conditions.

The only process they knew was basic screening against a job. They asked a series of closed questions;

“Have you done X process?”

“What’s your notice period?”

-and sent their “client” CVs about which they couldn’t answer the most basic questions.

Why? Because their KPI of “CVs sent” hadn’t changed.

So now we have reviewed their KPIs, reward and recognition, and we are rolling out bespoke “Better interviewing” and “Ingenious business development” training with defined business objectives and a clear implementation plan. 

One of the things that most recruitment business owners agree is that the pandemic has given them an opportunity to really look “under the bonnet” at their business. Previously, the need for speed stopped them from seeing what wasn’t working well, or was no longer appropriate.

Several have had their best year ever. Most are expanding into new markets (sectoral AND geographical) and products (including temporary work, projects and SOW).

But most importantly, they haven’t just relied on grit and determination. They are adapting. And that’s what business resilience is really all about.

Could your business benefit from the insights of one of the most experienced, hands-on and successful recruitment experts? One who has a recent track record of leading rapid growth and taking businesses to sale?


Alison Humphries is a highly experienced MD and NED, with 35 years at the top of the recruitment sector.

She advises directors and owners of recruitment businesses on strategy, finance, sales and management to maximise performance, enter new markets, prepare for sale and work more efficiently. 


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