tailored recruitment expertise

blog: our views on the world of recruitment


When looking at the companies that are leading the world in staff happiness, their success is often seen to be driven by benefits and incentives for their staff. These can range from flexible working hours to discount vouchers, career advancement and even team bonding exercises, but they are only part of the story. Staff motivation, employee satisfaction, employee loyalty and dedication to the cause all start with a “happy” work environment. Of course “happy” can mean different things to different people right? Well, it seems that some factors are common to most employees – to be respected and recognised for their work, to work for a successful or ambitious company, and to have faith in those around them. In other words, strong management, recognition of good work and colleagues we respect, as well as staff incentives, are the key to making the difference between a happy employee and a happy, dedicated and loyal employee.

Best of all though, is a company who will listen to their employees and be willing to adapt to their changing requirements as a workforce and as individuals.

In the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For 2014, Stuart Paterson, co-director of Crystal Palace Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Centre: “At our staff away days we have spoken about the tough situation that we all face due to the downward pressure on pricing.

“We reassure the team that we have a can-do culture and a diverse business, and that if we look after each other we will sail through these choppy waters and get to the other side.”

Greg Horton, executive head of Nedbank Private Wealth International: “The most crucial element in a service industry such as ours is to communicate with your team with honesty.”

So we are all able to recognise these are great models for our own businesses, and we can apply these traits to our employee policies.

But what about staff who don’t work for us yet? Should we be thinking about how our companies are represented even before someone applies for a job?

Of course, a happy workforce is also happy in their own community, and is therefore singing your praises, the best advert you could hope for in terms of potential employees. If you have a happy workforce then you will most likely be a successful company and therefore have a good reputation financially, and having implemented all those wonderful policies which you saw as a model for a happy company, you may even be seen in the press doing charitable works and on the television news as an authority in your field.

In the process of recruiting new staff however, all this good work can be undone.

It is vitally important to remember that a new employee’s dedication starts from the moment they hear about the job. They may attend an assessment centre. Does the room reflect your company culture? Is everyone involved in the day representative of your best and brightest?

Perhaps you have retined someone like Work Tree Consulting to find top talent for you. If so, congratulations! But make sure your recruiter is fully briefed and can represent you efectively. If we only know half the story then the perfect fit candidate may elude you.

What about your job spec? Is it the same as your job advert, and job description? If you answered yes, then you are doing your potential employees a disservice. They deserve to understand what they are looking to commit their working lives to. They deserve to get an honest picture of the company, and the expectations of them, as well as what they can expect in return.

So, you’ve advertised effectively, reviewed the CVs for the senior role and taken the assessment centre for the junior roles. Even now, it is easy for a company to give a bad impression by delaying feedback, and it’s of course possible to miss out on the best candidates by dragging out a decision. Second interviews should come swiftly after, and if a decision can be made but there is a delay before the new employee can start that’s fine – as long as communication is honest. Finally, offer letters or contracts and all other communications prior to a start date should be consistent.

But why, you are thinking, should I have to “sell” my company? Hasn’t there just been a recession? Aren’t people desperate for jobs? Regardless of the truth or otherwise of this thinking, it is the companies who manage recession and come out of it stronger who succeed in the long term. And what makes those companies successful is happy staff. The sooner you can help all incoming staff “get happy”, the sooner you will see success.

When someone hands in their notice, it is easy to feel the seductive pull of just hiring a direct replacement. Often we see managers reaching for recruitment by replication, but it is worth resisting the urge and taking a bit of time to consider, even when the time pressure is very real. We have hit upon this idea of a green cross code before recruitment as we want to instil the idea that the threshold of recruitment is a very important one within a business. It does have dangers associated with it and is key to getting you where you want to go. So before I completely overextend the road-crossing analogy…what do I mean?

That moment where you have a hole in your company that has newly appeared is a great opportunity which can be harnessed. It is an opportunity to review what you have in place already. Who are the people that work nearest the vacancy, either within the same team or with a similar skill-set? Are they happy at the moment? Would they like a change? Could part of the available project be work they would like to take on to help them develop? It does not have to be an onerous process to have either formal or informal conversations with potentially interested parties to see whether a team could be re-organised, or someone given a new opportunity. The very act of having these conversations with the team and listening to them will be appreciated. It can also help give people a sense of ownership over their jobs. Clearly what claims an employee makes must be genuinely listened to else there is no point asking the questions. But if a manager is willing to ask the questions and act on reasonable requests, the greater dialogue alone will help create ownership and support of the vacancy that emerges from the team.

