Ross in the Media

This article originally appeared in ShortList on 17 February 2014, 2.04pm


Performance management failures affecting recruiters' profitability: Clennett


Recruitment leaders must tackle performance management issues head-on with frank conversations, because allowing consultants to "meander on and fail slowly" has a much greater effect on business performance, says industry trainer Ross Clennett.

Most difficult conversations recruitment company leaders have during their careers will involve performance management issues, however many avoid or delay them to the detriment of their company, Clennett told Shortlist ahead of his presentation at next month's RCSA Pearl Consultant Forum.

"Often the most unprofitable part of a recruitment business is inevitably those consultants that limp past probation periods [and] get to about 10, 11, 12 months and have never performed, and then they resign or then they're fired. That's highly unprofitable," he said.

A frank, open discussion is the best way to tackle performance issues, and Clennett said he subscribes to the thinking of his former boss and Recruitment Solutions co-founder, John MacSmith "up or out".

"That's the way, as a leader, he believed we should all lead our people. We should continually look to help them improve their performance, and if for whatever reason that wasn't going to happen, then just plateauing or cruising is not acceptable and we have to have the conversation to exit them, or start that process," he said.

Many leaders, however, avoid having a frank conversation about performance because they lack the communication skills, or are afraid of a negative response, said Clennett.

"They in their own mind think 'Maybe next week would be better', or 'I had this [other] conversation with them, and maybe that would help'. They keep looking for little rays of sunshine, because again the leader has got something invested in this person succeeding because they hired them, in most cases.

"The natural optimism of a successful recruiter overrides the reality of whether this person does actually have what it takes," he said.

Clennett said one such conversation he delayed for weeks while working with MacSmith involved an underperforming consultant, "Tony", who was not improving, despite the time and training going into his performance.

"[John] said 'Ok. Well at the moment Tony is failing. And everyone wants to go to work and succeed and it's not fair to let Tony continue in this job failing. It's better that he is told that he is not likely to succeed in his job... and he goes to find another job that he can be successful at'," said Clennett.

"So I had that conversation with Tony, and that was very impactful for me, because John's point was absolutely right. No one wants to come to work and fail, and Tony was failing. I had invested the resources that were appropriate and I wasn't prepared to invest anymore, so the best thing for Tony, for the business, and for me and the team, was to respectfully exit him."

Underperforming recruiters like 'half-inflated tyre'


Sometimes leaders put off discussing performance management issues, because they fear that a negative outcome from that conversation will ripple out to the rest of their team, said Clennett.

"If that person who's underperforming is generally nice and well-regarded then the leader fears that if they have that conversation that they really need to have, then this person will take offence to it, or react negatively, and... other people [in the team who hear about it might] think 'Oh. We're being performance managed' or 'Am I next?'" he said.

In reality, that is a worst-case scenario, and more often affected team members are actually grateful the performance issue is being addressed, said Clennett.

"In recruitment teams, if you've got one person who's underperforming it then puts a burden on other people... It's like trying to drive a car with one tyre that's half inflated: the other three may be fully inflated, but just that half-deflation will cause the performance of the car to drop dramatically," he said.

"Most of the team... [would] recognise that that conversation was necessary, and at some level are probably relieved that the leader's had the conversation so maybe something will change."

On the flip side, because team members are often the first to recognise performance issues it can have a big effect on morale if they aren't addressed, which in turn reduces performance, added Clennett.

For the underperforming recruiter themselves, a frank discussion about their performance will force them to either reconsider their career in recruitment, or take action to improve their performance, he said.

"What you hope will happen, is that the person takes it in the way in which it's intended, which is to help them understand the reality of where they're at [and] give them the very specific things they need to do to change the situation," he said.

"They go away, think about it, and [say] 'Yes. I want to succeed. I will do those things. I do want to be a success on this team', and they do that."

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