Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Coaching a Great Mental Game in Business

Most high level sports coaches understand that the game is played predominantly ‘in the top 6 inches’ (i.e. from the neck upwards). In reality the same is true in business. Most business leaders recognise that their success is down to their greatest asset; their people. Therefore, it stands to reason that the performance of our people is largely influenced by their mental game.

As a sport psychologist I find it interesting that most sports coaches spend so much time on technique, tactics and physical development, and relatively little on coaching the mental game. As a performance coach, I see exactly the same pattern in business. Organisations expend significant resources on training people’s skills and knowledge, but often neglect the mental game. Ironically, when I ask many business people how important confidence is in their business, the answer is… ‘crucial’. When I ask how important motivation is, most business people say… ‘vital’. A sales manager once told me that sales performance is ‘90% confidence’.

In sport, the things that change most dramatically in games are often the mental & emotional states, and tactics & decisions. Often those two things are actually quite closely related to each other. Our decision making, and therefore our tactical performance, is normally closely tied to our mental and emotional state. When our mind is in the right place we tend to make good decisions, as well as executing our skills well. Let’s be honest, the same is true in business. In sport, the difference between good and bad decision making can be counted in the £10’s of millions. It’s the same with the execution of skills. In business, our decisions and our execution are also measured in £’s.  

So, what are the keys to getting the mental game right? Well, there are 3 key elements to the mental game. These 3 elements work in combination; they are inter-dependent. It is tough to get a performance if we only have one on its own. These 3 elements flow from each other and feed off of each other. So, as coaches, we need to ensure our people have all 3. Once we have all 3 working together, we see a positive spiral of increasing performance.

What are the 3 amigos?

-          Focus
-          Confidence
-          Motivation

The relationship between these 3 is very simple.

When we are focussed, and have a simple, clear job, we stand a really good chance of doing that job well.

When we do the job really well, we become confident and we enjoy what we’re doing.

When we are confident and enjoy what we’re doing, we’re motivated to do it again.

It is very simple, but it often gets over-looked and forgotten. Fortunately, there are some very easy and practical steps that business leaders can take, to start building this positive spiral. Here are three tips to get you started.

  1. Make sure that your people have a simple and clear job. Make sure they understand the processes that will help them perform well. Each person will have a handful of key processes, which they need to focus on. When they execute these key processes, they will perform really well.

  1. Make sure that your team are focussed on their key processes, rather than being entirely focussed on the outcome. Managers can help by evaluating how well the team delivered the processes, rather than judging them on the results. This is tough to do if the manager is focussed on the outcome. Often managers have to put their own ego to one side, to allow them to get passed the need to win or hit the target. It sounds ironic I know, but the way to build a mentality that wins, is to take the emphasis off of winning. That’s not just true for businesses; it’s true in Premiership football too!

  1. To help build motivation, we need to understand our team’s reasons to be there. We need to ensure that we are aware of what drives them. When we understand our people, we are able to provide incentives that motivate them, and create a culture that promotes motivation.
Of course, there is more to coaching a great mental game than can be written in one article. Each of these topics deserves much more attention. To understand how to coach focus, confidence and motivation in your teams, please get in touch using the details below.

Simon Hartley
Executive Coach

If your business could benefit from World Class thinking? Please call our Leadership and Development team on 0191 2155 400 or 0113 2430 900 or email leadership@exclusivehr.com to find out more. 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Myths and Realities of Recruiting in 2011

Is the recruitment market in 2011 different to what it was four years ago? You may be reading this pondering why I’m asking such a ridiculous question – you’re shouting at the screen - of course the market is completely different! But is it?

At the peak of the recruitment boom back in 2007 companies couldn’t recruit quickly enough and recruitment consultancies took the money off their client’s hands even quicker. Recruitment practices reached an all time low; CV’s being sent without the candidates permission became commonplace, forcing candidates to take jobs they were not interested in was practically accepted and the daily harassing of HR departments by a recruiter was an everyday occurrence.