This is also true when creating a new position. We often see managers attempting to do this in isolation; they have pieces of work here and there which need dealing with, or an area of their job they are desperate to delegate and so form a job out of these parts. Your existing employees are your best and most accurate ready-made pool of knowledge about your business. Those on the ground will have a view of what needs to happen. When creating a new position, if you pause and have either scheduled or piecemeal chats with those that could be affected by the new position then you will undoubtedly learn useful information to feed into the process. You may find out career aims you didn’t know about. You may observe something about the work-flow that was hidden to you before. It may just be that you ask around and get complete reinforcement and validation for the hire you want to make, in which case you have lost nothing and gained the respect and loyalty of your team by involving them and taking them with you as the business grows.

Talking or consulting is even more important if you are contemplating introducing a new layer of management or a new management position. The efforts you make in spending time getting the team on board with the need for that position will be repaid many times over by avoiding your existing employees getting resentful and leaving because they feel over-looked or unappreciated. The handling or mishandling of these critical moments when a business is about to recruit is either an opportunity to galvanise and energise the existing workforce, or the sowing of some poisonous seeds, which you do not want to take root.

When this process is done right, we have seen the existing team flourish with the new chances they have been given. We have seen it head-off future management problems, as it is yet another way to give employees a chance to voice their concerns. In essence it is a chance to show that you haven’t forgotten or taken for granted those you already have. We also find this more thorough approach tends to produce more accurate and well-thought out job descriptions as issues like two work areas being lumped together for apparent convenience get tested against those in the know – the employees. If a manager is truly listening and observing then the inconsistencies or potential difficulties get ironed out.

So before you even think of knocking up a job description, our advice would be to stop, look and listen. This pause, observe and engage process provides checks and balances and means you feed in as much good quality information as possible into the recruitment process. Ultimately your hiring will then be accurate, needed, well-organised and well-supported internally. The small amount of time you commit to the green cross code of recruitment will give you much greater odds of not having to repeat the exercise anytime soon.

As Jessie J pointed out in a piece of pop-based wisdom “It’s not about the money, money, money” and all the research suggests that this holds true. Money is a neutral factor in our world of work, in other words it only affects our perceptions if the number is wrong. So what does motivate us? In the September-October 1999 Issue of the Harvard Business Review, Timothy Butler and James Waldroop published their findings in an article called “Job Sculpting: The art of retaining your best people”. They undertook some research into motivation and carried out in-depth interviews with 650 people across different organisations and concluded that there were eight major “life interests” which motivate people. They say we are all motivated by between one and three of the Big Eight.

Personally I’m not sure about the phrase “Job Sculpting”, it perhaps veers a little too close to sounding like HR ephemera, which is a shame, because this is a model I love. It is one of those frameworks that it is very useful to carry in your head when you are interviewing. Butler and Waldroop mainly saw its application in a process of constantly and progressively monitoring and managing the work an employee does so that they stay motivated. They argue that by tapping in to what drives an individual and directing their activities accordingly you will have a much better chance of retaining them. It is also a model that you can think about when reading a job description; what sort of person would be motivated by the job you have vacant? So I put it forward as another tool and something that I think anyone with the merest passing interest in Psychology will find fascinating.

So here are the Big Eight: (This concise summary is taken from “Resourcing and Talent Management” by Stephen Taylor.)

–          The application of technology. People who are interested in how things work and want to find ways of making them work more effectively.

–          Quantitive analysis. People who are interested in numbers and mathematics and who like using quantitive approaches to analyse issues.

–          Theory development and conceptual thinking. People who tackle problems using theory and abstract thinking.

–          Creative production. Imaginative people who think original thoughts and enjoy innovating. They are particularly drawn to setting up new systems or projects.

–          Counselling and mentoring. People who like to teach coach and to guide others.

