If you’ve ever wondered how honest you should be during the recruitment process, you need to talk to Glenn Elliott. He’ll tell you about the strategy he calls “Rebel Recruiting,” which involves a level of candor that most executives (including me, in the past) find intimidating.
Listen to our conversation below or read on for the blog version.
Glenn has always been a bit of a rebel. By his own reckoning, he had to be.
He grew up as a gay teenager in 1980s northern England, when Section 28 legislation—which forbade local governments from “promoting” homosexuality as acceptable—was alive and well. At a young age, he learned not to trust the loudest voices with the most power.
Instead, he learned to question authority, challenge established wisdom, and form his own view.
That way of thinking has never left him, so it’s not surprising that he left a stable career at British Telecom to found his own company, Reward Gateway, and is now the Entrepreneur in Residence at Tenzing, a private equity company helping businesses scale successfully.
Glenn is also the co-author of Build It: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement, one of my most gifted business books of all time. If you haven’t read it yet, stay tuned—at the end of this post, I’ll share how you can receive a free copy.
In our conversation, Glenn talks about why most recruitment is a lie, and how open, honest communication can make the hiring process—and your company—stronger.
Two employee engagement strategies that work (almost) everywhere
As Entrepreneur in Residence at Tenzing, Glenn is careful to influence the companies he advises with a gentle hand. He doesn’t provide playbooks or tell CEOs what to do—but, when pressed, he does have some tried-and-true guidance.
Here are the two tips he says work in most—if not all—cases.
Open and honest communication, warts and all
It’s amazing how few organizations share their financial goals, and how they’re tracking toward those goals, with the very people meant to help them execute.
In one example, Glenn spoke to a firm’s head of IT about whether they should invest in a particular software. The individual felt the software was too expensive, but Glenn pushed back. “You’re a $20 million revenue business trying to grow into a $40 million revenue business,” he said. “So maybe it’s not too expensive.”
The head of IT was incredulous. “We’re a $20 million revenue business? I had no idea we were that big.”
When even senior members of staff lack the context to frame decisions that can move the business forward, you’ve got a problem.
As the CEO of Reward Gateway, Glenn shared all P&L details with his entire staff—even the ugly ones. It’s important to share not only sales, but profits as well, he says. Many companies are nervous about the consequences of sharing too much, because they’re worried that employees might become disengaged or leave the company.
But often, the reverse is true.
If they aren’t told otherwise, staff tend to infer profitability from busy workloads. If you aren’t hiring additional support because you aren’t profitable, but your team members feel that you’re profitable because they’re so busy, they can become embittered over time.
People need context to make good decisions, and they’ll work harder for you and your business if they feel like they’re a trusted part of it.
That level of personal engagement is an excellent segue to Glenn’s second bit of advice:
Offer employee share ownership
Five percent of Reward Gateway is owned by staff, and Glenn had the pleasure of paying out to those shareholders each time the business was sold.
This approach links very closely to open communication; once everyone has a financial stake in the company, it’s like writing a permission slip to openly discuss P&L. Suddenly, everyone is working toward a common goal. If the company wins, everyone wins. The organization has the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
This isn’t possible for every business, he acknowledges—but it’s well worth looking into.
The right job advert will repel 90% of candidates
If Glenn has learned anything in his recruitment experiences over the years, it’s how often a job advertisement was the root of problems.
That’s because job adverts often bear no resemblance to what hiring managers say they want.
He advises leaders to write down what they say internally when they’re thinking about their perfect candidate. Very often, they have a clear idea of “what magic looks like,” and it’s usually not reflected in the job description at all.
Probably because generic, polished job descriptions don’t include that sort of thing—and that’s another problem.
On one occasion, Reward Gateway was hiring a new CFO. The hiring board had drawn up the perfect generic CFO job description. “You could have taken the Reward Gateway name off it and put anyone’s name on it, and it would have been perfectly acceptable,” says Glenn. It was perfectly-written and polished—exactly what a PE-backed $30 million revenue business would use.
The problem was, the job description was completely wrong for the open position they actually had.
They were advertising for a generic CFO. What they actually needed was someone who could handle billions of dollars of client money across hundreds of thousands of invoices, assess an offshore financial operations team, and completely overhaul their outdated systems.
When the hiring board had whittled the number of candidates down to four, they asked Glenn to assist with interviews. He opened each interview by saying, “The job description you’ve read is completely wrong.”
When he explained what the job would really be like, three of the candidates were horrified. Only one person actually wanted the job they had to offer. And because she was the right hire, she’s still in that role today.
Recruitment begins with preparation, Glenn says. Getting the advert right is critical—and that means no recycling generic job descriptions.
It seems counterintuitive, but the goal of a job description should actually be to put people off. You don’t want everyone to apply. You want the right people to apply.
Simon Sinek has a 4-minute video on writing the perfect want ad that Glenn still shares every few weeks. Getting ultra-specific with your search criteria is the best way to hire the right person for the job the first time, which doesn’t always mean hiring candidates who are a great fit on paper.
The myth of the permanent job, and why loyalty isn’t a valuable commodity
Everyone has a shelf life in a given role. That might sound dehumanizing, but the way Glenn describes it, it isn’t meant to be. Nor is it a bad thing.
“The myth of the permanent job” is his term for the outdated notion that companies should want to attract people who stay there until they retire, and that anyone who leaves is “disloyal.”
In fact, he doesn’t even recommend tracking turnover. The metrics are simply too fraught.
One of the hires he considers very successful was only with Reward Gateway for 18 months—but in that time, he completely transformed the company’s relationship with affiliate marketing. He did his best work in 18 months, made a mark on the company, and left before he became disengaged. Both parties were better for the exchange. In Glenn’s book, that’s a success.
If people no longer find the work challenging, no longer enjoy it, or can’t find a role that makes them happy, it’s in everyone’s best interest if they leave.
It’s got nothing to do with disloyalty. For Glenn, it’s all about the learning, peak, and plateau of an employee’s life cycle. Very often, people stay at a job past their peak time, which benefits no one. Not the firm, and not the disengaged employee, who starts to stagnate.
His advice? Let employee departures be what they are.
This doesn’t mean that you aren’t working to retain and engage top talent, but it does mean being honest—sometimes uncomfortably so—about what’s best for the company and everyone who’s a part of it.
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