Beringer Tame Blog

On the habits of unsuccessful people, part 1.

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Tips And Advice

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Browsing the bookshelves at the fabulous Foyle’s book store whilst waiting for a train at Waterloo station last week, I noticed the large amount of shelf space dedicated to business self help titles. The pattern is a familiar one - analysing the habits of successful people then creating patterns or models of behaviour that help others to emulate that success.  I don’t want you to think me a cynic - time dedicated to self improvement is admirably and often profitably spent but as I flicked through the contents pages of a few books, I found myself wondering how much more interesting and illuminating it might be to study the habits of the unsuccessful. 

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a financial analyst at a wedding breakfast - the type of analyst who tells institutional investors which shares to buy, which to sell and which to hold onto.  The scene was quite lovely, an open air event overlooking the Mediterranean (the bride was a big fan of Mama Mia).  He took a surprising amount of interest in me when I told him what I did for a living and was particularly interested in what was going on inside the brands that I was supporting.  When I pushed him on why he was quite so interested he said something which I have never forgotten; “headhunters really know what’s going on inside these companies”.  It turns out that he specialised in retail and like a canary in a mine, he seemed to think that I might be able to provide some warning of cracks appearing with poor morale, disengaged managers - or indeed the reverse.

He was right too - we get ready access to the sort of salacious village gossip a retail analyst would be kept well away from (if the board have anything to do with it) and there are clear patterns of behaviour that the unsuccessful rarely fail to display.

This morning, as I sat with my of my senior consultants to talk about a particularly problematic digital marketing manager job vacancy with a well known high end retail brand, I was reminded of both the wedding breakfast and my book browsing at Foyles.  Our average ‘TTF’ (time to fill) a typical ecommerce or digital marketing job is about 5 weeks and this apparently straight forward marketing role has now been open for 12, prompting the review.

At Beringer Tame, I have a pretty solid acid test to forecast the outcome of a relationship with a client company; does a hiring manager want to meet us before commencing an assignment? 

Without exception, the companies that I’ve watched fall into administration or zombification all had something in common - a very amateur approach to recruitment. The disinterested solipsism and arrogance displayed to us by individual managers when it comes to recruitment is almost always an external sign of a deeper attitude to people and employees and goes hand in glove with high staff turnover, poor morale and of course, the failure to hire the very talent that could reverse the decline.  In summary, managers that fail the meeting acid test, tend to be unsuccessful.

My question then, when reviewing why a straightforward digital marketing role is still open after 12 weeks was simple “have you met the hiring manager?”, the answer is as predictable as it is depressing; despite lots of encouragement, reasoning (and even begging), we haven’t even had as much as a telephone conversation with the hiring manager who is clearly too important.  Instead, responsibility for this apparently vital and ‘strategically essential’ hire has been outsourced to a junior member of the HR team. This could be recoverable if that HR administrator had a detailed brief and regular, open communication with the hiring manager, but this is evidently not the case.  

The net result of this unsatisfactory arrangement is clear to see - the original job description and salary band was wrong and was only adjusted after the first collection of hopeful candidates had their time needlessly wasted attending an interview for a job that had been poorly articulated - it seems our valiant HR rep was as much in the dark as we were.  Following this re-adjustment, qualified and experienced candidates who DID meet the brief were kept waiting for over 4 weeks before being invited to attend an interview - a time delay that meant all of them had either taken jobs elsewhere or simply decided that the rumours about the company culture must be true and so removed themselves from the process.  

This amateurish lack of engagement is equalled only by the hiring managers anger and frustration at his failure to hire which is levelled at his poor HR rep, who is clearly not the problem.  A little further investigation and I discovered that whilst we at Beringer Tame have had the brief for 12 weeks, the company have actually been trying to hire someone for the role for nearly 8 months. Quite.

After the review, my advice to my consultant was to disengage from that client and politely suggest that they try another recruiter.  We can’t make our hiring managers engage with us but we can choose not to work with those who don’t.  

There is also a question of ethics - walking away from a prestigious brand might seem counter intuitive but do we really want to give such a poor experience to our candidates and do we want to place a talented digital marketing or ecommerce people into that managers team?  On balance, perhaps not.

Part 1 then on the habits of unsuccessful people - Unsuccessful people don’t meet their recruiters


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