–          Managing people and relationships. People who derive satisfaction from getting objectives achieved through others.

–          Enterprise control. People who like leading, making decisions and taking responsibility for the completion of projects.

–          Influence through language and ideas. People who gain satisfaction through writing and speaking. Excellent communicators.

It is also a very useful framework to think about if you are contemplating a job or career change. Butler and Waldroop say you can choose up to three of these characteristics as resonating with your core motivations. They assert that “many people have only a dim awareness of their own deeply embedded life interests”. They say that can be for a variety of reasons from a life spent fulfilling the expectations of others or perhaps because they have taken the “path of least resistance”. If you can take this level of self-awareness into your job search it will surely give you a better chance of making the right choice.

Whether you are a manager, an HR professional or reading this in your capacity as an individual seeking greater levels of job satisfaction I think this model informs and structures thinking in a way that simplifies and clarifies. Understanding what motivates us and those we work with is surely one of the most fundamental aspects of our working lives.

I had the good fortune to listen to Nita Clarke speak at the recent CIPD West of England Branch meeting and AGM. She is Director of the Involvement Participation Association (IPA), Co-chair of the national Engage for Success Employee Engagement Task Force and Vice President (employee relations) CIPD. She is one of the UK’s leading experts on employee engagement and worked on the 2008 MacLeod Report commissioned by government to look at what the CBI have recently said is the number one current issue for their members: employee engagement.

But what is employee engagement? Here’s a straightforward definition from Professor John Storey: “A set of positive attitudes and behaviours enabling high job performance of a kind which are in tune with the organisation’s mission.”

I found Nita Clarke an inspirational speaker. As well as knowing her subject matter absolutely, her passion about the subject was evident.  She covered such a wealth of material in, I’ve no idea even how long it was, and I think that is a huge compliment as I didn’t look at my watch or switch off for even a second of her talk! Among the very many nuggets of wisdom she shared, she said in passing “and of course people join organisations but they leave managers.”

When she said that, it really struck home with me. It seemed startlingly true, but I have been grappling to try and understand why and how that is.

When a person joins a company, what do they join? A job description? An employer brand? A good reputation? A promise of career development? In terms of employee engagement you could argue that at the point a person joins a company they are absolutely engaged. Maybe it is the zenith of engagement in the employment relationship. Most people start a job at their most enthused and keen to prove themselves of value. If people are so engaged at the point they take a job, does this part of the process need improving? In listening to Nita Clark and reading the report since, I have certainly felt that their findings do have implications for recruitment. In fact I think proper, honest engagement at this stage will give a greater chance for the employee to stay in their role in the future.

In her talk Nita Clarke laid out a framework for employee engagement, saying it had 4 elements.

1)      Strategic Narrative: Nita told us that every company needs a story; an explanation of where they are from and where they are going. This tells people what they are part of and helps them understand what they are joining.  In my experience, perhaps the recruitment interview is sometimes one of the only times people hear this information, but if you are not even giving it at the recruitment stage then it is certainly a missed opportunity to engage your potential employee. I would also argue that it needs reinforcing and the first time it should be reinforced is at Induction.  Induction is a key point in the recruitment process and presenting a picture of the organisation that the new employee received during the recruitment process will be very reassuring start.

2)      Engaging Managers: Nita explained this was about making sure managers could motivate their team and explain what success looks like so people know what they are aiming for. I find that usually line managers are involved in recruitment, so this process can start during selection. The more directly and accurately you have managed to translate your definition of success into your selection process the more likely you are to end up with the cultural fit and skills you need. This coherence can only come from a manager who is engaged. Lack of clarity, understanding or disinterest will result in bad data being fed into the selection process. Bad data in, bad decision out.

3)      Integrity: Nita questioned: If an organisation is saying it is innovative, then where is the proof? A company’s values should be aligned with the way people behave. It seems to me, the joy of the recruitment process for the cavalier is that the poor prospective employee has only your word for the values of the organisation and compared to actually being an employee, relatively few cues on whether that is reality. People cannot feel engaged if they feel there is a mismatch between espoused and actual values. To me this point translates into being authentic in your recruitment process. If you know your core values, be truthful about them. Don’t pretend innovation is important if in fact adherence to the current system is what you want. Don’t pretend you are a buzzy and lively place to work, if in fact it is a bookish and calm atmosphere. Clearly there is nothing wrong with any of these, it is simply that in honestly identifying what your organisation is like, rather than what you want it to be or think it should be, you are more likely to find a person who is a genuine fit.

