Nakama News – Our Group CEO speaks to Shortlist

Nakama Group plc CEO, Rob Sheffield speaks to recruitment publication Shortlist on the HR challenges of growing a business.

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Short list:

Top recruitment executives share their hindsight regrets

The Global Recruiter – No stone unturned

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Nakama Global CEO, Rob Sheffield talks to The Global Recruiter about the challenges and response to the skills shortage at play across Australia.

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The Global Recruiter – No stone unturned  

What now for China?

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China has experienced unprecedented growth over the past decade and during its long and colourful history there has rarely been a problem the Chinese government could not fix. However, as stock markets in the US, Europe and Asia tumble after lacklustre Chinese data, many are now going from asking the question around a Chinese slowdown to considering what that impact might be on the global economy.

China’s manufacturing sector has shrunk at its fastest pace since 2009 over the space of four weeks. Many believe this is another example of the malaise that has stunted growth in Asia and fuelled Latin American growth. US stock markets saw sell offs as trading opened. The Russell 2000 index (an index of smaller US groups) slid into what is termed a technical correction and the S&P had its worst week since 2011. The FTSE 100 fell 2.6% and the benchmark dropped 5.5% over a week, which was its worst performance all year. It didn’t stop there, with equities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Indonesia entering bear market territory and US oil plunging below $40 a barrel. This is the first time this has happened since the financial crisis.

All of this came after the closely watched independent survey (caixin-markit China manufacturing purchasing managers index) dropped to 47.1 in the first three weeks of August, down from 47.8 in July, which was its worst reading since the depths of the previous financial crisis. These figures were released five days after the devaluation of the renminbi. This, coupled with a Chinese stock market in supposed free fall, has led the press and many others to question the health of the Chinese economy and their forecasts for growth.

So is it all doom and gloom or is it just the world markets and the Chinese market correcting itself? The PMI index released by Markit showed the US manufacturing growth has slowed to its weakest pace in 2 years. The traders argued that the falls in US stocks were a direct result of people fearing that China is facing its worst domestic slowdown since the GFC and as we have seen over the past few days this, helped by the press, has spread into other developed and emerging markets.

To put in into perspective, the global market is down 7%. In the crash of ‘87 the market was down 28%. The real issue for China is that the government is caught between its role as cheerleader and regulator and has shown a lack of trust in its own market. The devaluation of the renmibi was explained as an incremental change to China’s financial liberation. The reasons for this were poorly communicated. The real challenge for China is how they manage employment, which is more politically sensitive than GDP. The official unemployment rate is 4%; most believe this is fiction. China has to find work for 7 million graduates a year, which casts doubt on China’s reported statistic of unemployment.

As the press release headlines of doom and gloom, it is worth remembering that the level of sustained growth China has experienced has been the envy of many, even at its so called ‘reduced rate’. China’s economic transition was never going to be easy. The press would have us believe that events this year demonstrate that things are not going to plan; that by pursuing an anti corruption campaign they are preventing initiative and growth. It is true that no economy can be kept on an unrealistic path of expansion by unending stimulus.

It is time to understand and accept that a lower growth rate is ever nearer. This will no doubt stress, test and strain the legitimacy and appetite of China’s leaders for reform in ways that could shape and determine the country’s political and economic path for years to come. China’s economy is okay, in fact it’s better than okay! The Chinese government is not.


Rob Sheffield is NAKAMA’s APAC CEO based in Sydney.

References on recruiters are rubbish

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References on recruiters are rubbish. There I have said it. Total crap, a waste of time, a tick in the box, a supposed level of comfort / guarantee of that persons ability to do the job. I have been around some time and heard a range of stories, ranging from managers who openly admit they would give a great reference to a competitor knowing that the recruiter in question was less than capable, through to companies refusing to give references based on their fear of loss of IP. That doesn’t take into account that one company’s benchmark of high standards might be very different to your own.

