Most people will tell you to never sweat the small stuff.
You should look at the bigger picture and define a strategy around your life which celebrates the big achievements. Otherwise, in this job more than others, your stress levels will shoot through the roof.
In fact, I even said something similar in this article about how to be happy.
Today’s article however is about performance. And whilst you should never stress too much about the minor parts of your job, to improve, it’s worth looking strategically about how effective they are.
Ask any MD, Team Leader, Team Manager, Senior Consultant in recruitment whether they could achieve a 100% increase in output, they’ll probably laugh at you.
There’s enough pressure in recruitment already.
Being asked to double your output would probably raise a few eyebrows.
Even the best recruiters couldn’t double their output overnight. But there’s not a recruiter in the world who wouldn’t want to.
So what if you looked at a 100% increase another way?
What if, instead of focusing on the whole thing, you focused on 100 individual percentage points?
If you could make 100 individual outcomes of the recruitment process just 1% better, that’d be the same as a 100% increase.
This is what marginal gains is about.
Clive Woodward focused on it when he took over the World Cup winning England Rugby team. It’s also the way, the perhaps controversial Dave Brailsford approached Team Sky Cycling’s attitude to unprecedented wins at the Tour de France.
A lot of people will tell me Team Sky had amazing funding to achieve their goals. They’ll tell me there were potentially ‘exterior forces’ present. They’ll tell me England Rugby didn’t need to improve by that much to win the world cup.
For each of those examples, I’ll suggest, this is recruitment.
It doesn’t matter if your team uses performance enhancing drugs… like a coffee, first thing. You’re already paying through the nose to give them a competitive advantage… in things like LinkedIn Recruiter. And you’re already ‘market leading’. Apparently.
Therefore, is it not worth thinking about how marginal gains could help you to become even better?
There are lots of small things Woodward did when he took the England dressing room.
He took the drab, plain breeze blocks and painted them.
He installed private cubicles with hand carved English oak and name plaques.
He changed the name of the meeting room to the War Room.
He gave each player their own hotel room when travelling, instead of the sharing arrangement.
He put on luxury coach travel.
Kitted them in designer, England branded clothing.
Above all else, he wanted every single player to see playing for England as fun and a privilege. He handed out shirts alphabetically, not by order on the team sheet.
He established a ‘team committee’, populated irrespective of seniority.
There was also a ban on players from publishing books or articles about anyone else in the team.
And by changing small things like these, Woodward altered the mindset of everyday existence in the England camp. He changed hundreds, if not thousands of small factors.
Individually, they wouldn’t affect much. But as an overall existence, together they had a huge impact.
“Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”
— Jim Rohn
Dave Brailsford, once of British Cycling, now of Team Ineos, once said “The whole principle of marginal gains came from the idea that if you broke down everything that could impact on a performance, and then improved every little thing by 1%, you’re going to get quite a significant increase. So we set about looking at everything we could.”
A feat that had never been done before. And let’s be honest here, those riders were already impeccably good sportsmen.
But when you look at elements like fitness, nutrition and aerodynamics there’s always room for improvement on a minute scale. Brailsford researched the benefits of sleep on a team. He realised sleeping in a hotel gave ample opportunity for a bad night’s kip. Which would affect race performance.
So, he made each rider take their pillow on tour.
Sleep quality increased, and with it performance.
Did it take a last placed rider and help them conquer the mountain? No.
But it minimised opportunity for error. By maybe 1%.
Recruitment in a lot of ways is more like the cycling than rugby.
You can play the same 15 Vs 15 in rugby 100 times. It’ll never be the same game.
A role, like a stage, provides the ability to prepare. A mountain doesn’t change. To a large degree, nor the recruitment process.
It’s an uphill battle. There are often different obstacles, and a sprint to the finish.
But there’s process. Cogs to the machine, that if you master, you can come out on top.
The colour of the walls in your office could have an effect? Red for example, when seen before an exam can deteriorate results by up to 20%. And while just colour alone might not impact, the whole environment, will.
Is the kitchen constantly a mess?
How far do Consultants have to walk from the nearest travel links?
Is there parking on site?
What’s the lighting like?
Is there a lag on the database costing minutes, every day?
The effects of a longer commute are well documented. But there are elements of the workplace just as damaging to psyche as a bad commute.
I once had someone approach me about a job, who was flabbergasted I wouldn’t consider the role, because it was over an hour away.
Despite their insistence to the contrary, this matters. Not placing your business in a hub of convenience will affect your hiring chances.
So will a boss who takes a passive aggressive tone in a daily morning email to consultants.
Or enforcing company-wide attendance at an hour-long forecast meeting to hear things that don’t concern them.
And if you’re unsure, think about the difference in positivity if that person didn’t have that meeting. Or even what they could be doing in that time? And whether it’s a worthwhile use of time.
This is the take away from marginal gains.
Each consideration on their own won’t stop you in your tracks. But put them together and they make a difference.
If you break down the job of a recruiter, it might be Accounts Payable create a lengthier turnaround time than other businesses.
Now you shouldn’t fire your Accounts team on the spot. But it might mean, with tweaks, the whole system could be improved?
You’ll get contracts out sooner. Debts paid sooner. The financial stability of the business might be boosted. By lots? Probably not. But certainly by 1%.
Balancing a working life and spare time’s in recruitment difficult.
When I was a recruiter, I would definitely reply to an email at 11pm in the week, if it moved things forward.
On a Saturday in a pub garden? No chance I wasn’t responding, if the commission came closer or quicker.
And not just because of the value of time out. But if the value of the time you’re out the office increases when you properly rest, the value of your time in the office increases too.
Marginal gains come into play.
In France it’s illegal to have work related emails on your phone. And it works in helping the bigger picture. Stress caused by work costs billions per year. Trillions if you look at larger subject areas. So diminishing the power work related stress has, is a step in the right direction.
Some Hunted partners have taken the commute out the frame entirely with remote working. The increase in productivity in their cases has pushed far higher than 1%.
Earning a living is another way of saying you earn a salary.
But it’s the phrasing that’s important. A salary is monetary.
A living is earning the means to live. And it constitutes more than a financial settlement. You need to be able to survive, and ideally thrive, in the world you’ve created.
So individually, marginal gains for a recruiter might mean using email tools to cut out slack time in a day. It might mean getting to the office before or after the rush hour. It might mean working a 4 day week.
Never sweat the small stuff. By doing so, your particular roller coaster will knock the wind out your sails much more than needed. But look at how much specific small actions affect your success.
Use a tool like Toggl to work out how much time you spend on needless activities. Things like updating the database… waiting for signed contracts… waiting for the database to work… waiting on hold to clients…
For all of the lag, there will be an answer.
Look at everything in your process.
Could it be done better? Faster? Earlier? Eradicated completely?
If a different perspective can take the England Rugby team, or Sir Bradley Wiggins and make them better, I’m sure you could be better too.
And the good news with all of this?
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