It has been a roller-coaster running a small business, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the challenges of the toxic period that was 2009-2012 gave us another set of business skills.
Some significant changes have taken place over the past 20 years, but the one that has affected us the most is the pace of technological change. When the company started in 1995 we were using clunky software to store our database of clients and candidates, endlessly filing documents into cabinets. There was no email, only fax, couriers and post.
We had to work with longer lead-in times to book and prepare ads as online advertising did not exist. Once applications had come in through the post we would then have to write back with the job description, resulting in a much lengthier process.
Even candidate availability was different back then, as senior staff were not in charge of their diaries in the same way that they are now; so many interviews had to take place outside normal working hours. As recruiters we had to travel much further to interview candidates who slipped out on their lunch breaks.
Now we can benefit from web-based search and selection tools. Online advertising means a new role can be posted within minutes and marketed and disseminated via all forms of social media. Applications and job descriptions can be emailed immediately.
We can also conduct face-to-face interviews at almost any time in various venues. Software such as Skype and FaceTime means that when time and geography don’t allow, we can still contact candidates and clients.
Technology has enabled us to operate on an international basis, and this coupled with the easing of work visas and the relaxing of EU borders opens up wider talent pools and greater mobility for those keen to live and work in different parts of the world.
With all good advances come bad, and the one thing I would put in my Room 101 would be automated recruitment software tools. If you are serious about recruiting the best in the business why would you leave it to technology that allows no room for interpretation from the recruiter or the applicant? It’s a great tool if you are recruiting hundreds, to marshal the Olympics for instance.
But no HR department or recruiting manager should be too busy to go through applications to ensure they are creating the best talent pool and giving feedback to candidates. Recruitment is key to protecting your brand so be careful how far you go in de-personalising the process.
The bias on skills has also changed. Digital expertise is now vital, although the core skills that were key to success 20 years ago are as critical today; you just need to know how they translate in a fast-moving digital environment.
Let flair flourish
Another belief we hold is that there aren’t as many entrepreneurs now as there were in 1995. In large corporate structures entrepreneurs flourished, with a trading mentality and a flair for business. Changes to corporate governance has likely played a part in dumbing this talent down.
I was once asked by a senior airline executive how to retain their key sales leaders, to which I replied: “Don’t suffocate their entrepreneurial flair – allow them to make mistakes and take calculated risks, otherwise you run the risk of them leaving to do their own thing.”
Over the past 20 years the highs have definitely outweighed the lows. At times it has been a test of character for myself and the team, all of whom have played their part through thick and thin. Key learnings serve to build upon strong, lasting commercial relationships with clients.