In essence high fees were being charged for sub-standard practices.

In 2007 I launched Exclusive Human Resources; determined to do something different, determined to bring ethics and values back into the world of recruitment. Little did I know that the economy was about to change dramatically; Northern Rock went pop quickly followed by the rest of the banking sector. Companies stopped recruiting. But then good news - in 2010 we saw tentative growth and a rise in GDP. 2011 has seen a confused economic picture with a fragile economy, Greece about to default...but steady growth all the same.

So back to my original question – four years later, have things in recruitment changed? No.

Why? Because we still allow these practices to happen. Recruiters are viewed as nothing better than estate agents or used car sales people. This view is not helped by the appearance of Natasha Scribbins on last night’s BBC Apprentice with her typical in your face recruitment sales approach.

In order to change the practices that happen within recruitment we need to be educated as to why these practices happen and ultimately, what we can do to prevent them from continuing to happen. This process starts by understanding there are two sides to every coin, understanding both sides will allow us to stamp out these practices.

So as an HR professional, what should you expect from your professional recruitment partner? Well in essence you should expect a lot. In summary:


  • A good recruiter will want to develop relationships; they will want to go that extra mile for you and deliver a superb end result.

  • They will give you a consultative approach. This does not mean sending you ten CV’s by close of play today. It means meeting you and asking what you want. Not assuming you are the same as everyone else.

  • They should manage your expectations and demonstrate thorough market knowledge. If you are being unreasonable regarding the salary you are looking for, they should explain that. Test them out! Try to avoid the jack of all trades, master of none consultancies.

  • A basic premise of recruitment but one not practiced by all – Identifying excellent candidates. They should send you three or four relevant, fully briefed candidates. We regularly hear of agencies still sending ten to twelve CV’s!

  • Ensure that your consultant is speaking to the candidates before they send them over. This way you don’t waste your time reviewing and selecting candidates that are not interested in working for you!

  • Ask your recruitment partner to quantify their service. What do your recruiters actually do? Do they just send you 10 CVs off their database and then expect a fee? Get it quantified and ask they carry out the following as a minimum:

    • Consultation with you, Advertise, Identify quality candidates, speak with candidates on their database, shortlist, organise interviews, give them a briefing – very important, handle the offer stage and finally follow up once they have placed a candidate into your vacancy.

  • Above all they must be professional, ethical and transparent.

Now that you know what to expect from a professional recruitment partner, you need to fully understand what role HR must play in improving standards. You may feel this is a brave subject to blog about when my audience is made up mainly of HR professionals, but I genuinely believe that in order for standards to improve, both HR and recruiters must understand the role they each play in a successful recruitment process:

  • Don’t start a CV race by using multiple agencies. You need to be looking for quality – Not quantity. You need ONE excellent candidate, so why use five agencies??? Why do you need five CVs from each agency? It defeats what you are paying for. You are saying that speed is the basis for going out to five agencies – NOT who will do best quality job for you. We recently experienced one HR department that went out to fourteen recruitment consultancies!!!

By going out to multiple agencies you are not giving a commitment to any one recruitment consultancy – you are not putting your faith in any one true partner. What commitment do you think the consultant then feels back to you?

It is guaranteed you will see a flurry of activity initially. But when the hard work is required the service drops.

  • Give your recruitment partner exclusivity. This shows commitment, it shows faith and is rewarded with a higher level of service – normally!

  • You state you want a better spread of candidates. What percentage of people do you think are available to move jobs that are currently registered with any recruiter? Latest research suggests this number may be as low as 5% - role dependant.

If you go to four or five recruiters they will all be fishing in same limited, active job seekers pond as the recruiters only have time to look at the database due to the CV race!

If you go to one consultancy and you afford them the time to deal with your role professionally they can then advise on the best way of sourcing candidates. They can look at the other 95% of the market – utilise their network, advertise, headhunt, conduct a thorough database search etc. They will look at appropriate strategies

  • I read a quote recently on one blog that stated; “Paying a contingency fee for a multi-listed job is like paying a bounty hunter in the days of the Wild West – And if you pay recruiters like you pay cowboys, you might just get cowboys!” A very true statement.

