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Every few months or so I will receive a call from a CEO, owner or manger who will ask my advice about keeping their top biller motivated. The particular dilemma is that the top biller concerned has stated little or no desire to become a manager of people within the business.

The CEO, owner or manager is, understandably concerned that without fresh challenges, their star may be tempted with an offer from a persistent competitor, even though that top biller has expressed no dissatisfaction with their job or the company or made any attempt to leave previously.

This topic was also raised at the roundtable discussion on How Recruiters Improve Quickly not Slowly: The Elite v the Average that I hosted at the recent RCSA conference in Hobart.

So what are the options available to an owner, apart from promotion into a formal leadership role, who wants to keep their top biller inside the camp, both happy and productive?

Here are twelve options you might want to consider:

  1. Are they really a top performer?Maybe your top performer is actually a big fish in a small pond? BSRP Asia reported in 2009 that elite perm recruiters were billing at least $590k per annum and for elite temp/contract recruiters the figure was $900k. Challenge your big biller to be an industry big biller, not just a team or company big biller.
  2. Set a specific performance challengeMaybe their fees are very good but the big biller is still working on some contingent jobs in competition with other recruiters. Set a stretch target of job exclusivity. Set a goal of landing a job from their major competitor’s largest account. Challenge them to make two reverse marketing placements per month. Stretch your big biller beyond their comfort zone.
  3. Executive coaching
    Working one-on-one with an experienced executive coach over a 6 to 12 month time frame can provide the big biller with a very personalised journey of self development. This sort of program could provide a range of surprising outcomes including (maybe) the realisation that the big biller is interested in a formal leadership role after all.
  4. Overseas conferenceThere are many recruitment conferences held internationally every year, especially in the US. It’s a great opportunity for a big biller to meet many other recruiters and hear and experience how recruitment is being undertaken outside of their home shores.
  5. Executive educationFor those recruiters who have a limited or narrow tertiary education background, there are courses on offer at places like the AGSM and the Melbourne Business School at Mt Eliza, to name just two. These organisations provide many excellent executive programs, both live-in and on-campus. A massive array of non-executive distance learning options are available. Check out the options at Seek Learning.
  6. Internal Champion and/or Master Class LeaderThe big biller may not want to be responsible for people but you can certainly make them responsible for being the team or company ‘quality champion’ on such issues as job ads, interviewing or client visits. Suggest that the big biller run a Master Class on their favourite topic, record the session on video and distribute it throughout the company, making a big fanfare of it (assuming it’s good of course!).
  7. Surround them with rookiesMaybe the big biller has become stale and bored sitting in the same seat or with the same people. Move the seats around so that the ‘old bull’ is surrounded by ‘young bulls’. Then watch to see if the ‘old bull’ responds to the new environment with renewed vigour and motivation to show ‘the young’ens how it’s done!’
  8. Lead a project
    Not wanting to lead people does not preclude the big biller from wanting to lead an important internal project. Such issues as a new CRM system, a comprehensive competitor review, key customer research or a refreshed company brand, are all areas that a big biller may enjoy some solo responsibility, along with a budget and timeline.
  9. Coaching and mentoringOffering an opportunity to informally coach and develop a new recruiter, without formal leadership responsibility, can motivate the top biller and provide them with an opportunity to experience the satisfaction of assisting someone succeed. And maybe whet their appetite for a formal leadership role.
  10. Group self discovery or holistic leadership group programPotentially confronting self-discovery and learning experiences, compressed into a few intense days or weeks, can provide a big biller with a whole new outlook on themselves, their job and life in general. Examples of such programs include NLP Practitioner CertificationAnthony Robbins’s programs and The Landmark Forum.
  11. A long holidayRecruitment agency recruiting can be hectic, stressful and demanding. Often the lure of a long holiday is resisted due to fear of returning to a near-empty pipeline of business. The smart owner/manager knows when to insist that their big biller take at least three weeks off and suggests that they leave the country and immerse themselves in a culture or an experience that takes their mind completely off work.|
  12. Elevate their industry profileChallenge the big biller to be a sought-after speaker or writer within their niche market. Suggest they join Toastmasters and/or undertake a Writing Skills course. Push the boundaries of how wide the reputation is of the big biller within their niche market or industry. Have them be sought-after as a topic expert as much as for being an excellent recruiter.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

The most important thing is not to ignore the signs or boredom or flagging motivation in a big biller. This sort of problem rarely sorts itself out.

Considering the investment of time and money that owners and managers have made in a big biller it would be foolish in the extreme, to think that a big biller can ‘sort themselves out’ (subtext: I am paying you enough money to not have to devote my time to you).

Inattention to a flagging big biller is a very expensive mistake to make and one you are only likely to make once.

So recruitment company owners – where is your big biller at and what are you doing about it?

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