#5 Building a motivated team and successful business planning with Sue Pilgrim
From recruiting Richard Branson’s office staff and their legendary Virgin Records parties, to “Wolf of Wall Street” style training sessions in the 80’s, Sue Pilgrim boasts over 35 years of experience in the recruitment industry, as well as building a multi-national agency.
Sue Pilgrim understands the importance of people and relationship building for start-up and scale-up businesses and we discuss the top tips for recruiting the right people, team dynamics, on-boarding processes and ways to keep your team motivated as your business grows.
This episode of The 10th Degree covers:
Recruiting the right people
Business planning and recession-proofing
Building relationships with clients and employees
The importance of face-to-face communication
Keeping your team motivated
“You've got to think about your team, and if you're going to invest the time in recruiting them, then you've got to invest the time in keeping them and making the environment conducive. You can't motivate someone, they have to motivate themselves, but what your role is, as a leader, is to provide that environment for them to feel that they want to come in every day, and they want to do their best, and they want to have fun and make things happen.”
“Sometimes people will accept lower competitive salary to be in the right kind of environment. We would have candidates, that would be very specific about "I want experience on that brand, I really want to work there, I don't mind if it's actually going to pay me slightly less than I'm earning now, because actually, I need that and I really want to work with them." So it isn't always just about money.”
“You need to take responsibility for the person you've recruited, so you have a plan in place for them. And that means you know, they've got a mentor, they've got a buddy, they've got a programme for the first 4 to 6 weeks, whatever it is, for your business, your sector, however long it takes. They've got a point of reference every day, twice a day, if necessary, in the first week or so, to check in somebody to actually you know, look at their work, see what they've been doing and they’ve got small targets to achieve”.
“I can almost guarantee you that the problems that you get is when someone just haven't been inducted properly, or orientated into the business properly.”
“I think what people do, is underestimate the amount of time they need to put into a plan and into preparation. I think people are frightened that if they plan for something, it becomes inflexible. So I think they think that then they can't actually change it.”
“And having worked in recessions, for example, I remember going into the financial one in 2008/9 and that one happened very, very quickly, in terms of, you know, losing business sort of overnight. It was quite challenging. And I remember in you know, that situation having like, two or three different plans before we got down to, for example, losing staff and that was my key was not to lose my staff. My staff, the people that worked in the creative recruitment business, where the key to my business, that's all you've got in a recruitment business, and I'm proud to say I didn't lose anybody. We even got down to like potentially salary sacrifices before we got down to the People. So we weathered the storm when we kept everybody.”
“So if I'm going to open a business, you say to me, you're going to open something in two years time. So I'll start off with the end result and I'll work backwards, and then I'll work down to a plan for okay, what do I need to do every quarter? How does that break down into every month? How does that break down into every week? And then what are the tasks that need to be doing? So it can get very, very detailed,”
Anthony Story 00:00
So I'm here with Sue Pilgrim. Sue is a leader with over 30 years experience working in the recruitment sector. Spent 10 years as a group Managing Director of "The Become group", which specialises in digital and creative sector, and you led international network across the UK and Asia Pacific...
Sue Pilgrim 00:21
That's right, yes, Australia.
Anthony Story 00:23
So you've managed to build the growth of the company turnover and profitability and helped "Become", the business, become, the verb, an international market leader for digital and creative recruitment. Now, that's a challenging industry to come from and I can already feel the panic rising up in some people's minds at the prospect of dealing with a recruitment agency because "oh my god, they want to charge 50% of the first year salary just to hire one person!".
Sue Pilgrim 00:49
I wish I was charging that
Anthony Story 00:52
Yeah, well, I'm kind of going through some of the quotes I've had in the past! But just hold on for a second, recruitment and HR is actually probably one of the most important aspects for any business, but also possibly one of the least understood as well. So I think it doesn't necessarily have that "twinkly allure" some of the other business departments have got. So most entrepreneurs don't see it as the area, they've got to get their heads around in the same way that they definitely want to understand something about the marketing and they realise they've got to get their head around business finances. And finance is not the spiciest of topics to get your head around, so if recruitment and HR is coming in after that, that's pretty damning from the entrepreneurs perspective. But the reality is that for pretty much every business people are the most important asset that they've got. There's nothing more important than your staff. So even if you're running a digital only product, you still need people to upload content, you still need people to deal with customers or package products. And if those people aren't there or they're not happy, then you'll soon going to get in to some problems. So we know that ever since the invention of the customer service department, customer service has probably never really been worse. So the only thing you've got to save you are your people. But people are unpredictable, they often want to do things in their own way, so the trouble that we have as a manager is we're not usually taught how to manage people. And it's not a topic you're going to find at school, there's no teacher who's going to be teaching you, "right, this is how to manage people." And so we don't know what the law is necessarily either, and we're not very good at handling difficult situations. So that's me going off on a bit of a tangent, but you're the expert here, so I am going to come up with a question. How do you see the recruitment industry and what's your experience of interacting with other people who are dealing with you in it?
