The cupboard has been unlocked, the heavy door groaned backwards, and from the musty semi-darkness here it comes. On squeaky wheels, with 2011’s words still faintly visible, The Whiteboard rattles and shakes its way into the bright lights of Recruitment 2012.
I love this time of year. The phone and e-mails hum quietly, sporadically, non-intrusively and it is actually possible to get everything done. The commute across the bridge is oh so dreamy. And hey, as I look out the window right now, it is glorious sunshine in Auckland! It is also the time of year that excites many a football fan, as the 3rd Round of the FA Cup kicks off (the round when the Premiership teams join in the fabled contest).
And this year the Magic of the Cup got off to a flyer. No, I’m not referring to Macclesfield’s 2-2 draw with Bolton, I ‘m afraid. I’m referring to the return of an Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry, on loan from New York Red Bulls for 6 weeks. Henry is Arsenal’s greatest ever goal scorer and won a host of silverware in his time at the club between 1999 – 2007. Due to a hiatus in the American league’s season he was training with Arsenal in London to keep fit. Facing an upcoming shortage of strikers due to the African Cup of Nations (and their inability to actually score goals anyway, apart from the mercurial Van Persie), Arsene Wenger was swayed by what we in recruitment all know as the Contractor Solution. Yep, he plumped for interim workforce solutions and decided to plug the gap in his “project” with some experienced and immediately-available talent.
Arsenal have won nothing since the time of Henry & Co in the Noughties so there was a frisson of excitement and anticipation amongst fans to see him sitting with the players on the bench, and warming up throughout the game, during Arsenal’s FA Cup match against Leeds on Monday night. The obdurate Leeds team, playing for a draw, managed to blunt the Arsenal attack and the match seemed to petering out towards a frustrating 0-0 draw. So with 20 minutes to go, Wenger played his wild card and re-introduced Henry to the pitch in the stadium he had been so instrumental in building. 10 minutes later Henry collected a pass in the box. With the kind of touch you either have or you don’t, he effortlessly controlled the ball, taking it away from the defender, and in one fluid motion curled it around the goalkeeper’s dive and inside the far post for the winning goal.
Cue pandemonium, raw passion from fans and player alike, and overflowing sentimentality from trophy-starved fans who in an instant were reminded why it is they love the sport so much. The legend had returned. Not playing for selfish reasons. Not playing purely for money. Not trying to use the club to showcase his skills to more glamorous clubs around Europe. An Arsenal fan to the core, he celebrated with the fans, as one of them, before running to hug his mentor Arsene Wenger on the touch-line.
Warm and fuzzies abound. But it isn’t always this way when an ex-employee returns, particularly in our recruitment industry, and especially on the agency side. In all my years doing rec-to-rec recruitment, the instances of recruiters returning to agencies they previously worked for are very rare indeed, and even more rare is the number of times it actually works out for all parties involved.
If a recruiter quits their workplace for another agency, unless they are leaving under a particularly dark cloud, it is quite common for their line manager or Director to assure them the door is always open for them to return should things not work out. But really, deep down, this is often pure lip-service. It is the thing to say. In reality there just seems to be too much pride, ego, and emotion in the agency world for this to fly. Sure, sometimes the grass isn’t greener, and the move doesn’t work out. But most recruiters do what they do because they are competitive, proud, and willing to push themselves beyond the comfort zone. Whilst returning to an old employer is nice and cosy (you know the systems, the processes, the best place to park, the cafe downstairs know how to make your coffee just so) it just goes against everything in a recruiter’s make up to return, cap in hand, and quietly pick up where they left off.
The best recruiters are ridiculous optimists and they never like to admit defeat. So, it is little wonder the agency recruitment world rarely experiences the kind of legendary return witnessed at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Monday night. There are well-documented examples of this working spectacularly well in the wider business world. Steve Jobs’ revolutionary return to Apple. Matt Pontin’s reappearance at Fulton Hogan.
But I very rarely see it working in the agency recruitment world, and in an industry of relatively high staff turnover, this is kind of surprising. I wonder, as we continue our painstaking recovery from recession, whether we will see many ex-employees joining up with old teams again, working under old manager’s again, building up their old portfolios again?
It would seem an obvious pattern to witness. But I very much doubt it will.