Ten years of success: The Six Degrees Executive journey

Six Degrees Directors
(L to R)     David Braham, Paul Hallam   and Nick Hindhaugh   celebrate an early
success,   July 2004
I love recruitment done well and I especially love
agency recruitment done well.  
 

One of the stars of the Australian recruitment agency
world over recent times has been

Six Degrees Executive
(SDE). SDE was started in Melbourne by three
ex-Michael Page recruiters,

Paul Hallam
,

David Braham
and

Nick Hindhaugh
in March 2004.
 
 

Since then the business has grown to
around 40 staff and a Sydney office. SDE has been a recipient of various

awards
over its ten years including current SARA Legend status.
 
 

Earlier this month SDE Director Nick Hindhaugh  
kindly agreed to answer my questions about the birth, growth and future
of Six Degrees Executive.
 

Ross: What were your original goals for SDE and
have you accomplished these goals?  

Nick:   We were pretty
methodical with our planning from day one including managing costs,
revenue, profitability, key clients, people and building a great
culture. We did set some fairly ambitious goals to begin including
revenue and people, as well as defining our position early as a ‘go to’
specialist in several key areas of the market. We entered the
recruitment market in 2004 which was probably one of the best periods we
have seen and will ever see, and that looks very different to today from
an economic and general business perspective, and as a result the growth
and success we had in our first three years was easily achieved.
 
 

Ross: In the early days was there any particular
moment that had you think that SDE was definitely heading in the
direction that you had envisaged when you started SDE?  

Nick  : I think as a
partnership we have rarely stopped and looked at the successes along the
way, and probably focussed more on the next goal or growth opportunity.
In the first year (when PSA’s meant something) we won some ongoing
business with some key businesses such as Kraft and Nestle that
guaranteed us a great revenue stream and put us on the map with senior
candidates in our space. Outgrowing our first office in the first 15
months was probably a tell tale sign things were going in the right
direction.  
 

Ross: What service offerings did SDE start with
2004 and how have these evolved over the subsequent ten years?  

Nick  : Our service
offering looks similar today compared to ten years ago in that our core
business has always been specialist creative recruitment across the
permanent and contracting market. However, in the last few years we have
taken on more consulting projects and providing hybrid type solutions to
the traditional RPO model. Over time we have evolved our offering, for
example bolstering our research capability, but essentially we have
remained focused on what we know how to do best.  
 

Ross: What did you do in 2004 to define and create
a distinct SDE culture and how has this evolved over the subsequent ten
years?  

Nick  : In 2004 we
worked hard at bedding down the systems and processes and a culture of
quality in terms of how we managed information and dealt with candidates
and clients, and importantly the recruitment process. We saw this as a
differentiator in the industry and when new people joined the business
we trained them on this and embedded it into their everyday. In the
early days we also worked very hard at ensuring there was a culture of
fun and celebrating the wins. Over time this hasn’t changed although as
many of us have grown older and had families, the extent to the
celebrations has probably tamed. What has definitely remained is a high
performance culture with an emphasis on team, health & wellness and a
high level of hands-on support from the leadership group to the rest of
the business.  
 

Ross: What are the most important parts of your
own recruitment process in ensuring that SDE hires consultants who have
a high likelihood of succeeding at SDE?  

Nick  : There are a
number of parts to our process that involve not just looking for clones,
or people with existing recruitment industry experience, but being open
minded to strong industry experience as well. Some of our best talent
has come from non recruitment roles. For us, energy, reliance, learning
agility and ‘fit’ are equally important but it’s also crucial that new
hires are passionate and high performers in whatever they do. We are
reasonably robust in the recruitment process which involves several in
depth interviews, testing, a presentation and socialisation to assess
team fit. The keys though to success have been a well structured
induction and training program in the first 6 months as well as ongoing
training post this.  
 

