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The Recruitment Crisis And How To Win It

Article first published by our good friend and owner of Business Changing, Zac de Silva.

​Our recent Business Changing State of the Nation survey showed one thing very clearly: the issue of recruitment is one of the main issues business owners and senior managers are battling with right now. Finding the right talent, getting them to sign on with you, keeping your good people, having enough staff… It’s a real pity that countries like Australia and Canada are doing a lot better attracting people into the country.

Mark Fisher (Fish) is a long-time client of mine and he runs a very successful recruitment business, 84 Recruitment. I asked him to share what you can be doing to give you the best chance of actually getting the right people on your team and keeping your best people in this tough labour market. He’s shared what he’s learnt in his 17-year recruitment career:


To start off, I’ll give you an understanding of where I see things at the moment: I’ve never seen a candidate-short market as extreme as this… and I worked in London through the GFC from 2006 to 2012. It’s putting so much pressure on all of us and that’s across every single industry, whether it’s nursing, retail, hospital, professional services, engineering, tech, digital – every single industry is dramatically short.

Even if this government decided to change their stance on immigration soon, it’s going to take a hell of a long time before we can even bring fresh blood into the country at scale that matches demand.

This is pretty obvious but you’ve got a lot of young people in their 20s that are going on their OEs now, after putting it off for three years. You’ve got nurses who are incredibly unhappy with their situation, you’ve got teachers in the same bracket, you’ve got hospitality people in the same bracket. If you look at every single industry, they’ve either got a reason to be upset or a reason to go. And so when you’ve got people over the ditch offering anywhere up to 30% more on salaries, you can understand why people are buggering off. As a result, we are really pushing that domestic talent pool.

There’s a lot of assumptions that we’re getting a lot of Kiwis back from overseas. We’re not. There is a trickle. Ultimately, we’re in a negative net migration month on month, so we’re just constantly getting a smaller talent pool, which just puts more and more and more pressure on those salaries. It’s a very hard market. In my nine years of Eighty4, I’ve seriously never experienced such a difficult time to recruit.

It makes sense that when the market is this tight, people panic and either hire the wrong people or throw out ridiculous money to secure a candidate, which in itself is a problem.

What I want to go through today is ideas of how you can get more people to the table, but equally be really ruthless on who you actually bring through the front door.


Ultimately your recruitment strategy is built on retention. You have to plug the gap. So if you’ve got people that are leaving, if you’ve got clients that you’re losing, if you’ve had a spate of redundancy or resignations, you have to understand why. You need to be honest about that and not pretend that you’re better than what you are. Until you fix retention, don’t bother to try and hire anybody or advertise for roles. Get your retention sorted first. Figure out: why are people leaving? Have you solved those problems? I can’t express that enough.

Some people leave because they’re going off to bigger and brighter things. And that’s okay. But if there are poisonous people, if there’s bad leadership, if there are bad people within your business which you know are affecting the reason why people are leaving, it’s so critical that you take action because these things absolutely do multiply. You need to face the reality of what the real reason is that people are leaving. And that could be anything from the location to having to deal with a really difficult client every day. Think long and hard about what your people are experiencing on a day to day – if you don’t take action and solve these problems, it’s just going to be a revolving door.


It’s really important you’re not bringing good people in over and above what they’re actually worth, especially in this market. My advice is don’t play the money game. Money is only one part of many as to why someone would join your business and you’ve got to be really honest with yourself and understand why they’re joining the business.


Put effort into your team, put effort into understanding your leaders, put effort into from the top down and from the bottom up into actually bringing together a good solid team that people will want to be a part of and work for. Make sure that the development of culture includes your team. Too often I see leaders talking about the amazing culture “they’ve” designed but they haven’t listened or built that with their employees in mind. You can obviously shape it to what your aspiration is, but bringing your team on the journey itself to build your culture is fundamental to getting a stronger culture and a stronger buy-in.


In 17 years of running a recruitment business, I’ve never matched or exceeded a counter offer just to retain someone that genuinely wants to leave. That doesn’t make sense to me. You want people in your business who want to be there, not because they have golden handcuffs. If they genuinely want to leave, let them go. There’s a statistic out there that 91% of people that get counter offers will leave your business within 18 months anyway. Sure, sometimes people like to consider their options but it doesn’t always mean throwing more money at them – sometimes it’s simply about considering them, listening to them, and communicating where you see them heading and what their future looks like with you.