Sue Pilgrim 02:59
Wow. Thanks for that introduction. Gosh, there's a lot in there. I think having been in recruitment now for over 35 years, I think the first thing to say is how significantly it's changed during that period of time. And sadly, much to my embarrassment, not necessarily for the better. Recruitment should be all about relationship building and it certainly was pre computers and pre the job sites, the only way basically that you could deliver a service was by meeting your clients and meeting your customers. I think to a certain extent, there are still some very, very good people out there. But there's been a deterioration in the service as it's become commoditised and it's become more computerised. I think from my own experience, you mentioned the creative business, I'd spent 20 years before that cutting my teeth in High Street recruitment, and also in specialist recruitment in the health care and social care sector, which are quite demanding sectors. But I thoroughly enjoyed it once I came into the creative sector, and I think the key and the difference, which is why we made such a difference to the sector was that the people that I recruited to work in that business, my consultants had creative backgrounds. So they actually understood and had a studio manager, had a trafficker, had graphic designers that used to call themselves failed graphic designers, but they understood what they were doing. And they were people, people, they were interested in design, they were interested in technology and I think that's what made the difference. They wanted to go out there and meet the clients and they wanted to go out and meet all candidates and sadly in a lot of recruitment today, people don't even meet with people, it's all done literally over the internet. I'm forgetting what your question was now.
Sue Pilgrim 05:14
And adding value?
Anthony Story 05:14
Well, it was more of a general comment and in terms of how people view it.
Anthony Story 05:20
Yeah, let's pick up on how do you go about recruiting the right people? It's interesting that as a recruitment company, you seem to have practiced what you preach.
Sue Pilgrim 05:28
Yeah and that is actually very, very difficult because recruitment itself has one of the highest turnovers for staff going. Just talking about value, if I can just slip back to when you were talking about, paying big fees and that kind of thing. We used to have a lot of that in recruitment generally, but in my creative business, we did an exercise in all of the locations, with the exception of Hong Kong because it only just opened in 2014, to see how long the people that we placed, were actually still in situ. And we did it for five years. We did it for three years and Sydney because it's a slightly more transient marketplace. But you'll be amazed that over I think it was something like 65-70% of people from London and Manchester, were still with that business five years later. That's how good the matching the quality had been. We also did another exercise to look into see where are people? What have they become? We used our name obviously. So we had people like juniors, that were now, art directors or creative directors, so we got their story as well. So we were very much about the relationship.
Anthony Story 06:44
So how do you go about recruiting the right people? If you're getting really good retention rates in terms of getting the right person into the right job. What steps can somebody take in order to try and ensure that that works?
Sue Pilgrim 06:58
It's a two fold thing, for us, I'm talking about the creative recruitment business that I had, it was very much about taking on people with experience in the industry. And we would take people on either at grad level or at quite senior level. And I ran an internal training academy, so I was very keen on nurturing and growing our own. Because we found if we took people from other recruitment agencies we were often inheriting bad habits. So then what we would do is we would create a culture whereby people could learn and they felt safe. We didn't have a blame culture. We had a culture where if something went wrong, you fessed up to it and learnt from it. And that started right from the top with me. I mean, nobody's perfect. I sold the business three years ago so I'm not sure you know what it's like now, but I do know that several of the key people are still there, and some of them have been promoted as well, so, obviously, we did something right. I think it's about finding the people that have got the right values in the first place, and that's easy to say, but it's really difficult. And then inducting them properly. Let's give an example in Hong Kong. Oscar's still there, I believe five years later. He was a local Hong Kong guy who was recruited before the office opened, and we sent him over to Sydney which was the nearest office for two weeks, and then he went into Melbourne, so he could get the DNA of the company, so he could meet all the people he could understand how we worked, he could realise the values and the importance of developing long term relationships. And then I went out with Oscar myself into Hong Kong, which was completely virgin territory, we'd not been in Asia at all. And we sat with clients and we said, "Look, we're not here for a quick buck, we're here for a long term, hopefully we can help you, if we can't help you we will let you know. If we don't get it right, we need you to let us know". So it's very much about that relationship, and that's what we were looking for in our own people. If I was recruiting for a client, I'd always want to go and see them, if it was a complicated role, I wanted to spend some time with them going through actually what the role entails, but also looking at the day to day tasks, the people they would interact with. So I had a really, really good understanding of not just the role itself, but also the kind of person that would fit in. And unfortunately, I think that's when you don't have the interaction, the people side of it, that's the bit that gets lost.