Ross: Tell me a little about the role played by
each of the SDE Directors in 2014 and how you complement each other’s
strengths and personalities  

Nick  : Our roles
today are very much about driving the strategy, improving process,
driving capability and we are still very hands on from a client
development and recruitment perspective, still working on a number of
executive assignments. We believe the days of non-billing managers in
recruitment firms are a thing of the past. One of the keys for us is
having a shared vision and allowing each other to play to their
strengths.  
 

Ross: What professional development does a typical
SDE consultant undertake during the year and how does SDE use this
development to provide a career path for its employees?  

Nick  : Each
consultant who joins the business has a fairly rigorous induction
program in their first twelve months that is tailored depending on their
level of experience. This involves a four day internal training program
delivered by the leadership group as well as regular company training
sessions. There are a variety of external trainers we use on an ongoing
basis as well as suppliers such as LinkedIn to keep us at the forefront.
Our leadership group has ongoing internal and external development
including mentors, DISC profiling, 360 degree feedback etc. We have also
recognised that not all senior consultants are looking for a traditional
path into management and have developed other career options and
programs for high potential talent within the business. Being so focused
on employee development is one of the reasons for keeping our employee
turnover lower than industry standards.  
 

Ross: What are the key activity and result metrics
within SDE and how is accountability maintained on these metrics?  

Nick:  Whilst we
manage the revenue number closely and are very transparent internally
about what our targets are and how we are tracking, we’ve never had a
culture of hard core activity management (e.g. numbers of business
development calls, interviews, floats etc.). We have found hiring the
right people and supporting them with a clear vision, great
infrastructure, support, training and one-on-one development has led to
us achieving our goals. However, in terms of KPIs aligned to a review
process, one metric internally that is a non negotiable are people’s
quality scores. We’ve developed a quality program for each consultant
internally that looks at all facets of the recruitment process and
ensures accountability for the way we interact with candidates and
clients and manage a process. Teamwork and sharing information is also
another.  
 

Ross: What are you most proud to have accomplished
at SDE?  

Nick  : We are
extremely proud about the people who work at Six Degrees and to have
seen so many individuals grow both professionally, but importantly
personally, throughout their career here. We do have a low staff
turnover (under 20%) and many examples of people who have left us to
pursue other careers and then re-joined us, and we feel it is indicative
of the culture, environment and being a part of the Six Degrees family.
We also have an exceptional leadership group who give us stability and a
platform to continue to grow from. Some of these individuals have bought
equity/shares in the business and we are very excited about their
continued involvement.  
 

Ross: What changes, if any, do you think the
recruitment industry needs to make to its traditional business model
(perm and temp contingent recruitment) in order to remain relevant to
its customers over the next decade?  

Nick:   What we
believe is important to remain relevant to customers, are recruitment
offerings that involve deep specialisation, and this will only continue
into the future. We also believe that more robust techniques to source
passive talent are key to survival. We have invested over the last
several years in talent engagement specialists and researchers who are
able to develop ongoing talent pools, and ultimately win the race for
talent and be ahead of the curve (especially the curve of internal
recruitment teams). We are also embracing social media and recognise
that sourcing talent is becoming more of an ongoing organic process, and
the days of posting an advertisement and waiting for a response have
well and truly gone.  
 

Ross: What are the SDE goals for the next five
years?  

Nick  : Our goals are
to be leaders in our areas of specialisation and continue to invest in
the business to allow consultants to be ahead of the curve, whilst
providing resources around smarter talent acquisition, such as talent
engagement and research. We are also growing new divisions with high
growth potential and specialist needs, such as our recently launched
Health and Digital divisions. Our footprint will continue to be the
eastern seaboard of Australia, although we see great opportunity to
expand into Asia.  
 

Ross: How is SDE celebrating its ten year
anniversary?  

Nick  : We will be
running a number of initiatives internally and externally including a
black tie function to thank our staff and their partners, as well as
some key suppliers and people who have helped us along the journey. We
will also hold an intimate client function with those who have worked
with us for the last ten years. Having clients with this level of
partnership over such a long period of time is worthy of a celebration.  
 

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