At which stage in your career are you the “finished article”? Even after over 30 years working at Hays, I believe the answer to this is never. I am of the opinion that the best leaders are those who remain curious, always seeking out opportunities to learn from every part of their working day.
That’s why during my career, I have always endeavoured to surround myself with great people and sought new opportunities. My career has spanned a number of sectors, industries and countries and I’ve enjoyed working with colleagues who inspire me and who I can learn from every day. So, here is a selection of the lessons that my team have helped teach me, which I hope are useful for anyone in business, no matter the sector you are in or position you hold.
1. Diverse leadership teams who can drive change are key
When I first started out in my career, leaders in an organisation were typically those with the most number of years under their belt. Loyalty and tenure were rewarded with promotion, and at times even appeared to be valued above skills and ability. Boardrooms lacked diversity of gender, race, personality, skills and thought.
While there is still a long way to go, the business world has become better at assessing employees on their individual merits, performance and ambition. As leaders, we should all be well-versed in the benefits of encouraging more diverse teams - ones that better reflect our customer base and the wider world. As part of a global company I’ve seen the importance of this first-hand. Diversity brings different points of view, experiences and cultures into our workplace. It steepens the learning curve for any business or leader, while helping us better communicate the virtues of our business to a wider audience. As we encourage and facilitate progression of diverse talent pools, these people will go on and rise through the seniority levels and adjust the culture as they go, creating a new normal and driving change.
With ambitious millennials now comprising the largest demographic in the workplace, I’m excited to see a far broader mixture of diverse employees being promoted to senior roles. No longer is it the case that tenure in a company is enough to warrant promotion. Today’s businesses are becoming far better at recognising individuals with the skills and determination to drive change.
Indeed, I’ve taken a risk on some of my greatest hires – they might not always have been a natural first choice based on their age and experience, but their ambition has fuelled their success. Attitude and adaptability are the key traits for today’s leaders, and these aren’t dictated by demographic, age or tenure. Drive is quickly becoming the core prerequisite for promotion – and this is reinvigorating the workplace culture of even the most established of businesses.
2. Entrepreneurship can thrive in big business too
Many of our emerging leaders thrive because of their entrepreneurial mindset. There is often a misconception that budding entrepreneurs will only flourish in a startup or setting up on their own. But I’ve seen first-hand that a global business can nurture entrepreneurial spirit as well as any start-up. It is one of the things that I’m particularly proud of about Hays.
I’m consistently blown away by the entrepreneurial attitudes of my colleagues and our offices are structured to enable each consultant to act as entrepreneurs. We aren’t just chasing targets for this quarter, we have a business-owner mentality. We are concerned about how we grow our revenue over the next decade, how we harness the latest technology and build our own world-class teams. Operating under intense local competition, our consultants demonstrate everyday entrepreneurial energy, challenged to think commercially about growing their market share, differentiating themselves from their competition and constantly improving the customer experience. This is what keeps them awake at night. The recruiters who genuinely see themselves as the Managing Directors of their own recruitment company and operate with the mind-set that comes with that are the ones who will succeed over the long term.
This often comes down to a mind-set, rather than a skill. A can-do, determined attitude which looks beyond a problem. Every time we hire a new person into the business we tell them the same thing – we will give you everything you could possibly need to become a brilliant recruiter – but you must have the will and determination to succeed and the entrepreneurial mind-set to become an expert in everything you do.
3. Colleagues can shape roles you didn’t know you needed
Of course, the overall strategy of a business must be clear from the top, but I also believe that employees should have the freedom to contribute their own insight and skills to shape it. I’ve seen how this ‘feed-in’ creates teams and businesses that can adapt and evolve to the challenges of an increasingly competitive and fast-paced world.
Change within an organisation isn’t always easy. As Hays has brought in new systems and technology, we quickly found that identifying early adopter employees from across the business – particularly those who are passionate about change - has had the greatest impact on how successfully an initiative is rolled out. Whether it’s collaborating with LinkedIn globally or partnering with SEEK to bring new talent search capabilities to the Australian market, empowering change agents within the business has enabled them to pick up and drive new initiatives – and passionately communicate benefits to their colleagues.
These people believe that the status quo can always be improved and that change isn’t something to be feared, and they mould their roles to fit where the business needs to be headed and where their skills lie. Our staff anticipated the needs of the business and shaped their roles accordingly. This has taught me that giving employees the space to shape their own roles and teams can be massively impactful.
4. You can’t do everything yourself
It’s a healthy realisation in business when you discover, often off the back of failure, that you can’t do everything yourself. Collaboration is massively important to us at Hays. We are strategically focused on ensuring we work with best-in-class partners to ensure we can give our clients and candidates the best possible experience and outcome.
Everyone knows the impact that mobile and smartphones have had on the way we live and work. We wanted to make sure that we were offering our customers ways to communicate with us that made most sense to them. So, we have been working with Mya, a natural language processing chatbot, to offer an interactive way of using SMS whenever it’s convenient. By working closely with the team we’ve been able to tailor the solution to be effective in our unique environment, enabling our contractors to communicate with us in a way that suits them We’ve also been working with WhatsApp, the messaging platform, which is fast becoming the primary way that people communicate with their friends, families and now businesses.
These and many other similar partnerships have continued to evolve into a shared understanding and exchanging ideas in an open and collaborative way which, in most cases, has benefited both parties significantly. I have learnt that encouraging employees to take this approach when working with their own teams, as well as with colleagues and partners, will set them up for success. This will sometimes feel counter intuitive but will achieve greater things for them and the business they are a part of.
5. It’s ok to fail
Despite learning the most when you fail, there is little appetite for failure in the corporate world. While this often encourages companies to consistently reach for better results, it can sometimes be a severe weakness. It holds businesses back from trying new ideas and taking intelligent risks.
Here at Hays, our research and development (R&D) team has shown us how much we can learn from trialling things and how valuable getting things wrong can be. The team consistently trials new technology and they’ve played an integral role in integrating new technology such as AI and machine learning into the way we work. Of course, the results weren’t perfect at the start, but that’s part of the journey. Today we can now harness data across our business and compile shortlists from thousands of applicants, helping our consultants focus more of their time on building relationships with their customers and less on combing our databases.
My colleagues have shown me how much we can learn when we get things wrong as a business and the benefits of creating environments in which they are encouraged to do so. Learning from our mistakes in a de-risked, agile environment means that the impact on the business is minimal, but our ability to learn is maximised. And this must extend beyond a central R&D team. Leaders should be creating a culture that encourages collaboration, and the exchange of ideas and perspectives, Given how quickly the pace of change is accelerating, this has never been so important.
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About this author
Nigel is Regional Managing Director for Hays UK & Ireland and EMEA, and Chairman of Asia Pacific. He joined Hays UK in 1988 as a trainee consultant. By 1997, he was Managing Director of Hays Australia, and consequently expanded operations to New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. In 2006, he was appointed Managing Director of Asia Pacific. He became UK & Ireland Managing Director and Chairman of the Asia Pacific business in 2012. In 2018 Nigel was appointed Regional Managing Director for Hays UK & Ireland and EMEA, and retains his position as Chairman of Asia Pacific.