Anthony Story 09:50
One of the things I hear, especially when you're recruiting people early in their careers is that, when somebody comes in from university, it takes at least a year until they're ready to do the job. There's a long period of time where people have to come in and learn how to work because they've never really learnt how to do that properly. And people often talk about skill shortages, particularly in certain areas, technology being one of them. But when it comes down to it, fundamentally, what they're looking for, with pretty much all of their appointments is a "good fit". And the majority of that is based around someone's ability to have the right soft skills.
Sue Pilgrim 10:35
It's the attitude
Anthony Story 10:36
Yeah, exactly. It's not what they know, it's just who they are. And I was just wondering, is that is that an important element for you? Is there a point somewhere in someone's career where that ceases to be the important thing and actually, you are employing somebody for their experience? Or if you are employing somebody just for their experience is that where it goes wrong? If you haven't got the personality to go with it?
Sue Pilgrim 10:59
I would always put attitude over experience, no matter whether it's somebody that's literally straight out of school or it's somebody that's got experience, it's that fit that's more important. It's interesting you say about graduates. I took a risk in my Manchester business, we were struggling to find consultants, and there was a new apprentice scheme for 16 year olds coming out of school instead of going on to do A levels and university and traditionally, we'd never taken anybody less than a graduate, sort of 21-22 years old. But we went onto this apprentice scheme, which was just run amazingly up there. And it was a very, very successful we took 3 apprentices on in the end, and I think they all stayed with us. I think one of them's only just left recently, but to go on to bigger things and left very amicably. I would recommend always that if you've got a good training programme in place and a good induction and a good culture that can cope with young people and support them, I would always recommend having them in your mix. Definitely. I think if you just have all young people then depending on what your your business is, then that might make it quite vulnerable. I think it's good to have, you know, talk about putting teams together, it's good to have a good group dynamic, and to have a good mix of people, both in terms of age groups, but also in terms of skills and expertise. Because obviously, they will learn from each other. I mean, my newbies, youngsters, or even somebody coming in would always be appointed not only a mentor, but also a buddy. So your mentor would help you with your training programme, your buddy would help you with where the coffee shop is, where the loo's are, where you go for lunch, that kind of stuff. And that would normally be, if it was like a youngster, another youngster that was a few months ahead of you. So you've got to think about your team, and if you're going to invest the time in recruiting them, then you've got to invest the time in keeping them and making the environment conducive. You can't motivate someone, they have to motivate themselves, but what your role is, as a leader, is to provide that environment for them to feel that they want to come in every day, and they want to do their best, and they want to have fun and make things happen.
Anthony Story 13:31
That's really interesting, did you find that there were things that you could do that would help with that?
Sue Pilgrim 13:36
Yeah, yeah. It's really little things, most of the time, somewhat corny now, but is literally remembering to say thank you to people. You'd be surprised how many people never say thank you in the workplace. You'd be surprised how many people walk into an office and never say hello. They just come in and get their heads down and get on with what they're doing. It's the little things, the little common courtesies. And then you can have incentives and competitions and if you're in recruitment, it's obviously, a salesy environment, even in creative we still had targets to meet and stuff like that. So you provide little competitions and fun ones just for the day, first one to get somebody out of that booking gets an a gift voucher or trip up to Carluccio's for lunch - just little things.
Anthony Story 14:35
I mean, I've heard some great ones. I think 3 Sided Cube is one of them. They have lunch together every Friday.
Sue Pilgrim 14:46
Yeah Manchester used to bake cakes for each other, which is nice.
Anthony Story 14:55
And are you a fan of the table tennis table and pool table or do you think that's just a distraction?
Sue Pilgrim 15:01
I don't mind I think, you know, again, you put it in the environment and then the people that that works for that's great, and the other people that it doesn't engage them, well, that's fine, they can do whatever it is, that they need to do, whether it's golf for like a half hour, CrossFit or something like that. What does it cost to provide a football table or something like that, or, you know, a fridge full of beers? It's not a lot really but what you get back in terms of people enjoying and wanting to come to work, as long as people aren't abusing it, is worth its weight really.
