Ben Debnam started his Nigel Wright career during the recession and had to learn fast and focus his attention on acquiring the skills needed to survive. Within four years, and aged only 26, he became a manager for the first time. Now entering his tenth year at the business, he notes how he still learns something new each day, and that the constant challenges and opportunities presented to him are the reasons why he remains committed to developing his career at the Group.
Nigel Wright takes recruitment careers seriously, says Ben. Each person’s career path and development opportunities at the business are varied. Furthermore, to drive high performance, managers are given the necessary autonomy to achieve their goals and a culture of transparency and accountability amongst the management team means everyone collaborates, shares ideas and facilitates each other’s successes. This is a rare way of working amongst leaders in recruitment, according to Ben, and he sees it as a key differentiator between Nigel Wright and its competitors:
“Competitiveness often breeds contempt rather than collaboration, but that simply isn’t the case at Nigel Wright. Trust and honesty are important and key attributes of our leadership group. We all make mistakes. I’ve made plenty myself, but to learn from your mistakes, you must be accountable and share what you’ve learnt with others.”
Only one member of the current leadership team was hired externally, whereas the others, including Ben, all started their Nigel Wright careers as consultants, and have enjoyed climbing the ladder. They are proof, says Ben, that you can succeed at Nigel Wright if you commit to learning the right skills and behaviours.
Ben was promoted again in 2017 and is now an Associate Director. He inherited responsibility for Nigel Wright’s regional IT recruitment team in addition to the Sales and Marketing team he's led since 2014. Adapting his approach has been essential as he continues to learn how to succeed within ever more complex parameters: “Getting people to understand their team’s vision and how it relates to your plan is important. Everyone must be clear of their expectations and know of the available support to maximise their performance. Information should be transparent too. Sales people are difficult to manage, but if you establish an environment of openness, trust and collaboration then you will engage people, generate new ideas to drive performance, and help everyone achieve their goals.”
Ben’s first year managing the IT recruitment team was focused on understanding the dynamics of the industry and the different disciplines, while observing the team and formulating ways he could develop and modify how it operates. The team, he says, are trusted and respected in the market with an unrivalled knowledge and expertise in the IT sector. Where he saw an opportunity, however, was in repositioning the team to better serve the evolving market, as well as developing a scalable management structure:
“More and more roles within IT are becoming specialised, and many of the roles recruited now didn’t exist five years ago. Establishing three specialist teams – Software, Infrastructure and Contracts – with managers in each area, has allowed us to achieve one hundred percent headcount growth over the last 12 months. We have also retained a huge amount of expertise. Our IT consultants, on average, have worked in recruitment for over 10 years, which gives our clients and candidates a dedicated and knowledge driven service.”
Ben noted how his current team members have up to 25 years’ recruitment experience but managing those more experienced than himself is something he’s always done. Again, trust is important, he says, as is giving senior consultants the necessary autonomy they require, but also knowing the right moment to offer advice and guidance when they need it: “You’re a mentor and a coach, as much as you are a manager. Some team members I speak to everyday, while others require less input. It all comes down to being flexible depending on individual needs.”
Interestingly, Ben highlighted how managing the ‘millennial’ generation has been challenging during the last few years. Because livings costs are so high, over twenty-five percent of under 34 year olds still live with their parents. And even if it’s easier to save when living in the family home, for many young people the security of owning their own home may always be out of reach. This breeds a transient workforce, according to Ben, which makes retaining talent difficult:
“Graduates are more fluid in their careers than previous generations and because finding stability at work is less important, providing employees with meaningful working lives, as well as recognising the impact people make at work, is imperative. Gone are the days of dictatorial managers. You need to take people on a journey – communicating why they’re at work, what they’re here to do, and ensuring they feel part of a team.”
The impact of millennials in the workplace, for Ben, has been bringing poor management practices to the fore. Poor managers are found out and called out by the new generation entering the workforce, he says, and millennials will leave a job without a concrete backup plan if they’re not enjoying it. Structure, learning and communiction have therefore become critical to a leader’s success.
Culture too plays an important part in engaging millennials. During the last two years, Nigel Wright has launched several initiatives to bring its culture in line with modern workplace trends. These include working from home, or during different hours of the day, to meet personal needs. Last year the business also updated its holiday benefits, rewarding employees an extra day’s holiday for every year worked, increasing annual leave to up to 30 days, as well as a four week paid sabbatical for every five years’ service. Recruitment consultants rarely gained these types of benefits, according to Ben, but in an environment of trust and transparency, they actually facilitate engagement and drive performance:
“We set high standards for our consultants, but our expectations of when, where or how they fulfil their roles are now freer. That has been the biggest culture shift at Nigel Wright during the last few years. Technology helps, of course, and setting clear objectives is important too. Building trust over time gives you the confidence that people will do the right thing to meet their targets, and work in a way that complements the needs of their team. That’s incredibly empowering and it shows that we trust and respect our people.”