JFDI (without the risk)

Being reserved is a Great British trait, but is it outdated? And did it ever have a place in business? There is a time and a place to be polite, to be modest, but sometimes you just need to grow a pair.

The Americans are great at this. The land of ‘Hell Yeah’ makes our land of ‘after you, I insist’ and ‘do you really think we ought’ look frankly, weak. The British will conversely see those people as brash, before sinking back into a meeting, to discuss a meeting, about a former meeting, no doubt leading to a committee, or two.

The British on the other hand are great at thinking, and planning, and consulting, and ensuring no-one gets offended….meanwhile, others just get on and do it. By the time us Brits finish our meetings, and our consultations, and committee hearings, and our assessment of the findings of those committee hearings, before seeking formal introductions through intermediaries…..etc… our contemporaries have Just F*****g Done It – and are too busy counting their rewards to notice how correctly and proper the British are conducting themselves.

Too many people spend their lives trying to work out what to do, rather than simply doing what they know. Never more true than in business. We want our leaders to lead. A hugely common theme on this blog is the importance of strong leadership and allowing these strong leaders to do their job. But leaders need conviction, they typically know what to do, their skill is in believing in their actions.

Look at the businesses that have thrived in the past 4 years, big and small. They have strength of leadership that has a defined, cohesive strategy and they have followed it. Flexibility and adaptability is important, responding to changes in internal and external conditions is a vital skill, but it boils down to the same thing – doing what you know, don’t let time kill the deal. JFDI.

This is never truer than with recruitment. We all know people are any businesses most important resource, and the attraction of key talent is the single biggest stated threat and inhibitor to growth – yet but businesses STILL postpone, delay and take so much time in recruiting this vital, key talent that they miss out, losing those key execs to their competitors.

However, if the macro-economic environment we have experienced for the past 4 years has taught us anything, it is to understand and be aware of risk. 1,000s of businesses that didn’t fully understand their own risk position are no longer with us – typically through an onerous debt profile or failing to understand or have the knowledge to deal with a sudden drop in demand/revenue.

Surely ‘JFDI’ and risk aversion are mutually exclusive?

Certainly, an over risk averse attitude amongst businesses has affected the recruitment industry. Some of the larger recruitment businesses have reported upto a 40% drop in both headcount and revenue. Even some smaller businesses have suffered dramatically, the assumption that they were immune from the economic environment proving unfounded – usually through the poor actions of their leaders ….and an unwillingness to evolve and/or innovate….

The Executive Search sector in particular hasn’t really seen any evolution in 25 years. We have a few less oak panelled offices and few less grey haired semi-retired industry ‘chaps’, but beyond that the premise of search hasn’t hugely changed (see The Dark Art of Head-Hunting for more). The credible firms still pull together target organisations, search for key individuals within those firms, approach, assess…and the rest is history.

Fee wise, ‘we’ still charge a third of a 30-35% fee up front, another third on short-listing and the final third on completion. The process takes on average 24 weeks, and as far as a risk profile is concerned, our ‘client’ doesn’t see any form of a result until he pays two-thirds of a sizable fee. Risk is heavily skewed client side. JFDI? Not as likely with such a one-sided risk approach, especially when the industry only delivers on around 70% of mandates.

So how do you innovate and respond to the modern world?

How about charging a third upfront, no third on shortlisting and the remainder on successful completion? How about also promising to deliver in SIX weeks, rather than 24 weeks? And how about underpinning that promise with a guarantee that if we don’t deliver in six weeks….we refund 100% of all monies paid, in cash? Totally removes risk from the client and allows them to ‘JFDI’…but crucially still offers the full search service and crucially the full search result. Welcome to the Contingent Retainer!

But there’s more….

As mentioned in The Dark Art of Head-Hunting, a huge part of a head-hunters skill is his/her network of contacts. By keeping close to individuals, particularly C-Level execs, we know what is happening before Chairmen do – we know which C-Level execs are likely to be resigning and/or likely to be looking for new opportunities before their Chairman does, and crucially, before the press does. Forewarned is forearmed.

Confidentiality is everything, but that knowledge enables us to construct shortlists in lightening quick time as well as knowing when C-Level openings are due. Little wonder why we can construct a shortlist in as little as 2 weeks and conclude a process in 6. We JFDI. No stuffy protocol, no old boys club handshakes, no pointless delays…..JFDI.

In these days of shareholder value being paramount, that approach is exactly what serious chairmen and board directors want – boards that don’t want procrastination, they just want results, quickly, with minimal risk. We guarantee a delivery time frame and if we don’t hit it, our clients can walk paying nothing (although we have never failed to hit that deadline). That approach is becoming increasingly popular, especially within the FTSE-350 and especially within the FTSE-100.

For the very biggest businesses, especially in the era of the Shareholder Spring, restructuring boards, quickly and with an immensely keen eye on shareholder value, as well as media attention, is critical. No longer are FTSE-100 C-Level appointments the preserve of the old guard, established search firms, their public school educated ‘principals’ and their decades of cobwebs heritage. The businesses want to JFDI.

At the top of the tree, Chairmen trust us because we don’t pretend to do anything other than what they pay us to do – find the best person for their particular job. They also recognise that unlike other Headhunters we don’t work on C-Level preferred supplier agreements, so we aren’t held back by “hands off” clauses like many of the old guard who can only ever consider 50% of the real top contenders due to such agreements.

Chairmen also like us because our process is so quick, yet so effective that we can turn the search around in less time than it takes the nominations committee to decide on the optimum course of action. We can deliver results while the ‘British’ process is running its course. We JFDI.

Our process has become so effective that we have had to limit the number of C-Level assignments we undertake to two per month, forcing our clients to JFDI as well.

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