Anthony Story 15:44
Well, I heard back in the 80s, I'm not sure if it's necessarily true, that Virgin Records as it was, had a policy where it was just tried to create a really nice vibe around the place and they actually paid probably the lowest salaries around, but they used to throw an epic party, every year....
Sue Pilgrim 16:07
Virgin was one of my clients.
Anthony Story 16:08
Ah okay! And everyone just kind of thought, "God, I'm here for the party. This is amazing." and forgot about the fact that they weren't being paid as much.
Sue Pilgrim 16:20
It is true.
Anthony Story 16:20
Okay, it's true! But as a company, that's amazing, because it means that the cost of the party compared to how much less you pay everybody is negligible, so good for business.
Sue Pilgrim 16:29
Yeah absolutely. Gosh, going back a long time, late 80s I used to provide Richard Branson's office with PA and secretarial staff. Yeah, so the parties were legendary, and all good fun. But yeah, you're right, sometimes people will accept lower competitive salary to be in the right kind of environment. And sometimes creative people will want to work with certain brands. We would have candidates, that would be very specific about "I want experience on that brand, I really want to work there, I don't mind if it's actually going to pay me slightly less than I'm earning now, because actually, I need that and I really want to work with them." So it isn't always just about money.
Anthony Story 17:21
So that can be quite a good tip, if you're looking to try and recruit the right sort of people is to really focus on what it is that you're doing, in terms of what the product is. I guess these days, it's not always necessarily about the brand, there's a lot of talk about purpose as well as isn't there?
Sue Pilgrim 17:35
Anthony Story 17:37
So in terms of emphasising the purpose of what you're trying to achieve and what the outcomes are, and very much in that sort of 21st century approach. I think one thing that's fair to say is that recruitment is seldom about the money. It's more to do with, is the job interesting? Is it a good quality of life that I get through this? People are interested in being stimulated, challenged, and in a nice environment, and the money is the cherry on top, but seldom the motivator.
Sue Pilgrim 18:15
And I think the other key thing as well is technology, people want to be in an environment where they can keep their skills up to speed. I started in recruitment back in the late 80s, when freelancing or temporary work was very much the that you did if you couldn't get a permanent job. And we were selling the concept of, the more freelancing you do and the more opportunities you get to work in different in companies actually, the better your skill set is. And so this started to develop what we know now as the "Professional Freelancer" and freelancers actually earn more and are often much, much better skilled and more flexible and adaptable than a permanent member of staff. And that really started back in the late 80s, when we had our first recession, I've actually worked in four recessions and came into recruitment in one of the biggest ones at the end of the 80s, and people realised that they had to cut back to a core and then have this flexible workforce. And that's when it was first sort of articulated really, and promoted as a real work and lifestyle choice. And it's interesting because having opened in Hong Kong back in 2014, I came across the same culture where it's still very much about having a permanent job, and the freelance role is is an interim between getting a proper job, in inverted commas. I think give it another 5 or 10 years, perhaps 5 actually the way it's moving, I think they'll have caught up, and actually people will be recognising the value of the freelancer.
Anthony Story 20:17
With freelancers and employees, in terms of building a team, we've been talking about trying to employ people who have got the right fit, who have got the right personality. Is there a danger that you end up with everybody just being the same inside the office, and as a result that nobody's really challenging everybody else? And so I'm thinking back into the management books that say, "right, you should have eight different personality types on your board or your management team" and those Belbin-type tests. Is that a danger or do you think actually, if everyone gets on with each other, it doesn't really matter?
Sue Pilgrim 21:02
I think you're talking about everyone having the same, what I call the DNA, that same ethos, that same principle values, that doesn't mean they're the same people. They have different personalities, and obviously, as long as you haven't got extremes in there or psychopaths or anybody like that...
Anthony Story 21:19
Apart from the CEO who is normally a psychopath, but yeah!
Sue Pilgrim 21:24
Yeah, it's a bit like a railway line, you know, you've got a boundary, you've got parameters, and everyone can sort of like muddle along within there and you have to sort of determine when you know that a person is too far outside the line, then it won't work. But you're absolutely right, you do need a mix of people to make that dynamic work.
Anthony Story 21:45
What do you think the most common thing is that people get wrong when they hire staff?
