It is that time of year again, with our financial year finishing at the end of March it is our time of reflection on what we have achieved and the areas we need to focus on to “make our boat go faster” in 2016/2017.
Before we held our annual review yesterday, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a fantastic Easter break away with my family and dogs. North Cornwall is our regular destination and the week provides a huge amount of fresh air, exercise, family bonding time and an invaluable opportunity to reflect on Collingwood and the year we have just enjoyed. More importantly, what have we learned that will ensure we keep improving and accelerating our performance.
If you have been following our news, we joined the growth accelerator programme in September 2013 and, supported by our inspiring business mentor Ian Brookes http://www.dnapeople.co.uk, we redefined our purpose, vision and values. Since being established in May 2005, as an executive search consultancy, Collingwood had enjoyed profitable growth each year including growing between 25% and 45% every year through the recession. The business was flying, clients were queuing up to work with us but, nevertheless, all wasn’t well. Why? Being honest with ourselves, we weren’t loving all of the clients we were working with, nor the assignments we were delivering and, fundamentally we were operating as a “transactional” recruitment business. Collingwood was set up to provide an environment for our employees to love their work, balance their professional with their personal and family aspirations and have an opportunity to grow as individuals. As a “transactional” business, everyone was being well rewarded but not many of us were jumping out of bed on a Monday morning excited to throw ourselves into the week ahead. It had become a job much like that in most other recruitment agencies up and down the UK.
Since deciding to get ourselves back on track and in line with our aspirations, we have been through a tough couple of years of change. We have seen colleagues move on and a new team establish itself. We have moved away from recruiting skills into Collingwood and, instead, had an absolute focus on attracting individuals who align with our clear purpose, vision, and set of values. What a positive difference it has made.
At times, the pain of turning clients away because they didn’t meet our guiding principles has been very high. Why would you turn commercial opportunities away when sales are declining? “Stay strong and believe in what you are doing” Ian Brookes kept telling us but there were certainly times when it would have been very easy to revert back to the “successful” Collingwood model. I am very happy and proud to say that we did stay strong and, as a result, have gained huge momentum, particularly during the last 6 months.
Getting back to our annual review, we had a very engaging day yesterday and were all very proud to reflect on and discuss what we have achieved together during the previous 12 months.
Here are the very positive highlights from our year;
- Guiding principles - We established a set of guiding principles that provide guidance on what an aspirational client is to us, the type of executive search and consultancy projects that we really want to secure and deliver. We are a bunch of authentic individuals who enjoy listening and so aligning ourselves with like-minded clients allows us to be ourselves.
Result – we love every client we are now working with. We align culturally and care passionately for helping them succeed in their business goals. This has resulted in 100% of our recruitment assignments being delivered “right first time”. Our clients work with us because they value our collaborative partnership and not because they want quick solutions to their recruitment problems and CV’s thrown at them without any value being added in the process. Our clients see our fees as an investment in their business and not a cost they just have to endure.
- Client/candidate journey – We developed a robust client/candidate journey to ensure each project is delivered in the same consistent way and all who deal with us enjoy the same exceptional experience no matter who you deal with at Collingwood.
Result – 50% of our fees this year have come from repeat clients against 40% the previous year. 10% of our fees have also come through referral and this is growing all the time. Clients and candidate testimonials are glowing about the service and experience we have delivered to them. There are no process shortcuts for our consultants and they are extremely proud to share the feedback they are receiving.
- Trusted advisors – We operate as trusted advisors supporting our expertise with real-time market intelligence to help our clients make the right decisions for their business. We are brave enough to act as a sparring partner and challenge our clients if we believe they are wrong. We don't win every battle but a healthy debate is better than accepting a bad decision.
Result – Our clients have made some great appointments that would have otherwise slipped through the net but based on concrete facts not gut feel or hearsay.
- Out of the building – we are experts in our chosen industries and have thrown ourselves into as many seminars, conferences, exhibitions and have shared a lot of coffee with aspirational industry leaders. It is not about selling and instead, we want to listen, learn and build strong long-term relationships with our sectors. Finding clients we align to takes time and we are all about the long-term and not short-term revenues.
Result – We really do have our fingers on the pulse now. We understand the dynamics of our industries, their economic forecasts and are able to add value to our clients through referrals, competitor intelligence and advising on their talent attraction strategies relevant to the environments in which they are operating.
Collingwood Consulting – We established our strategy and leadership consultancy practice in November 2015 with the appointment of Jennifer Parratt as our Director of Consultancy Services. Our aim is to work in the boardrooms of our clients to help them through strategic change and to enable strong leadership teams that will accelerate their performance and achieve their business objectives.
Result – We are already working with 5 clients. Projects include providing career onboarding support to new board members we have recruited, strengthening the strategic sales leadership capability of a leading Infrastructure client and helping a global corporation ready their UK subsidiary for a change in strategic direction to deliver significant growth. Our consultancy offering has really allowed us to get know the souls of our clients which will make our executive search delivery even better.
- Our Team – we have worked really hard to re-align our team to our purpose, vision, and values. The old team could be criticised for working in silos and we have been focused on creating a true team culture where we all work for the benefit of our clients.
Result – we now have a vibrant office with individuals that care for one another, are learning together, and innovating together and ultimately delivering great client experiences together.
- Marketing Apprentice – We recruited a Marketing Apprentice via The Juice Academy http://www.juiceacademy.co.uk.
Result – Georgia is not only a fantastic cultural fit to our business but she is thriving, already providing innovation and creativity to our marketing and in exchange, we have given a young person who doesn’t want the debt of University an opportunity to grow in a professional environment. I can’t recommend apprenticeships enough.
- Personal learning – Training courses are not “our thing”. Instead, we turn to our external suppliers/partners and the internet to identify thought leaders who can make a difference to what we are trying to do. YouTube, Podcasts, social media and books are our focus in our personal learning.
Result – the world outside Collingwood is vast and we have learned so much from our personal learning journey. We have improved as individuals and certainly created a culture of learning and reflection which has, in turn, provide more innovation and creativity in what we do. My favourite books this year have been Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last and on marketing, I have been listening to Getting Goosebumps podcasts which focus on storytelling.
The highlights above are the result of a lot of hard work from everyone at Collingwood, our clients who have helped us to shape our value proposition and the services we deliver and a number of key external partners who include Ian Brookes at DNA People and Bryan Adams at Ph Creative. I am grateful to everyone who has put their blood, sweat and tears into our journey. It is fair to say that we are now all jumping out of our beds every Monday morning very excited at what the week holds.
This new financial year is about continuing the momentum we have achieved but also focusing on areas we can further improve.
I look forward to sharing news of our onward journey with you in the near future.