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I think I’ve finally cracked it. After a mere 18 years in the recruitment industry, I think I’ve finally figured out what it takes to create a high-performing agency. Why has it taken me 18 years you may ask? Well, it may have taken me longer than some, but I would argue that most never realise what I’m about to tell you. Most recruitment firms actually aren’t high-performing. They often contain high-performers but this is very different. High-performing agencies have high-performers from their highest biller to the receptionist. The lowest biller in a truly high-performing agency would still waltz into the vast majority of agencies. Being the lowest biller in a high-performing agency is still a fantastic achievement. My revelation comes after spending the last 6 weeks meeting with almost exclusively high-performing agencies. In the market we serve, we have the luxury of choosing our client base. And I’m actually proud to say I truly believe we work with the very best. And my constant rounds of client visits have lead me to discover what has been hiding in plain sight for 18 years. Before I share this with you, firstly let’s look at the obvious culprits for creating high performance:

Paying lots of money

It’s easy right? Sell your house, start an agency, and go round hiring “names” from all over town. Pay them more than anywhere else, and you’ll be the best recruitment agency around. Wrong. If it were that easy, Private Equity firms would exclusively fund recruitment agencies. And when agencies have tried this, they’ve more often than not imploded. The best agencies in New Zealand don’t pay any more on a basic salary than their average competitors. In fact, it’s often the other way round; blood money to work for a non-premium brand.

Training & Development

Yes, high-performing agencies invest in their people. All of them. However, this is not the genesis of their success. In fact, it is their success which funds training and development. I am a believer in good training, however I also believe that you cannot train most people to do most jobs to a high-performing level. The best trainer could not take the average person and make them a high-performing recruiter. In the same way that you could not put the average person through a law degree, medical school, or electrical apprenticeship , and expect them to excel. We are all mostly useless, but we are all excellent at something. To train a high-performing recruiter, they need to start with some untrainable key ingredients. Yeah, I said it.

A fantastic working environment

I have seen some beautiful offices of late, and it certainly makes a difference in both attracting great recruiters, and keeping them happy whilst on the job. Sadly, people soon get used to their environment. When I first came to New Zealand, I worked at the fantastic Generator co-working space. Back in 2011, an office with a bar, exposed brickwork, and plenty of hot chicks, really was quite the thing. Within a comparatively short period of time, all these benefits were standard to me, and a skid-mark in the toilet is still a skid-mark in the toilet. Like training and development, flash offices are the outcome of success, not the cause.

Hiring big billers

This would seem obvious. Buy business by hiring big billers. There are a few problems with this however. Firstly, big billers are very hard to move, especially if they are running a contracting desk. Billing anything about $600k takes some serious work. Work that most would struggle to walk away from. And whilst you spend months wooing that $900k biller from a competitor, opportunity (and therefore revenue) is passing you by. In fact, you can spend so long holding out for that big biller, that your natural staff attrition puts you even further behind 12 months later. There is also another potential hazard with hiring these big billers. Often you are targeting a competitor’s top (financial) performer. They have become used to getting their own way. The late starts. The two Candidate Managers. The foot massages. Big billers usually have big expectations and even bigger egos.


The number one factor in creating a truly high-performing Recruitment Agency is to set high revenue expectations, and never compromising on this.

I know. It sounds too simplistic to be true, but hear me out. Most agencies grow as follows; A high-performing recruiter or recruiters decide that they can make more money and provide a better service by going it alone. He/she/they set up an agency and get billing. They are of course successful, and build up funds to bring on their first staff members. At first, standards are high, but they feel they can’t be too high as they are concerned that high-performers might not want to join a start-up. Already, a decline in expectation begins. As they grow, they feel they can take more chances on hiring decisions. Their Accountant works out their “break even”, and as long as Consultants are north of this number, it’s profit. The break even for a Recruiter (before commission) in the Auckland market is probably about $15k/month. So a Consultant billing $20k a month is still $60k profit. Get 10 of these and you have a business. A poorly-performing business. Many globals find themselves in this trap – where a $400k year will see you promoted. However, when $400k becomes great, $350k becomes good. And so the bar continues to be lowered, and it’s very difficult to raise it. Great businesses do it differently. They are not afraid to hire someone who bills $300k/year. However, on day 1, this Recruiter sees recruiters more junior to them billing $600k. Instantly, their own bar is raised. Call it manifesting, but it’s amazing what we’re all capable of when an expectation is placed upon us. Like Fergie era Manchester United, when there are no excuses for not being exceptional, we tend to perform exceptionally. When we set out an expectation at the start, and stop making excuses for ourselves and others, we are much more likely to be high-performers. Surrounding ourselves with successful people only makes us more successful. And this is what I’ve seen every time amongst our best performing clients.

Anyway, that’s enough serious stuff from me for a while. I’d love to hear how wrong you think I am.