The past week has been a really interesting time for me. I have had a full week in our Brisbane office from Perth and have spoken to a great number of clients and the message that I have received from them has been pretty consistent. With the exception of one client (who is in a unique position of trying to ensure that they can meet demand for their products) all of our clients said to me that they were finding the present economic climate more difficult than the one that existed in the GFC. They are being encouraged to watch their expenditure, and, particularly watch their new hiring levels.

Now this can be bad news for any recruiter – we rely on “employee churn” and when people either lose the confidence to hire new people or employees no longer have the confidence to look for new opportunities, it can be difficult for people in my industry. However, this conservative approach may be short sighted. It may mean that we are all missing a golden chance to increase the capability levels of our employment team.

Headcount freeze is a term that I am hearing quite regularly at the moment. What does it actually mean? Well, my interpretation of it is that it is a term that companies use to send out a strong message that they are watching their costs. Where does value fit into the term “headcount freeze”? How can a recruiter like me work within this paradigm?

I strongly believe that this is the ideal economy for employers to look to increase the capability levels of their employment teams. In stock market terms, this is a value market. Unlike our team in Perth, the Brisbane office is presently experiencing slower trading conditions and this means that there exists some quality “purchases” to be made at value price levels.  My challenge to my clients is to increase the capability of their teams while the access to talent is more plentiful than exists in other markets. So, how do we do this?

  • Firstly, we need to start to manage our teams and evaluate performance more carefully. When the economy is rolling along, this tends to not be a priority (even though it should be) but poor performance tends to be a major issue in a down market
  • Be clear about your expectations to your existing team – ensure that they know your expectations both on a behavioural level and in terms of results.
  • Open your eyes to potential hires. It is the perfect time to become a talent acquirer rather than a vacancy filler
  • Manage out those who do not meet your requirements – as difficult as this maybe in the short term, it will be better for both parties in the long term
  • Engage with the available talent who don’t work with you at the moment. When the economy picks up again, as it most certainly will, they may not be available.
  • Replace your poor performers with your newly acquired talent with a higher level of capability – and watch your business obtain results that seemed very distant only months ago

I know that this all sounds very impersonal and quite basic, however I feel as though it is the message that is important to understand. Headcount freezes are indeed short term solutions. Tough economic times present us with opportunities to improve the capability of our labour force – we just have to take a dose of bravery and commerciality to take the plunge.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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