We all want to keep A-players. That’s a given. But again, I see business leaders putting too much effort and energy into C-players, trying to fix them versus actually looking after their real star performers. I’m always trying to look at my business and thinking, who’s doing exceptionally well? How can I put more effort and resource around them? I try not give too much energy to those C-players because, again, you’re putting energy into the wrong parts of your business and certainly the wrong people. No one is perfect. We’re not. Neither are our people. And even our A-players need effort, they need support, they need to identify where their strengths and weaknesses are. We need to get them behind them. Equipping your leaders is one of the most vital things that I don’t see done enough, whether that’s leadership coaching, helping them tackle new accounts, dealing with a previous issue they’ve had in their life, or just giving them the tools they need to get them being and feeling their best.

Get your A-players involved in the overall strategy and direction of the business. Do that and they’re going to take ownership in executing that when you’re not in the office or when you’re not there. You want them stepping up. It’s actually about letting people make mistakes. It’s giving them more autonomy to not be perfect, but to actually learn from themselves. Try to get out of their way a little bit. It’s actually a really good retention tool.


Consider your technology and systems. We’re seeing candidates leaving organisations that don’t put enough emphasis on actual technology. If you’re using archaic systems, if you’ve been meaning to do that new website for five years, if you’ve been meaning to get a CRM updated, get on and do it. You’ve got to look at why people will be proud to work for your organization.

What about your work environment? I spend a ridiculous amount of money – about three times what an office down the road would be – on our office at the Beehive in Smales Farm. And I often think, especially at budget time, is this really worth it? But it was voted one of the best buildings in the world, and every single client, candidate or staff member that comes to look at this building is blown away. How can you create pride in your workplace? Even if it’s a bit of a spruce up where people just feel better – a modern paint job, better chairs, a better set up – give them what they need to feel good.

Ask your team why they actually stay in your business, why they love being there. That’s what you need to double down.


We have something here called the “No Dickhead Policy”. The first step is to identify them. If you’ve got a dickhead within your business or you’re interviewing people you think fit into that category, act fast. The problem is dickheads is they do multiply. So if you’ve got one within your business and you’re ultimately accepting that kind of behaviour, you will attract more to come in or you will change the behaviours of your existing to match that dickhead. Ours is dickheads, yours might be poisonous people. Whatever it is, you must enforce it. This all comes back to your recruitment strategy: how can you attract people in your business if you’ve got a known dickhead working for you? And it just be your business that knows you hire dickheads – it will be your competitors, it will be people in their sports team, it’ll be people in their community groups. If you’re surprised as to why people don’t want to join your business, this might be one of those reasons.

The other thing I’d say is work out your cost per dickhead. How many clients have you lost because of them? How many staff? If you could work out how much this is potentially cost you, it will spurn you into action. Holding onto the wrong people is affecting so many New Zealand businesses right now because we’re very protective of what staff we do have. We think, let’s put up with it. But I can tell you that accepting that kind of behaviour basically says that that’s the behaviour we are encouraging. So be really careful about culture and how it actually multiplies back out into the market.


A really vital part of being exceptional with recruitment is to actually be really quick to fire. It’s important to do: for your sleep, your sanity, and everybody else within the team. I see it as releasing people – from a job they’re really not thriving in because they’re not happy.


Social media is your window to your culture, to your business. Use social media as a means of attraction. – show the world who you are and what you do. Give them an insight into what it’s like to work with you, what your team’s like, whether it looks like a place that appreciates their employees. Sharing stories of who you are is so critically important. Not many people are applying for jobs these days so use social media to make people aware and interested in what you’re doing that might make them think about applying for a role with you at some stage.

Quite simply, you have to really promote yourself. Not just online but offline, too. Show up to industry events. Speak when you can. We do this with Engineering NZ. We’re also active in a couple of charities that we’re very passionate. Get involved and get outside your office.


