Lisa Taylor joined Nigel Wright in 2012, having spent the previous decade and a half at a national competitor. During that time, she’d become a successful financial services, public and not for profit sectors recruiter, hiring Executive and Director level finance talent for North East and Scottish based firms. Accustomed to a certain culture and way of working, leaving a business after 15 years was difficult. She knew that whatever she did next would have to represent a completely different challenge.
Her options at Nigel Wright were varied but finding something that she was personally interested in was key, as she explains: “Recruitment is a process. It takes a certain resilience, commitment and determination to perform the same tasks well, day in day out. More importantly, though, is having an interest in the disciplines and sectors in which you are recruiting. Only a genuine interest will allow you to build the knowledge and expertise to add real value to clients.”
Engineering and Manufacturing fit the bill for Lisa, who highlights how it’s an area which also requires a higher level of knowledge and expertise to the other professional disciplines. As well as there being several niche specialist areas including production, quality, design, health and safety, maintenance and continuous improvement, Lisa notes how these functions are different depending on the sector. Whether its chemicals, food and drink, life sciences or oil and gas, few transferable disciplines exist, which means you need to understand the nuances – i.e. product design, technology, equipment, etc. – of each to engage candidates and meet the expectations of clients. “People don’t appreciate how interesting and complex Engineering and Manufacturing is. There’s always more to learn. Whereas in finance it’s more or less the same.”
Coming from a purely recruitment background, Lisa immediately started adding value to the Engineering and Manufacturing division. This included embedding a more process orientated approach to recruitment, as well as prioritising business development alongside Nigel Wright’s commitment to delivering specialist consultative services. Within two years, she was managing the team.
Since the 2014 appointment of Paul Wilson as CEO, Lisa, together with a new breed of managers, has been helping transform Nigel Wright. Training and development have been key priorities.
Despite recruitment now being attractive to graduates, as well as those seeking a career change, Lisa notes how people don’t understand how difficult the job is. To help those new to recruitment "get up the curve" quicker, Nigel Wright has developed unique internal training programmes, which ensure people learn and do all aspects of the job from the start. A clear development pathway with seven levels from graduate up to Board Director also helps focus people’s goals. “We set high, but not unrealistic standards, and support people’s growth through regular coaching and mentoring. Training is then reviewed and refreshed every 12 months, based on business needs relating to our growth.”
Another area which has seen significant improvement since 2014, is business development. And it’s this tool in particular, where Lisa has added the most value. She explained how Nigel Wright has always focused on delivering a quality consultative service – i.e. one which values knowledge, expertise, and quality of service over a sales or price driven approach – and works hard to help consultants understand the positive impact delivering a consultancy service can have on clients. However, historically, it has relied too much on the passive strength of its brand to win work. Technological advancements in recent years, which have made it easier for people to set up recruitment businesses, means the market is saturated. “With so much competition, being proactive about selling your proposition is essential.”
Previously, new consultants weren’t expected to participate in any business development activities until after one year in the job. This, as Lisa explains, is no longer the case: “Business development is one-third of a recruitment consultant’s job, so it should be a priority from day one, to the point where doing it becomes second nature. However, with client’s receiving several calls and emails every day from multiple agencies, it’s difficult to stand out without being too pushy. Our hands-on training helps makes business development less daunting for those who haven’t done it before while ensuring that it’s conducted in respectful ways that don’t harm our brand.”
Lisa was appointed Associate Director for Engineering, Manufacturing and Supply Chain in 2017, as recognition for her success. She’s continued developing her team’s proposition, with a particular focus on creating expertise across different functional areas and sectors. When hiring consultants, for example, she ensures that if they weren’t previously employed within Engineering, Manufacturing, Supply Chain or in recruitment, that they have a genuine interest in one of those fields. Then, unlike other Nigel Wright teams, consultants aren’t given a geographical focus but instead recruit within one specialist discipline area and sector, deepening their interest and expertise and adding real value to customers.
With many of Nigel Wright’s competitors using generalist consultants recruiting across several Operations disciplines, as well as sectors, this model is different and attractive to clients, as she explains:
“Usually, you only get one chance to make an impression with a client or candidate. Therefore, identifying, engaging and attracting talent in a candidate-short market across every sector and discipline isn’t the best way to guarantee success. Expertise matters. I try to challenge the mentality of consultants, so they add value to clients by advising from a place of knowledge. While the job may be routine, the interest lies in discovering a new business or invention and understanding how talent acquisition can play a role in its growth and development.”
Gaining a new discipline as well as people to her remit, was another way to stretch her skills, while better leveraging her previous knowledge and networks in the not for profit sector. With Supply Chain sitting at either end of manufacturing, the move has also created opportunities for more “progressive ways” to solve clients’ problems, while gaining deeper knowledge still of different industries. “I get frustrated if I’m doing the same thing for too long,” she said, “At Nigel Wright, there are always opportunities to do more, learn new disciplines and work with like-minded people who share the same values.”
As Associate Director for Engineering, Manufacturing and Supply Chain, Lisa has changed the team’s specific approach to business development too. Recruiters, she says, often expect instantaneous results following business development activity. Senior decision makers within the wider Operations discipline, however, are often averse to sales calls and networking. This means a longer-term approach is required, which entails developing consultants’ abilities to build relationships with people over time, rather than focusing on quick-wins. Research, she says, indicates at least six points of contact before the likelihood of a sale: “Patience is important. Consultants must understand that it’s worth investing the time.”
An added value from this business development strategy had been an increase in cross-selling between hers and other Nigel Wright teams. Because of Engineering, Manufacturing and Supply Chain's specialised nuances and the team structure to mirror those, Lisa says her consultants naturally cross-sell opportunities and benefit from delivering quality of service on repeat work. And, as long-term trust is established, they “earn the right” to seek introductions to other areas of clients’ businesses, benefiting colleagues in other teams:
“It’s a conscious strategy and one which has led to more and better work for the whole of Nigel Wright. Many of the manufacturing clients we partner with are large companies, with up to eight different departments in addition to 1000s of employees working in Operations. It’s only right, therefore, that we leverage our business development skills and build in-depth relationships with key people who can influence the rest of the business on our behalf, once we’ve demonstrated our ability to deliver a great service.”
During the next 12 months, Lisa intends to hire more consultants, as well as continue developing people into management roles. She added: “management structure will enable functional specialists to drive greater value for clients, gain important people management experience and springboard the team's next phase of growth."