Good recruiters create relationships and some of those tend to follow over a period of time. Great recruiters have the ability to create brand new relationships rather than rely on existing ones.  However, our industry is one of closed doors. I have rarely heard two recruiters from different companies talk about what they find difficult or challenging or say that they have had a challenging month. It’s usually the upside inflated with a bit of bravado. This is evident in majority of cases although not in all sales people.

Our industry faces a problem, one that we regularly get lambasted for – standards of service and quality of individuals. Management can create and drive culture in their organisation, they can set standards high or low but when we don’t help ourselves, how can we have a positive impact on the overall impression of our industry and the standards within it? We seem to be one of the only industries that are unwilling to learn from each other and be genuinely happy with each other’s successes. In many instances you’ll get a smile, I wish you the best of luck but I hope you fail!

So apart from not being willing to help ourselves as an industry, we also face other barriers. More and more businesses will confirm dates of employment and job title and that’s where its stops. Managers and reporting lines that do want to give references understand that what they say can be shown to candidates, which results in the referee often saying less for fear of something that could be used against them in the future. Referees are required to ensure that their statements are factual and true. Again I reference my starting point about the occasional occurrence of a good reference for a bad candidate. The reality here is that there is very little correlation in recruitment, between the quality of a hire and the references.

It staggers me that so much weight is given to references when they are so replete with problems. It also frustrates me when references get the blame for a bad hiring decision or, worse, stop a good hiring decision because the referee is clearly not on top of their game. The recruitment process is more complicated than that one step. In my opinion there are no real accurate predictors for future performance. I can’t tell you how many people, who, based on a reference or assessment program, should have succeeded in recruitment and haven’t. It’s almost the same amount of people that should never have succeeded, but do. Interviews are fraught with prejudices, stupid questions and inexperienced interviewers. References can be a work of fiction in more ways than one.

It’s completely disingenuous to blame a recruitment-to-recruitment business for misleading references, unless they have deliberately fabricated them. You have to assume that previous employers would not do the same, providing they would offer a reference in the first place. That’s not to say that I would only hire someone based on the references. People go through 3 – 4 rounds of interviews with us as well as meetings with senior staff to secure a role. So without references from employers what do you base it on? Client and candidate references are normally where we end up. After that you’re making a decision to hire based on gut feel and the truth, half-truth or in the worst neither of the former.

When we make a decision to employ like most in our industry we are chancing it. Just because someone comes from a successful business in your sector does not guarantee they are going to be great or even good for that matter. They might work out, they might not.  It doesn’t matter what questions you asked them, what references you obtained and what tests you used – you are taking a good old-fashioned punt on it all working out the right way.  Let’s stop pretending there is a winning strategy or science in making a hiring decision. You will hire someone you like and whom you think can do the job, and then you will hope for the best.


Rob Sheffield is CEO, APAC at Nakama Global based in Sydney.

Simple tips on how not to present

We are all pitching or presenting throughout our daily lives. With people we know, people we don’t, with work colleagues, to clients and potential clients. So why do so many people present so badly in an industry such as ours?  I’ve sat in some great pitches and presentations. I’ve been to meetings where best practices have been adopted and they have been as good as a well prepared and rehearsed pitch, even on occasions when it has been a casual conversation over a coffee. Pitching and presenting is a skill and one that needs constant work and refinement. I have witnessed people with a great deal of commercial experience present badly. Take nerves out of the equation and you’re left with some simple things to avoid:

1 – Take a really long time to explain what you’re going to talk about.

2 – Make sure you subtly let everyone know how important you are.

3 – Refer to your notes repeatedly.

4 – Never quote yourself! Seriously Never.

5 – Speak slowly and dramatically.

6 – Use lots of unexplained technical jargon to make yourself sound smart.

7 – Cram your slides with numerous text bullet points and multiple fonts.

8 – Speak at great length about the history of your organization and its achievements.

9 – Sound as if you’re reciting your talk from memory.

10 – Don’t bother rehearsing to check how long your talk is running.

11 – Never, ever make eye contact with anyone in the audience.

Rob Sheffield is CEO, APAC at Nakama Global based in Sydney.