Many job ads start something like, “We want five years’ experience”. So you’re basically saying, this is what I need from you, and then you should apply. That is very one-sided, especially in today’s market, right? And if you’re reading an advert, would you get excited about that? It’s quite demanding, and usually there’s no real context in there about what they will get.

What’s in it for them?! Put yourself in their shoes – what are they looking for and what can you offer them? It might be your hybrid working, your location, your incredible software that you use, your market-leading CRM, your awesome team or whatever it is but make sure it’s unique to you and then tell them about it, first and foremost!


Advertising on Stuff and Seek is all very well, but you can try other avenues, too. (Recruiters are always the best option: free plug!) Put your vacancies into the newsletters you send to clients. Ask your suppliers if they know anyone who might be perfect for you. Talk to your accountant, your bank manager, your team. Leverage your contacts.


My best advice when it comes to references is try and do references from… wait for it… not their reference list. Whoever they’re giving you as references are probably going to be a friend or their best old line manager. They’re not going to give you a shit reference; they never do. Look for someone that potentially used to work for that same business, maybe a family friend who is in the same bike club, bowling club, community group, child’s school – whatever it is, try and work out your three-degrees of separation. Go to your Facebook and see who they’re connected to that you know. Ring them and just ask “What are they like?” You want the warts, the honest opinion.

Figure out how you can observe someone in their natural habitat; be like a David Attenborough and witness them in their natural environment. Maybe you go for a coffee with them and just see how they interact with the staff and others in the cafe. Do you see those people that someone drops down a coffee and they never say thanks? That shit bugs me. Just witness their behaviour and see how they interact with people. It’s so vital.


My tip: communicate the whole way through notice periods. Don’t pressure them to start working early but stay in touch from when you tell them they have the job until their first day. We send a bottle of champagne out two weeks before. We invite them for a lunch the week before to meet the team. They are essentially part of your team from the time that they sign that contract but the amount of people that have pulled out of opportunities and gone with a counter offer during a notice period is surprisingly large and, honestly, it’s always down to a poor onboarding process, in my opinion. Standardize your onboarding, make it simple, make someone drive it from the beginning.


I say that in the best intentions here but if you look at someone’s last 10-20 years of experience and they’ve changed jobs every two years but they’re telling you they’re looking for a job that they can be at for 5-10 years… they’re not going to be there for 5-10 years. Work out their average tenure over the last ten years; that’s how long we’re going to be at your business. It doesn’t change. Very rarely anyway.


I’m very honest about my limitations as a leader and where I’m trying to take the business and what our business is like to work for, because I’m hiring people to come in and be on this journey to make it stronger. Are they cut out for it? Can they work in that kind of environment? Let them know realistically what your weak points are so that they don’t take the job and then quit just months later.


How do we cope with other businesses offering our current staff more money when we can’t compete money wise? Awesome question. And I’ve got that problem myself because there’s recruitment companies at the moment which are probably offering on average about $30k more on our own base salaries. But in my State of the Nation that I do every quarter, I reiterate why we are where we are. For example, over Covid we made no one redundant and we promised everyone would be there at Christmas and the reason we could do that is because we were a successful, profitable business. So sometimes it’s good to reiterate the reasons why they’re with you, which is not just money. You have to kind of remind people. Some of our people forget half the incentives that we’ve got going on, all these other benefits we give like a week in Queenstown at the end of the year and awesome staff parties each quarter.

There’s always going to be someone that’s offering more. I sort of think you’ve got to put money as being 10% of the equation, so what are you doing in the other 90% as to why they’re there? Maybe you’re flexible about when they come into work, say after a bad night with the kids. Do you do career development plans with them every six months and keep them nice and engaged? Do you give them new challenges, if that’s what they want?

You just have to accept that people are always going to throw more money and you need to be having an open conversation with each individual who wants to go about what excites them about the job other than the money. Is that other company stable? Do they appreciate their staff? What’s the turnover like? What do people say about the boss? Did they make redundancies when it came to Covid? Do they provide a car park and training and development and all the things that we do? Don’t be afraid to point out just what they get from working with you. And there should be plenty, if you’ve worked on your workplace culture and team building and all those other things important for retaining good talent!