4)      Employee Voice: Nita gave some inspiring examples of organisations that changed their fortunes by listening to their employees. She cited BAe Systems as profoundly shifting their culture by letting go of control and allowing people have a say in how they do their jobs. In recognising their employees’ expertise they hugely improved their productivity. Employee Voice is one area I think could be more emphasised in the recruitment process and this chimes with what some commentators have identified as being a cultural shift with the Millennial and Y generations. Nita Clarke’s view was that work has become more transactional but that we expect more from it. We expect to be fulfilled and happy. People want to know what they will be getting. I have always believed strongly that a good recruitment process is two way; a proper courtship. I think the work that Nita Clarke and David McLeod have done lend weight to that. A recruitment process should allow an opportunity for the employee to gain an open and clear insight into the organisation and the job. It should also make sure managers are prepared to discuss the opportunity in terms of benefits to the applicant. This reframing and further shifting of the relationship towards a more equal one will however only work if the organisation is prepared to continue in this way once the employee has joined.

So I think that in engaging in an honest, open, coherent and real way at the recruitment stage of the employment relationship then you have a much better chance of any enthusiasm on the part of the new employee being real, rather than simply based on newness. Starting a new job is exciting and nerve-wracking. When we join we look to see if the picture we gained in the recruitment process matches up to reality. I think using the principles of employee engagement is a vehicle to help ensure it does.

As for the idea of people “leaving managers”; you could interpret a decision to leave as the ultimate expression of disengagement.  The manager is quite naturally a focus, as a manager is the manifestation of the hierarchy. They are a key relationship in making sure an employee is engaged, a mouthpiece for the strategic narrative, the one shaping what success looks like, whose behaviour needs to line up with the organisation’s values and who really needs to be hearing your voice.  Neglect of engagement, with all its implications for properly valuing employees contributions will have the outcome of staff turnover. Indeed the 2008 MacLeod report quotes a Gallup survey of 23,901 businesses and found that those with engagement scores in the bottom quartile averaged 31-51% more employee turnover.

The statement “employees join organisations but they leave managers” is of course a generalisation and there is a limit to how much they can stand scrutiny, but it illustrates the point that recruitment often starts with someone leaving. In a company where there is high employee engagement then recruitment forms part of a whole that is owned by many stakeholders, be they managers, team members, HR or external consultant. It is this interconnectedness, coherence, mutual advocacy and respect that helps breed a successful organisation and a recruitment process that works, not just for the now, but for the future too.

Oh, and just in case you ever thought this was “fluffy” Gallup also found that those businesses with engagement scores in the top quartile also averaged 12% higher customer advocacy, 18% higher productivity and 12% higher profitability.

There is a wealth of very useful and free information available at www.engage4success.org. Worth the time of anyone who is in business, whether big or small.

At Work Tree we really enjoy interviewing people for roles. Whilst within specialisms there are going to be similarities between people’s skill-sets , I think it is true to say that people are more often surprising than predictable. It is the job of the interviewer to try and draw out the person they are questioning to build a full picture of them. After all a picture of the whole person is vital in an age where employers’ increasingly acknowledge that cultural fit is as important as the skills to perform the tasks.

I am not looking to provide full interview training here, or even stray into the territory of discussing structuring an interview to improve your chances of getting good data, instead I just want to pass on a few hints that I always try and keep in mind when interviewing.