Sue Pilgrim 21:53
Ironically, people don't reference people. And I say that because people will say things and unless you reference them, you don't know whether what what they're saying is true. Unfortunately a lot of businesses don't reference people. So I would say that if something goes wrong, it's normally because you've just taken what someone said you at face value and you haven't tested it.
Anthony Story 22:20
How useful is a reference because you're not allowed to give a bad reference anymore are you? In the UK at least?
Sue Pilgrim 22:26
No, that's true and it's a lot less liberal than it used to be. It used to be a lot easier to get a fair and real evaluation of somebody, but even things like dates that people work are important. Even if you've got like a little checklist, which has got attendance, sickness and things like that, that will flag up on a reference, you'll pick up very quickly if actually, if something like attendance isn't good. And these will be the problems normally that flag up quite early on, if someone's not going to work out I can guarantee they're going to be sick within the first four weeks. You've seen it yourself in businesses that that's what will normally happen because, for whatever reason, it's it's not been the right appointment.
Anthony Story 23:19
What's been the worst experience you've had recruiting somebody, or have you had an interview that's just gone horribly wrong?
Sue Pilgrim 23:29
Anthony Story 23:32
Shall I share one with you?
Sue Pilgrim 23:34
Go on then yeah because I can't think of one.
Anthony Story 23:35
I think it was actually more of a pitch than it was with an interview but it was started by somebody coming in doing a handstand. And I thought "well this is different, this is not usually what you get". I mean, he was pitching an idea which was based around the gym so I think there was something in it, but would that work in an interview situation?
Sue Pilgrim 24:00
I've had one happen to me, years ago, in the late 80s, early 90s, when people were being very adventurous with interviews, trying to be a bit different, and I walked in and there was no chair. No chair at all, not even just like the low chair, you know, the chair that's practically on the floor kind of thing. But no chair at all, which is quite a challenge.
Anthony Story 24:25
Why? Is the no chair a real thing? I mean, why do people do this?
Sue Pilgrim 24:32
Oh yeah. It used to be this theory of making people feel uncomfortable. I'm talking about a long time ago, I don't know if anybody out there still doing it! I hope not.
Anthony Story 24:49
There are certain number of good recruitment techniques out there. So one of the ones I've heard about is that, it doesn't really matter what they're talking about, but you just kind of pick on something that just drill into it and drill into it and drill into it and drill into it...
Sue Pilgrim 25:02
A "rolling why" that's called. It's a technique, it's a bit aggressive.
Anthony Story 25:11
It had me thinking "why are you asking me this it's got absolutely no relevancy to anything, and you're asking me something, which I've already told you is not an area that I really focused on. So are those good those techniques and can you share any other ones?
Sue Pilgrim 25:30
That's quite generic, I think it depends on the sector and what you're trying to establish. I mean, certainly from the creative recruitment point of view, I don't think it's really very useful. And it's far more useful to sit down and have a conversation with somebody, look at their portfolio, talk about their work. An example with a portfolio is you need to understand people will come in and, and show work it's important to ask "well what piece of work? What was your contribution in this piece of work? What influence did you have over that?" Because you know, we could see people from the same company all bringing in the same work, and all saying that it was their work. So you know, we've got to establish what is what. But you don't have to be aggressive about it, it's a conversation, it's probing gently, making people feel comfortable. People are much more likely to share information with you, if they feel comfortable, than if they feel on the defensive, which is why the "rolling why" and that sort of technique, it's very - have you seen Wolf of Wall Street?
Anthony Story 26:31
Sue Pilgrim 26:31
And you've seen the training sessions that he does? Now, I don't know if there's any sort of 80s 90s recruiters listening out there, but believe you, me, that's how we were trained back in the day! Which is why obviously, we can sell but I think you have to move away from that sort of style, especially in specialist recruitment because it'll only take you so far.
Anthony Story 27:00
So you've gone through that process, you've got somebody on board, and then it starts to go wrong. I know this is going more into HR than recruitment, but what what steps can you take, when you're going, "I can't work with this person anymore". How do you deal with that?
Sue Pilgrim 27:20
Well, first thing is you need to take responsibility for the person you've recruited, so you have a plan in place for them. And again, the number of times I see that people don't have a plan for a new starter. And that means you know, they've got a mentor, they've got a buddy, they've got a programme for the first 4 to 6 weeks, whatever it is, for your business, your sector, however long it takes, they've got a point of reference every day, twice a day, if necessary, in the first week or so, to check in somebody to actually you know, look at their work, see what they've been doing. They've got small targets to achieve, in our case it would be people shadow interviewing, so you need to shadow interview the seniors, you might need to do 10 of those in a week and if someone started to slip back on shadow interviewing and 10 in a week is not that difficult, it's only 2 a day, and there's plenty of seniors interviewing all day, then the alarm bells would would start to ring.
