Do you know what the opposite of fragility is?
It’s not robustness or strength.
If something’s robust it will be less fragile, but the opposite would mean something that actually benefits from stress and harm. Something that should be mishandled.
This is the underlying premise of a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called Antifragile. It is about how unlike fragile items which break under stress, antifragile items actually benefit from volatility and stress.
One abstract example of anti-fragility is Kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.
Another example is evolution, which involves mutations to enable life forms to adapt to its environment. Like in many instances of anti-fragility, you have an anti-fragile system but it’s made up of fragile parts. And these are the parts which inform the system of what works and what doesn’t.
It’s a big trial and error experiment to figure out the most efficient path forwards.
The price of failure in evolution is extinction. But every failure improves the efficiency and success of the system and the life that survives.
This concept can be applied in a few useful ways. Firstly, in the economy and thankfully for us, specifically the recruitment industry.
Individual companies are somewhat fragile; not all survive, in fact many fail, especially in times of recession. For an economy to thrive it needs some of its constituents to fail. The failure of one company will make that sector stronger as others learn from those mistakes.
Just like our bodies are anti-fragile- the more stress we put on ourselves, the stronger we grow- a company can do the same thing.
Take the first lockdown. We were all confronted by stressors and in an anti-fragile system, we overcompensate to provide greater capacity to overcome future challenges. Most companies and the industry as a whole will feel better prepared for this second UK lockdown.
In an anti-fragile system with over-compensation, you’re often left with excess strengths which in a business context means redundant resources. For most companies, this seems inefficient but it’s like saving for a rainy day. It’s why companies with limited cash reserves, the ones who relied on just-in-time supply chains and the ones who prioritised vanity metrics like headcount over real business metrics like cash flow and profitability, were the ones most exposed and the first to feel the impact of the pandemic.
It’s like saving for a rainy day.
In the same way volatility and adversity strengthen a system, tranquillity can weaken it. The longer an economy booms, the more confidence grows and the fewer people feel the need to save for a rainy day.
So when the skies do open, it’s likely more companies are exposed.
And the larger the organisation, the harder it will be hit by unexpected crises so the greater the need to build resilience and adaptability.
By managing your risks so you can benefit from unpredictable events.
Let’s take headcount. To grow a recruitment business, you typically need to grow your headcount.
Hiring may be your biggest challenge but you shouldn’t overlook retention. To manage your risk you need to prepare for the worst by half-expecting it. It’s not likely you come into 15 resignations one payday, but we also didn’t expect to be wearing face masks going to the shop to pick up a loaf of bread. By half-expecting negative outcomes, you minimise your risk of falling victim to them.
To reduce the likelihood of retention becoming an issue, overcompensate. Develop your employer brand to breed loyalty with your existing staff.
Companies should invest in building resilience in to their models to differentiate themselves as a solution provider and as an employer.
And this shouldn’t be confused with building resilience in their people either. Recruiters are, as a rule, fairly resilient. But one of their stressors shouldn’t be their working environment. In cases where that’s the case, you’ve built a fragile system.
These are also not mutually exclusive goals. If you have a differentiated offering to your clients, that will be appealing for an incoming hire. Likewise, if you can showcase yourselves as a forward-thinking employer, this helps validate your capability to support your client organisations.
Here are five ways you can work to make your business anti-fragile and ensure you emerge in 2021 a better business because of the hardship faced in 2020 :
2020 will be remembered not just for COVID but also for Black Lives Matters. Much needed systemic changes are happening in society. They’re happening in the workplace too. Companies are being called out publicly for lack of diversity, for bias existing in their hiring processes and for the unfair treatment of people based in discriminatory reasons.
Even if you don’t think you discriminate, it’s not enough to be an observer. Overcompensate and be a brand known for fighting for equality.
Recruiters can affect change with their clients so they have a responsibility to do so.
With more employees wanting to work for companies with a defined inclusion policy or manifesto, internal hiring will be impacted positively, as well as companies wanting to work with you to help them improve their inclusive, bias-free hiring.
For inspiration and to learn what easy-to-action steps you can take, you can read about the action we at Hunted took earlier this year: https://www.hunted.com/industry-content/time-for-action
This had been a taboo topic in the industry for a long time. There’s still many people who believe that “if you can’t hack it, you’re in the wrong industry”. They’re wrong. Their views are outdated and it’s likely many of their other views are antiquated as well.
The challenges of this year will have impacted people and their mental health in different ways. This year has forced empathy on us all and it shouldn’t be short-lived. Not if you want to build a sustainable employer brand to impact hiring and retention longer term.
Providing mental health support for your people will reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and profitability, positively impact retention and enhance your culture.
57% of sick days are due to stress, anxiety and depression.
With brilliant initiatives like Mental Health in Recruitment and amazing tools or organisations like Sanctus, it’s never been easier to support the mental wellbeing of your people.
Lots of businesses offered a level of flexible working pre-2020. Now all businesses have some experience of managing distributed teams. Some companies will revert to a rigid working structure, but most, even if they hadn’t before, will offer a level of flexible working.
Given talent attraction and hiring is the number one challenge recruitment businesses face, limiting your talent pool to those people within daily commuting distance from your office will inevitably hinder your growth. You’ll be limiting yourself to a fraction of the available workforce.
Not only is flexible working an increasingly attractive perk for staff which will impact your ability to attract and retain talent, but it can also result in cost savings (office costs, commute…). Saving money and strengthening your talent attraction and retention will make your business more anti-fragile.
Technology will never replace the recruiter but recruiters who do not invest in technology to enhance their productivity will be left behind. Whether its video, sourcing, productivity, internal comms, marketing automation or branding, there’s a growing set of tools designed to help recruiters save time and differentiate themselves from the competition.
Develop a technology stack and stay at the forefront of new innovations to continuously improve your individual and business outcomes.
Investment in technology is not limited to recruitment tools. Some companies offer a budget for self-development and wellbeing. Subscriptions to apps like Headspace (meditation) or Blinkist (book summaries) are great additions to your tech stack that can support an individual’s happiness and productivity.
No longer does every recruitment company offer a uniform service- recruitment, contingent or retained. The industry is evolving, and just like species of life form won’t survive if they don’t evolve, the same goes for companies.
Build resilience into your offering and stand out from the competition by developing complementary solutions and services. Client companies who put hiring freezes in place at the start of the pandemic may have still engaged with solution providers to support their talent strategy.
Some of the complementary services emerging in the industry include: testing and assessment, employer branding, interview process optimisation, embedded hiring solutions, unconscious bias training, employee engagement initiatives, inclusive hiring programs, succession planning and leadership coaching.
Consider your pricing models and services. If companies were not hiring, they may have valued help in other areas of their talent strategy.
Remember all of these differentiators client-side will form an attractive part of your employer brand and help you improve your hiring conversion rates.
Make sure you’re anti-fragile. Be a better business because of the pandemic. Remember that for an anti-fragile system to exist, there must be failures. Don’t be one of them.
And obviously, make sure you’re not working for one of them either.
If you’re a company that’s getting things right, let the world know about it.
Senior/ Principal Finance Consultant at Twenty Group
Food & Agribusiness Consultant at SPS International
Principal Consultant – Interim Finance at Cobalt Recruitment
Global Headhunter & Account Manager at Emerald Technology
Senior Tech Recruiter at Addition Solutions
Start your own business at The Independent Recruiter Hub
Senior Recruitment Consultants (Commission Only) at Zensho Agency