  1. Spend time at the beginning of the interview explaining the process to the interviewee. This will give them a chance to settle. Tell them the plan for the interview and in what order you intend to do things.  Highlight when you will give them an opportunity to ask you questions. This can help keep the interview on track.
  2. Be courteous.  Make sure they are comfortable, do they need a drink of water, did anyone show them where the cloakroom was on arrival. Apart from this simply showing you have good manners, you will help give them the impression that the company is a good place to work. Their comfort  will also help ensure you get the best out of them in the interview.
  3. Never be afraid of silence. If you don’t feel confident giving a job interview it is very tempting to rush onto the next question to fill the uncomfortable space. Allowing your interviewee space to answer the question, including a long pause if necessary often means you get closer to the essence you are seeking. Remember it will take restraint for them not to fill the silence and it is information from them you need.
  4. Be generous with the information you give about the job and the organisation; an interview is a great opportunity for you to explain what a great place your organisation is to work in. It also illustrates your empathy with the individual as a job move is a big decision. Be wary though, of where in the process you place this generosity. Canny interviewees can be known to try and skew their answers in an effort to prove a match if you give away too much information before you have asked any questions. My favoured approach is a brief introduction to the company and the job at the beginning which says little other than they should already know. There is nothing wrong with a minute or two of repetition at the beginning as it will set the scene for the interviewee and show consistency. This means allowing time after you have questioned them to answer any questions they have and tell them anything else you think they might want to know.
  5. Round up the interview by explaining what they can expect to happen next. Set a time frame for when they will hear the outcome of the interview and explain if there will be other stages in the recruitment process, for example further interviews or testing. Be slightly generous with the time estimates allowing yourself a buffer for unexpected events as it is always better to get back to someone sooner than a self-imposed deadline than later.

This month’s People Management has an article in it called “No pay rise, no problem?” It interviews a number of Heads of HR across a variety of organisations to discuss how they are meeting the challenge of keeping staff happy when wage freezes are epidemic. They interviewed Alan Measures, Head of HR Reward at the engineering firm Moog. He was reported as saying that “a staff survey showed employees valued the workplace culture more strongly than pay, a fact borne out by the service records of many at the company”.

A recent review of the research by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in a blog on the Harvard Business Review website discusses “Does Money Really Affect Motivation”.  The conclusion reached over and again across a broad variety of research he investigated was, well, not as much as you might think. The correlation between money and job satisfaction is weak. It has also been found that levels of employee engagement don’t change significantly with their level of pay; so money doesn’t buy employee engagement.

This should all be good news to the ears of companies wondering how they will fund pay increases or thinking about salary levels for their next piece of recruitment. But if money isn’t the most important thing to most of us and doesn’t drive our relationship with our jobs, what is it that ensures once hired, we stay the distance?

The People Management article reports that at Moog they have had to “hold down pay increases when the business has faced lean times.” Measures is then quoted as saying “Most people take a long-term view: they know we would do what we could to prevent laying people off.” What seems striking to me in this statement is the level of trust he is implying that his workforce have in the management and the company.  The presence of trust in the employer employee relationship goes to the very core of the psychological contract.

The psychological contract is a concept that first emerged in the 1960s but still causes a great deal of debate. The concept highlights the unwritten rules of the working relationship, the expectations an employee has of how they will be treated. When Moog reports that they make efforts to explain to their employees the how and why of their pay levels, they are making strides to honour that unwritten contract. The transparency, honesty and perceived effort must all contribute to building the trust that Measures is able to point to.

When any company embarks on a recruitment campaign they have an opportunity to set the psychological contract they want. In fact, I would go further and say that if a new employee or potential employee is mishandled at this stage it lays very uncertain foundations for their future at that organisation. Ensuring you start building trust from the very beginning, offering transparency and mutual respect in all dealings will mean a healthy start to the working relationship. Money forms part of that conversation, but how that conversation is handled is just as, if not more, important than the final number agreed on. The tone of the relationship is set from recruitment onwards. So while it is certainly heartening that money is not as dominant in our working lives as perhaps we imagined, the implied emphasis on soft factors certainly poses plenty of administrational and communications challenges of its own.

This BBC report comes from back in February, but this is an ongoing challenge and question for the Engineering, and particularly Manufacturing, industry as a whole: how to increase the number of women coming in to the sector.


The reporter asks two school leavers what their perception is, and the response is one we have seen many times over the years, “It’s all men in dirty overalls”. Of course, the good ‘ol Beeb is notorious for using quick soundbites to illustrate a broad viewpoint, but the message here is all too familiar – women are put off Engineering by perception.