Anthony Story 28:09
What do you mean by shadow interviewing?
Sue Pilgrim 28:13
So a junior or newbie sitting in with a Senior Consultant, actually sitting in on the interview, so you're learning their approach. And you try and sit in with as many of the different consultants as possible, so you're picking up the different interviewer approaches and techniques. I've done this myself in a very senior role as an Operations Director in a social care business. I didn't have a background in social care, which you could say is a bit of a risk, but I literally immersed myself in shadow interviewing for the first 4 to 6 weeks with that business and sat in as many interviews as possible, because that's how you learn as well about the sector that you're going into. So that's what I mean by that, so you need to put a lot of effort and input into the people, when they first start. Equally for somebody if they're not a newbie, the same thing for someone that's more experienced, there are different things you might expect from somebody that's experienced, over a different period of time, because obviously, you'd expect them to come with a level of understanding, etc. And then what you do is you have key milestones and then from experience and benchmarks, you know, whether they're falling behind because actually, they need a bit of help with something or whether they're actually not engaged. If you're an experienced recruiter or working with teams, you will pick that up quite early on. You can also of course, use your seniors or use your other team members that are mentoring that to get their feedback so that they can share with you "yeah, I think they're struggling with this because...but actually I think they're a good egg, they just need a bit more help with that" or "I'm really not sure. They've been late. They've not turned up to a couple of the interviews. They didn't come with me to the client" you know this sort of thing which rings a few alarm bells.
Anthony Story 30:15
A lot of people in our world are working in quite small companies. So some of that can be difficult, but when you get to the stage where you go "this is detrimental to everyone", is it possible to fire someone? Because the laws are so different to how they were in the 70's let's say? How do you go about doing that without getting yourself in trouble?
Sue Pilgrim 30:40
Well, you first of all, you technically have a probation period. Three months seems to be quite typical, some companies will have six months. I used to have six months in my business. If you're uncertain about somebody, you can extend a probationary period. But you need to question that really carefully because you need to be saying "is that the right thing to do?" Or is this person not going to align with the business and it's not going to work. And so you have to start having open conversations. But if you've done what I said earlier about having those opportunities to meet with them every day, every week, in those early stages, then you'll have already identified if there's any issues coming up. I can almost guarantee you that the problems that you get is when someone just haven't been inducted properly, or orientated into the business properly. I think that's when you get your problems and it's all "Hey Joe is not working out, he's been here three months, but, have you spent any time with him? No. Well, you know, let's give Joe a chance, we need to spend that time with him."
Anthony Story 31:51
I want to ask a little bit about your business and your experience in being a leader and in developing a business but before we do that, you've worked across several countries, and you've had the whole Asia-Pac and you've been working in Australia, and I thought it'd be useful to get a sense of how much you've picked up on international employment law, and what is and isn't permitted compared to the UK. So is it acceptable to wear a silly hat in the workplace?
Sue Pilgrim 32:32
What overseas or anywhere?
Anthony Story 32:34
Sue Pilgrim 32:38
Yeah, I mean, certainly in the UK, certainly in Australia.
Anthony Story 32:43
What about New Zealand?
Sue Pilgrim 32:49
Yeah, I mean, I worked in an education business in New Zealand, actually, and I didn't see many silly hats
Anthony Story 32:57
Because you can get fined! You can get find if you wear a silly hat in the workplace. Do you have to allow people to have time to go to the bathroom?
Sue Pilgrim 33:10
Yes. Yeah. It's another legal.
Anthony Story 33:14
But not in America! So in America, there's no legal statute for you to have to allow people to go to the loo. Which, when you think about what the alternatives are, seems quite bizarre! But over here, in terms of the breaks, as a serious question, do you have to give people lunch breaks and tea breaks?
Sue Pilgrim 33:35
Yeah you do. I believe so. Yeah. And you know, there's rules with things like is it too hot or too cold.
Anthony Story 33:49
I think it's allowed to be really cold because people work in refrigerated environments.
Sue Pilgrim 33:54
But you can't be too hot!
Anthony Story 33:59
Can you force your staff to go on a health programme?
