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In any crisis leadership plays two critical roles.

The first role is ensuring that resources (eg time, tools-of-trade, money and people) are immediately deployed and managed in a way to best respond to the crisis.

In the COVID-19 world of the past eight weeks this has revolved around cost reduction, transitioning employees to working remotely (for those that are able to do so), providing direction and oversight to current work-in-progress and maximising the generation of new business.

The second role of leadership is one of thinking about, and planning for, the pathway out of the crisis, and, ideally, to a future that sees the organisation in better shape to succeed in a post-crisis environment.

Complete, or partial, success in the first role does not guarantee any level of success in the second role.

For anybody familiar with the way the Vietnam War (and many other military offensives since) panned out for the United States would be familiar with the truth of this statement.

The leadership demonstrated across our industry in the past seven weeks has been generally of a high standard. This broadly applies regardless of the size or location of the agency.

Of course this doesn’t mean that all decisions made have met with universal approval nor will all decisions turn out to be the right ones. Clearly some very tough calls have been made with respect to employees let go and divisions or offices shut down permanently. These are the stark, but necessary, choices that confront leaders in times like these.

As we enter May, although the worst for our industry is almost certainly still ahead of us, the thoughts of most leaders will turn to the second role of leadership. We are in the eye of the storm and it’s important that the time we have is used wisely.

Although there are many ways in which thinking about the future can be conducted I recommend that before any leader gazes too far into the distance that they conduct a two-part stocktake to ensure that the foundation of future growth is built on compact ground, not sand.

Stocktake #1: Review productivity data to discover where money has been left on the table.

I have written on this topic many times before; examples being here, here and here.

Although the obvious productivity areas to investigate are job-filled rate and candidate utilisation rate, less obvious productivity-improvement areas are to be found in unexpected places, as an example I highly recommend this interview with Cameron Norton in RCSA’s most recent edition of The Brief, as an opportunity to learn how video can offer significant productivity benefits.

Stocktake #2: Notice what happens in your business when there is an absence of something that is normally there.

As we are all experiencing with whatever stage of lockdown we are in, the absence of what has been life-as-normal is likely to have us appreciate it more, or examine it more closely for its costs and benefits.

For example with your local gym closed you may either value it more highly because you miss its many benefits more than you thought you would or, because you establish new fitness habits outside of the gym, you realise that your gym fees represent money you could save or redirect elsewhere.

The same principle applies in agency recruitment.

Consider these leadership questions now that the music has stopped:

  • When recruiters do not have assignments to work on do they know how to most productively use their time?
  • When I have more time to deliver training and other professional development do I actually invest the time to do so?
  • When we shouldn’t need to run any ads to attract candidates, is our database sufficiently complete, accurate and up-to-date so that jobs are able to be filled quickly with high quality candidates?
  • When there is less to go around for all recruiters where, and how frequently, do I observe teamwork compared to when there’s plenty to go around?
  • When I am not a physical presence with my team who is reliably a self-starter and who really needs the constant presence and input of others to get started (or keep going)?
  • When there is more time to blog, comment, create videos, curate content and generally build their personal brand, who takes the opportunity to do so and who doesn’t?
  • When everybody is under pressure, which clients pay their invoices on time, stick to their agreements and treat us as a genuine partners, and which clients don’t?

In deciding what shape the future might take, and how to get there, a leader would do well to invest their time wisely to undertake a careful and thorough stocktake in order to truly understand the strengths and weaknesses of their business.

A future built on a foundation of sand is not much of a future to look forward to.


Related blogs

In defence of KPIs (and what the evidence suggests)

How recruitment agency owners become “yesterday’s hero”

Andrew Banks: Statistics tell you where to look


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What an insightful article.

I went through the GFC as a GM with a listed agency and made some big changes early on which set the business on course to survive the downturn. Going to Greg Savages seminar in Martin Place back in 2008/9 gave me the confidence to act quickly and make some decisions that needed to be made. I also didn’t waste the crisis by getting changes authorised that I wouldn’t have been able to do in normal conditions.

I now own a business in a totally different field but the lessons learned then are paying dividends now.

“When I am not a physical presence with my team who is reliably a self-starter and who really needs the constant presence and input of others to get started (or keep going)?”

I absolutely have to have the right people with me in the trenches. Some employees make their work last for the day and some finish quickly and look for more to do. It is the last group that I need to keep.

Some tough decisions already made – some tougher ones ahead.

Georgie Lord-Wilson

These are great, commonsense tips that are so often overlooked – or, when you’re busy, they just simply aren’t prioritised.
It will serve leaders well to ask themselves these questions every day!
A great reminder.

Rod Hore

Great article Ross. I cannot fault any point you have made and would encourage every owner and manager to work through the list.

But is it also time for a strategy review – a higher level look at the business today compared to where you and your clients want the business to be in the future?

The current circumstances give an opportunity to pause and reflect. During the past decade of growth, staff shortage, rising costs etc there has been little enthusiasm to reflect on the model of the business and the products and services being offered to clients. During that time clients have changed a lot. Now is a time for bigger decisions to build for the future and discard what may no longer be relevant (and engage your staff in that process).

Wise counsel Ross. Thanks for the reminder.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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