And the age of these young women of course is a factor. Admitting you want to be different to the norm during school years can be a trial, and admitting as a young woman that you want to go in to Engineering is most definitely still unusual – even now, in 2013, according to SEMTA and the Institute of Engineering & Technology, only 20% of the Advanced Engineering & Manufacturing workforce in the UK is female, compared to 49% in all other sectors. Even more worrying, only 6% Of Professional Engineers, aka white-collar, are female. Add to that 50% of women who eventually study an Engineering degree, end up choosing not to work in the industry, and the reasons for this gender divide become clearer.

When my sister studied Mechanical Engineering at Sheffield in the ’90’s, she was the only woman on her course. Prior to that, she was unusual to consider a career in an industry dominated by men, but she has forged a remarkable and rewarding career, one that she, the rest of her family, and possibly key to all this, her 9 year old daughter, can admire.

What struck me particularly about this report is the insistence on representing Engineering as Manufacturing alone. Of course the manufacturing floor makes up a lot of the sector, but what about Design Engineering, Operational roles etc? This points to a need to push the diversity of the industry too. And in Manufacturing, is the rise of Lean Manufacturing, Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma and increasing Quality Standards of all types, helping change the working environment? On most production lines these days you are about as likely to get dirty overalls as I am sat here typing this blog.

So many leading companies are doing incredible work in attracting young talent, including programmes in schools & universities, graduate schemes, internships etc., and all of these are not only leading Engineering companies but world-wide leaders in industry fullstop. What is unappealing about that? Yet still this gender divide continues.

Perhaps it is time for the industry to help television represent the industry from a female standpoint; after all, TV is where a lot of young people’s perceptions of an entire industry come from. By putting forward representatives from IEEE WIE http://www.ieee.org/membership_services/membership/women/index.html, or Sheffield University’s “Women in Engineering” initiative, or the Women’s Engineering Society, www.wes.org.uk , or a major initiative like many at Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus and more, strong female protagonists can be aligned with people’s view of Engineering as a whole.

This report then gives the same old impression – lots of men in suits talking about engines, or lots of men in dirty overalls fitting engines. Surely there is more to this exciting, evolving, progressive industry which can be shown off?

Alan Volkaerts, Operations Director for Jaguar Land Rover, put it best when he said, “Women represent a huge opportunity… [an] untapped resource of people we could attract in to Engineering in the future”.

And so say all of us.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) carried out research and put together a guide entitled “The Relationship between HR and Recruitment Agencies: A Guide to Productive Partnerships”.


It is an extremely useful guide, particularly for an organisation like ours, which is positioned carefully away from the traditional agency business model. This report was where we first discovered the Ipsos Mori Advocacy Model as shown in the diagram above. The report explains the model: “Based on the notion of a ‘hierarchy of needs’, it has been adapted specifically for use in measuring the position of employees on the journey to engagement (and thus an opportunity to maximise employee retention) and for assessing the position of stakeholder groups, including customers and suppliers. At the top of the pyramid are those who create value for an organisation by acting as ‘advocates’ of its business and services”

The report highlights trust as a “key success factor in building such relationships”. It goes on to explain that trust “evolves through involvement and regular communications on both sides to keep up to date with objectives, developments and changing needs. It also depends on a sense of priority and a willingness to subscribe to a business model that recognises quality over quantity.” Clearly, building trust takes time and effort by everyone involved, but the payback to all who invest is potentially huge. The report points out that “high levels of engagement have been proven to have strong links with organisational and business success.” The passion, job satisfaction and productivity that usually come with engagement is the zenith of  the employment relationship that all organisations are trying to tap into.

We hold that it is a blueprint for what we aim for in all our client relationships and can see many applications for the model across the domains of business, management and human resources.

Looks like the employment market is set to outperform the rest of the UK economy, which can only be good news for the future of British industry. Read the information here, from the REC. If you are a member you can download the information but if you are interested in this and are not a memeber, then we as members of REC can provide it for you.

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation – Employers plan to increase permanent staff

Some heartwarming news from Recruiter.co.uk today that the UK’s rise in employment is all set to continue. This is excellent for the entire economy, but for many qualified, skilled individuals, it is not just about a job, it is about the right job. Even in these tough times, we should always strive to ensure we make the right choices for the individual and organisation



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