Sue Pilgrim 34:06
I would say no, but you're going to tell me somewhere in the world that they can.
Anthony Story 34:09
Well, you've been working in the Far East and in Japan, there's something called the metabolic law, which means you can measure people when they start working...
Sue Pilgrim 34:21
What measure their height?
Anthony Story 34:22
No measure their girth! And if they're considered overweight, and they don't do anything about it, you can make them go on dieting classes, which I thought was interesting, but probably not practical if you are running a sumo school.
Sue Pilgrim 34:37
Yeah. There's a point isn't there around cultural differences? And I think if you look at somewhere like Hong Kong. There's a lot of drama in Hong Kong at the moment but fundamentally, it's a very vibrant and and an active active community.
Anthony Story 35:01
So were you responsible for setting up the offices overseas?
Sue Pilgrim 35:04
Anthony Story 35:05
So which countries did you end up working in?
Sue Pilgrim 35:08
Well, when I bought the business, London and Manchester existed and Sydney, and I opened Melbourne and then I opened Hong Kong. And Hong Kong was the first Asia operation and the choice was really between Malaysia, Singapore or Hong Kong, so I spent at least 12 to 18 months beforehand doing preparation. I did economic creative comparators. And then I went on site and visited and, you know, Singapore's got a lot going for it, but it's much more of a financial sector really than creative, as soon as I stepped off the plane and got into Hong Kong, I felt like it was a bit more grungy, there was a bit more happening. And so Hong Kong felt like it was the better place to be and also got a lot of support from the UK Trade and Industry, both in the UK and over there, and from the British Council as well. So they were just very, very open for business and for trade. We would have people working in the offices, and the offices and where I stayed in my hotel, for example, was actually bigger than where my business manager lived with both his mother and his girlfriend. Space is such a premium right in the centre, and people would be in their offices, using the showering facilities because it was less crowded than being at home and people would stay and use the internet because obviously it's crowded at home. So there are some real stories about how life is quite different because of how people live in such a smaller space and such a busy space.
Anthony Story 37:07
And understanding those cultural differences is essential in terms of successfully opening up an office. You used the word "financial comparators"...?
Sue Pilgrim 37:17
Economic creative and financial comparators
Anthony Story 37:18
Okay so that sounds like quite a bit of planning. So you mentor quite a lot of people now as well. How do you find people are in terms of the planning of their businesses?
Sue Pilgrim 37:32
I'm really impressed by how entrepreneurial people are and how enthusiastic they are and how many good ideas come out. But I think what people tend to lack is that sort of planning element of it. And actually, I completely understand that because my background, my recruitment background, originally was a very, very corporate with some of the big high street names that drill, the training and all this sort of thing into you and unless you've had that exposure, I think it's very difficult to actually understand how to go about putting a business plan together. Whether it's to market your new product, whether it's to open a new office, whether it's to go overseas, whatever it is to do. So I found that most of the time that I spend with my mentees, is usually around putting together a plan, whether it's for their existing business or whether it's for a new revenue stream or something that they want to do. And I think because I've had a lot of exposure to that, and am very experienced at that, I think that's where I can bring some real value. I think what people do, is underestimate the amount of time they need to put into a plan and into preparation. I think people are frightened that if they plan for something, it becomes inflexible. So I think they think that then they can't actually change it. So I think it's almost like you do a plan, but you it on what I call "parallel levels." So you have like, this plan, then if that deviates, almost like a flowchart really, then this happens or that happens. So you've got plan A, plan B, plan C. And having worked in recessions, for example, I remember going into the financial one in 2008/9 and that one happened very, very quickly, in terms of, you know, losing business sort of overnight. It was quite challenging. And I remember in you know, that situation having like, two or three different plans before we got down to, for example, losing staff and that was my key was not to lose my staff. My staff, the people that worked in the creative recruitment business, where the key to my business, that's all you've got in a recruitment business, and I'm proud to say I didn't lose anybody. We'd even got down to potentially salary sacrifices before we got down to loosing people. So we weathered the storm and we kept everybody.
Anthony Story 40:05
Sue Pilgrim 40:05
Yeah, it was actually because an awful lot of competitors did loose people. But that was because I planned it. Yeah. Okay. You know, we did other things as well. But it didn't mean I just had to jump from a to b, I had different stages that I could go through
Anthony Story 40:24
When you talk about planning what should be in that plan? Because I've heard you say before that some people say "these days it's just not very fashionable to plan." So at the risk of being very not on trend at the moment and thinking about planning, what are the key things that should be included in the plan?
