How listening to business advice can make you £2 million

Everyone gets business advice. But, as ISL recruitment director Alan Furley argues, it only starts to pay when you start listening.

If your experience is anything like mine, then listening to good business advice should net you an extra £2 million.

It’s important to say at this early point that I didn’t listen to advice, so you’re not about to hear me crowing on about anything. Indeed, if I’d realised sooner that I needed advice I reckon, right now, we’d be worth that extra £2 million. But I didn’t. So we’re not.

I try not to blame myself too much. It simply didn’t occur to me that I might have needed some advice. And when it did, it was almost by accident.

Henry and I had been running ISL for three years, and it was going well. We’d both been successful recruiters in previous lives, and carried on being successful on our own and in an environment we enjoyed.

Then came the mistakes. We hired the wrong people or we managed them poorly, or maybe a bit of both. I won’t dodge the blame for this because, of the two of us, I was the one who said I’d look after the management side of things while Henry concentrated on our clients.

Making the wrong assumption

My error was this: I’d assumed my talents as a recruiter, let’s call them ‘skills A,B and C’, would be the same as those required for leading a team of recruiters. In fact, the skills for leadership are ‘X,Y and Z’ and none of them are ‘Be a good recruiter’.

For example, as a recruiter you’re probably somewhat self-centred, focussed aggressively on your personal targets and not too interested in being a team performer. Professionally speaking, your successes are right in front of you or immediately behind you; and little else matters.

But of course leadership isn’t like that. In leadership, failing to follow through on a promise today could still matter two years later, and your choices affect everyone.

We carried on like this, making a profit but with no growth, for around three years, until we accidentally realised we needed help.

A colleague returning from maternity leave wanted to go down to three days a week. She was good, and we decided to put her in charge of finding new recruits. But you need to train them too, and we didn’t have the structure for that.

We went to market to find solutions. The EU GrowthAccelerator offered a £4,000 grant for training, but also gave us access to six days of coaching over 12 months.

I remember looking at the profiles of the three coaches. We thought we were going to be more into the coach with a recruitment background, but in fact one (who worked with a partner) stood out. ‘We don’t know recruitment,’ they said, ‘but we do know high-growth business.’

Looking further afield

This was the first time we’d considered looking outside of our own field. ‘If you’re to grow from 15 staff to 25, and keep sight of an ambition to get to 50, these are the challenges,’ they said, ‘and these are the tools you’ll need to make it happen.’

Related: How strategic workforce planning can help you hire better staff

They helped us set some actions, and told me and Henry it was our job to hold each other to account. They showed us it was easy to get drawn into the here and now, but in doing so we were ignoring the things we needed to do for the longer term.

While behaviours have always been important to us they gave us a competency framework and helped us devise a vision for managing a workforce, while also freeing them from the tyranny of micromanagement. We weren’t running the show on gut feeling any more.

After the 12 months were up we paid for them to stay on, and the relationship continues to this day. From a management perspective the difference has been huge. We have a vision, processes which work and a clear model for growth.

In that time we’ve grown by around a quarter every year, in the meantime retaining staff and growing in confidence because it’s sustainable.

That’s growth we weren’t seeing before. So by my calculations we are £2 million pounds behind where we could have been. Claiming your £2 million could be as simple widening your focus and listening to some advice.

Alan Furley is recruitment director at ISL.

Further reading on business advice

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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