  • When it comes to market rates, please don’t brag about how you hammer your recruitment partner down to rates of 8% or 10%, aim for a fair deal. If you pay 8% - expect a sub standard service as after all you get what you pay for. Understand a recruiter has to plough resources into helping you, pay less and the service levels will be cut, simple economics.

  • When it comes to your timescales please be honest – be realistic especially if you know it’s a tough role. Your recruiter can then truly help you.

  • Benchmarking – if you are going to do this, please, please be honest. Are you genuinely open to external candidate? A recruiter can tell you how your internal person benchmarks – especially if it’s an honest recruitment partner. Not being honest wastes a recruiter’s time and resources and you will jeopardise your future relationship.

  • Give Feedback on candidates, this is absolutely vital. Failing to do this can and will, damage your brand perception. We recently witnessed a client receive a wonderful response rate from an advert, something in the region of 100 applications. 10 applicants were interviewed but no feedback was given to the nine unsuccessful ones. The other 90 applications did not so much as receive an acknowledgment. The facts are simple in this case, 99 unhappy individuals that have been introduced to your brand that you have damaged.

  • Always communicate with your consultant, after all we act on your behalf and need to manage candidate’s expectations. Simple and effective communication allows us to do this on your behalf.

  • Avoid using Portals/email only application processes. How can the recruiter know what you want, give you any advice and be of any real help to you?

  • Finally PSLs – if someone breaches your PSL by sending a CV without permission of the candidate – please DON’T use their services. Continuing to use the services and paying the fee condones this behaviour and the message is given loud and clear that their methods work and they WILL continue in this manner.

To bluntly summarise the role of HR in the recruitment process; if you are using poor recruiters and knowingly continue to use poor recruiters – please don’t grumble and tar us with same brush. We are as passionate as you are about raising the recruitment game.

Hopefully together as true partners we can continue to raise the bar of recruitment.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Mark Ions

Managing Director – Exclusive Human Resources

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Return of the Winter of Discontent?

The prospect of widescale industrial action across the public sector moved a step closer over the past few days with some bellicose statements from the unions and coalition government alike ahead of a vote this week from around three quarters of a million teachers on strike action starting in the summer.

Given the cuts and handling of public sector pensions, it was only a matter of time before direct action was mooted and Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison spelt out the threat from the unions viewpoint that "It will not be one day of action – it will be long-term industrial action throughout all our public services to prevent destruction of our pension schemes.". 

From my own viewpoint, having worked in the public sector, I find it difficult not to have a deal of sympathy with the unions, especially when it comes to the issue of pensions.

Politics aside (and for what it's worth, I think that the previous government were culpable for at least the start of the erosion of employee relations within our public services), the threat of industrial action provides a major headache for HR professionals across the sector and potentially beyond.

Backed into a corner, the unions see the only power available to them as being the withdrawal of labour and I have a great deal of sympathy with senior HR professionals that will be involved in trying to seek a resolution to a problem with no obvious solution.  Couple this with the pronouncements of Vince Cable last week that an increase in strikes would prompt the government to consider legislation to make it ever more difficult for unions to take action and you have a pretty posionous mix.

From the outside looking in, it's a struggle to see an obvious answer to a population that is living ever longer beyond retirement but equally, it seems grossly unjust to suddenly alter pension contributions to those that have budgeted for and accounted for something entirely different.

I'd be really interested to hear the viewpoints of HR professionals in the public sector as to where things go from here but also those in the private sector as to how they read the situation that is going to unfold over the coming months.  Feel free to leave any comments that you have surrounding the blog - you don't have to leave your name if you have a particularly strongly held view either way but best of luck in dealing with what can only be described as a 'tricky' industrial landscape!

Gareth Harrison - Managing Consultant