Sue Pilgrim 40:43
I think you need to know where you're going. You need to know what it is that you want to achieve. So you've got to have some kind of vision, whether that's a product, whether it's a service, you've got to know you know roughly what you're heading for. I think you've got to be very clear about what you're good at, what your USP is, because especially with entrepreneurs who are so full of ideas, I mean, they shoot off all over the place, which is brilliant. But you know, only one of those things is going to really give you a profitable, successful business. So you need to be very disciplined. Once you've got those strategic points in place, you need to put in the resources and the structure and the timeframe. So you need to start off loose, and then work down into the detail. And it's almost a bit like a Gantt chart then. So if I'm going to open a business, you say to me, you're going to open something in two years time. So I'll start off with the end result and I'll work backwards, and then I'll work down to a plan for okay, what do I need to do every quarter? How does that break down into every month? How does that break down into every week? And then what are the tasks that need to be doing? So it can get very, very detailed, and I would Imagine if it's, a product or a manufacturing business that you're in that you would need to be that detailed. Perhaps if it's more service oriented, it could be a little bit less particular, but then you put everything into that resources, marketing, finance, everything.
Anthony Story 42:19
And if you need change it, don't be afraid of changing it?
Sue Pilgrim 42:25
Absolutely. But understand why you have to change it. And I think the other important thing is knowing your, what I call your "break even point". So knowing the cost of things to your business, so understanding, for example, how much money you need to be bringing in before you take on that extra member of staff, and then you add in another person, because what will automatically happen when you immediately add somebody in is you will dilute the productivity of the people that you already have. So there'll be a period of time when it's diluted before they're actually contributing, and then you back up to a point where then you need another member of staff. And again, it depends on what kind of industry that you're in.
Anthony Story 42:29
Yeah, we had a chat with the Financial Director, in one of the podcasts we've been doing, and it's just interesting in terms of trying to get that sense of understanding value and risk of taking somebody on and understanding when that's going to be paying back. And then actually trying to predict in the future, in terms, of not worrying about what the books say right now, but worrying what the books are going to be saying in six months time, and then trying to plan what you're doing for that future.
Sue Pilgrim 43:36
Yeah, it's, it's quite difficult, especially if you're in an area that you're not particularly an expert in. I think if you are in an area that you know very well, like for me with recruitment, I would know very well what the productivity levels I'd expect from people after a certain period of times, so I'll kind of know how to plan that out. But if you're actually in something that's quite new to you, then yeah, I understand that that might actually be quite difficult. But I think you should still try and put down milestones still try and put markers in the sand to check yourself against. And of course, look at your competition, and look at benchmarks, look at some industry information. I did a lot of research, when opening things up or doing something new, looking at, you know, what the general market trends or benchmarks are, and I'm sure that there must be a lot of information that people could gain.
Anthony Story 44:41
So we're going to have to wrap up, I think, but I was gonna ask before we do, looking back over your career, what do you think has been the biggest or maybe best decision that you ever made?
Sue Pilgrim 44:55
Well, I have to say, going into the creative sector. I'd been working in recruiting for 20 years before that, on the high street for the first 10 years and in specialist in the healthcare sector and social care, which was actually quite challenging, because, you know, that was really quite important, because it was providing qualified social workers that could have impact on people's lives in a really significant way. So it was quite serious in many respects. And then coming into creative, I'd just sold a healthcare business and had an opportunity to buy in to the business that I took on, and I loved it from day one. I felt exactly the same way I did as when I first got into recruitment, which I equally loved from the minute I came in. I'm very fortunate, 30 odd years, and I've only ever for a period of about 18 months, in a sector I won't mention, and honestly loved every minute of what I'm doing and majority of the time really enjoyed working with the people.
Anthony Story 46:08
Do you think there's a uniqueness around that sort of creative digital tech space?
Sue Pilgrim 46:14
I think and also it's more relaxed. It's not stuffy, like, finance. It's not suited and booted it's a little bit more relaxed. I think people are generally a bit more open, because they are more of the artistic creative nature anyway, it's not the same for necessarily for the real techies. But generally people are a little bit warmer and it's a much more fun atmosphere - just suits me better, suits my personality better.
Anthony Story 46:49
Oh, that's a nice little warm glow to end on! So Sue, thank you so much for talking to me, it's been really interesting getting some of your insights. Thank you.
Sue Pilgrim 46:58
Thanks very much.