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People and management development the key to growth

Eight years since joining Nigel Wright, Richard Morgan’s sights are still firmly focused on expanding the regional business of the North East’s largest recruiter, while developing his own successful career at the firm. Right from the start of his Nigel Wright journey, Richard notes, he was told if he consistently proved himself, he’d enjoy a rewarding career. And throughout his time at the business, moving through the ranks from Consultant right up to Associate Director, he’s been challenged to achieve more with his efforts recognised, helping him realise his ambitions.

Things haven’t always been plane sailing, though, as Richard recalls. Two major issues were prevalent which stifled Nigel Wright’s ability to take a leap in growth. Firstly, although several experienced people were intuitively doing the right things, without an adequate training programme in place, tacit knowledge and skills were not being transferred down through the business. And secondly, the company, Richard noted, was too tolerant of underperformers, carrying them along and allowing their negativity to impact the mood of the office. Everything changed, however, when Paul Wilson was appointed CEO in 2014.

Straight away, according to Richard, Paul Wilson recognised and rewarded talented engaged people in the firm by pushing responsibility downward. His message was clear: take on responsibility and thrive or shun it and don’t. It was exactly the career challenge Richard and many of his peers were determined to undertake. Four years on, the results speak for themselves. Following three record years, the Net Fee Income of Nigel Wright’s reginal business is currently thirty percent up from its previous financial year. This, Richard says, is testament to the leadership which now runs right throughout the business:

“Those on the regional leadership team have each developed their careers during the last four years and evolved into director level roles together. As a group, we’ve focused on creating training programmes and we now have an outstanding development programme up to senior management level. Yes, we have high expectations around performance, but the right support is in place along with the knowledge, experience and capability distilled across the leadership team to get individuals up to the next level.”

Furthermore, Richard highlighted, helping underperformers move on quicker has made working life better for everyone, and leaders now recognise and reward successful behaviours, boosting levels of engagement, while ensuring that all consultants are clear, from day one, the service and performance they’re expected to deliver.

The beginning of its 2016-17 financial year marked a milestone for Nigel Wright. The regional leadership team had evolved to the point that the group were ready to set a coherent and ambitious five-year plan — aiming to double the revenue of the regional business by 2022. Launching a new office in Wynyard was a key part of this, as was building capability into its temporary recruitment practice while establishing a presence in Cumbria and North Yorkshire. Underpinning all these activities, however, was commitment to invest significant time into developing the next generation of managers as Richard explains:

“This was the immediate action point we focused on at the start of our five-year plan. We knew if we didn’t have this robust layer of talent, we would stem our growth at a critical time. Regional management capability would also be a major factor in us growing ahead of our competition. The first phase was identifying who we wanted in our management development programme. Then, we created a programme which allowed people to learn on the job, complemented by formal training delivered by internal and external trainers. Eighteen months on and we have several new managers, plus others coming through the ranks. Their success has undoubtedly contributed to our recent growth.”

Having spent the last twelve months building the confidence of new managers, the next step, Richard says, is to expand their teams. This pattern of progression, he highlighted, is present across Nigel Wright’s regional business, covering all discipline areas. Some senior hires were introduced to the business too, to fast-track Nigel Wright’s expansion into the temp recruitment market, but Richard says those who have held management roles elsewhere are enjoying accelerated learning on the firm’s management training programme and on the job support:

“Management jobs at Nigel Wright are different to those of our competitors. We give responsibility early on in specific areas of business planning, recruitment, people engagement and development as well as market insight. On several occasions during the last year I’ve pushed my management team over a cliff edge with the challenges they’ve faced, expanding their comfort zone, but always being there to catch them at the bottom.”

Richard is confident that current and future managers will allow the business to grow rapidly over the next few years.  Furthermore, he added, having people progress through the firm drives engagement and raises productivity. Instead of performance plateauing during the previous year while waiting for new managers to reach their potential, Nigel Wright’s regional growth trajectory surpassed expectations. Delighted with the results of these early training endeavours, Richard believes the real return on investment will be during the next five years. Between now and 2022, he noted, training will become more sophisticated making Nigel Wright even more impactful in the market, further setting it apart from competitors.

With a unique proposition offering scale and reach to outgun big recruiters, but also quality service, close relationships and market expertise to compete with boutique suppliers, Nigel Wright has enjoyed several new client wins in a buoyant 18 months. Significantly, Richard highlighted, larger clients are working with Nigel Wright across multiple areas of their business, enjoying a consistency of service. Some big multidiscipline project wins include HC-One, Nobia, Gentoo, Formica, TMD Friction, ZyroFisher and Engie – all, according to Richard, are a success and ongoing. Another recent example Richard was keen to highlight was appointing a new FD for Barbour, he explains:

“Barbour were attracted by our unique proposition – knowledge and expertise in the finance discipline combined with international networks across the European consumer industry. I, as Director for Finance Recruitment, teamed up with my counterpart Robin Morle, the Director for our consumer industry practice in the North, to deliver this assignment. We also liaised with colleagues across our international network of offices, receiving several referrals for good candidates. The successful candidate was an individual working for Amazon in Luxembourg seeking to relocate to the North East. Identifying him is testament to our networks and collaborative approach.”

This ‘one team’ culture, Richard says, shines through in Nigel Wright’s service. Rather than adopting an “everyman for himself” approach indicative of recruitment agencies in general, consultants at the firm are trained in service delivery and leaders reinforce building sustainable relationships and competing on value not price.  He added: “We'll consider clients’ problems and find the best way to solve them. Our structure, too, helps us win work at all levels. Each discipline area has a manager or director with networks up to Board level. We don’t need a generic executive search team, but rather all our director level search is delivered by discipline and sector experts. This sets us apart from competitors.”

Nigel Wright is on the up, but Richard says the business isn’t complacent. The market is the best it’s been during his recruitment career and, in these conditions, expansion should be a foregone conclusion. But only through hard work and ongoing commitment to developing people, while introducing new talent to the business bringing with it drive and ambition, will guarantee results and help Nigel Wright achieve its five-year plan.

In conclusion, Richard notes that the most significant thing Nigel Wright offers is a career and not just a job, as well as a happy working life. Culturally, too, Nigel Wright has worked hard to ease the burden of what is a “tough profession.” Initiatives such as uniting the back-office staff with recruitment teams and offering flexible working so employees can better fit careers around their lives have made for a happier working environment.  In Richard’s words:

“We listen to our people and have leaders setting the right tone. I enjoy coming to work and being surrounded by intelligent, high calibre, ambitious colleagues who share the same values as me. It’s not a chore coming to work and to see people enjoying themselves is refreshing. When we get together as a company or in our teams to celebrate, people are not simply showing their faces. They genuinely enjoy spending time with colleagues. That’s really powerful.”

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