Category: Vision

Why “added value” makes me want to punch myself in the face

Halfway through a conversation I had to refrain from punching myself in the face as I realised I was falling victim to the buzzword de jour, and in doing so devaluing my job, experience and that of my team.

The conversation went something like this:

“So this new process will mean less time spent doing X and more time spent…”

I paused… and slowly saw a smile creeping onto the face of the person with whom I was speaking.

“You were about to say ‘adding value’ weren’t you?”

“I was, and now I hate myself,” was my reply.

Like most buzzwords over time they lose their meaning and start to drift further into the ether of abstract corporate waffle.  Adding value could literally mean anything.  When I talk about my team and what we do on a day to day basis “adding value” is possibly the weakest way of describing it.

We aren’t “adding value” – we are working with our clients to help them use complicated tools in simple ways.  We are helping them to achieve their goals through intelligent marketing.  We are sharing the experience and knowledge that we have amassed over years of study, from countless books read and from the tens of thousands of client interactions.

Is that adding value?  Of course it is!  But to belittle ourselves by referring to it in such an abstract and feeble manner is not self-deprecating; it is bloody ridiculous.

The 5 stories every business should tell

It was a great pleasure to be on stage at Social RecruitIn with Eamon Collins, Group Marketing Director for Page Group, and Paul Farrer, Founder and Chairman of Aspire presenting on how to build an engaging digital strategy.


Before we could write we told stories.

Oral tradition – or the original stories – was how we passed on messages, shared experiences, educated future generations and created what would one day become known as history.  In illiterate communities around the world there still remains a strong oral tradition where the elders educate youths through stories.

Old relaxed man, looking through glasses, Varanasi Benares India

In his research paper historical psychologist Dr Hodge states that “storytelling typically [took] place in a relaxed and nonthreatening environment. Customarily, the setting [was] a quiet place where everyone [could] comfortably sit.”

Today people today listen, read and watch stories everywhere: in their homes, their offices or their local Starbucks.  Stories are weaved through everything we do, and we tell stories to everyone we meet.   What we tell, and how we tell these stories defines us.

Who would you want to sit next to at a dinner party?  Who would you make your best-man?  Who would you call when you are bored?  The person who tells the best stories.

Even looking back at the word “Story” tells us something…

The entomology of the word History comes from the Greek “histor” for “learned wise man” and then evolved into “historia” which meant “narrative”.  Later through Latin it became the word we use today: “history”.   The origins of the word “Story” come from Middle English where it was used to denote “a historical account”.

The number one reason for telling stories is that they have the ability to be remembered.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling

Stories last. 

Long after we have forgotten the data points, the slides, the general content, we still remember the stories.  In fact people interviewed after presentations almost always remember the stories and only one or two pieces of data.

Before we could write, we drew pictures.

We found that drawing the message helped to make it memorable, and we could save that content for longer.  Aboriginal art is some of the earliest forms of storytelling in art.

aboriginal art work
Our minds are pretty simple and we still react more positively to images than we do to the written word.  They say a picture says a thousand words – well it can.

The way we use stories and images allow us to drive people to action.   In her book Resonate, LinkedIn Influencer Nancy Duarte talks about this at length.   If your story resonates with your audience you will get them to do something.   Like waves on an ocean you can make the listener go up, or go down, backwards, or forwards.


Most importantly we help other to tell our stories for us.  Social media has made the sharing and passing on of stories easier than ever.  In exactly the same way people had stories to share their message, their values and their visions – today businesses have stories to tell.   The stories we tell as businesses dictate how much we sell, the loyalty of our customers and the growth we experience over time.


To make it easy I’ve come up with 5 stories that we should all be able to tell – as individuals, but also as businesses.

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • My mission
  • What I do
  • What that means for you

Who am I?

This should be an introduction to you or your business.  It is essential that it is easy to tell across multiple channels and be as relevant on the homepage of your website, your LinkedIn company page as it is being told over the phone by your recruiter.  Every person in your business needs to know this inside out.

Why am I here?

What is the purpose of this conversation or this content that you are making me read?  What are you trying to achieve?  Be up front about the objective.

My Mission.

Explain what you / your business stands for.  This is your values and your mission statement as well as your motivations.

What I do.

Your mission should be more “why” and this is more “how”.   Find your USP – your unique selling proposition and explain it to your audience.

My colleague Eelco recently said that we should no long use the term USP.   Instead we should discuss the UBR – the unique buying reason; the reason that people buy instead of the reason we sell.

What that means for you.

Complete the circle and give case studies and testimonials.  It is essential that you have success stories that demonstrate how you have achieved your mission through what you do.

The Five Stories

In practice how can we do this?
Imagine that each of these stories moves your audience from a place where they don’t know you to a place where they are ready to do business with you.  Take them on this journey through the stories you tell.

the five stories

To give you an example of how I’ve used this in the past, here is how I raised money when running a marathon earlier this year…

Meet Seb.  He is trapped behind a lamp post.  The first story I told was about being a dad… now I know that everyone who knows me knows that I am a dad, however sometimes people need a reminder.  I wanted to increase the likelihood of people seeing my future updates and engaging with them and we know that engagement today – a like or a comment – reduced the friction for future engagement.  Facebook has a system called Edgerank which means that if I generate interactions from my posts my other posts are more likely to come up in my friends’ feeds in the future.


I then sent out an email (click here for the full email) explaining that my son, from the previous picture, had a favorite film: the Jungle Book.  When the book was written there were over 10 million elephants word-wide.  Today there are around 600,000.  I was going to run a marathon to raise money so that my son could grow up in a world with elephants and so could his kids.

Then I shared my charity Just Giving page that cemented the “Why” with more information on poachers and a few videos from the BBC talking about poachers.

just giving
How was I going to do this?  By running.  So I updated all of my profile pictures across social media to a picture of me running a half marathon for charity the previous year and shared these images across the net.

Then I closed the loop by explaining how this would help.  I then told a story about Raj, a 70 year old blind elephant I met in an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka which was funded by charities like the one that I was running for.

At each step I told a story that made it personal, that could be related to and that would resonate.

This campaign – and do consider this to be a campaign – helped me to raise over £3,000 for charity without having to beg and pester.  I was able to take people from not being aware of my aim, to a point where they would happily donate to a charity I cared about.

Every business should know the stories they want to tell and how they want to tell them.  Look at your business and establish how you can use these to your advantage.

Watch the video here…

Below are the slides from the presentation that I gave…

Why no one likes recruiters (…yet)

Although recruiters help millions of people to get jobs world wide they still have a negative brand. There are many reasons to dislike recruiters.  Interviewing with several as a recent graduate gave me some insight into why the industry has the reputation it does.

My first group interview was with about eighty other recent grads in a conference centre in London.  Out of the eighty, about sixty were guys.  Of those sixty, fifty-nine wore suits and ties.  One chap sitting in the second row was the odd one out.  Forgot your tie for a recruitment interview?  Big mistake.  Between 0800 and the 1230 lunch break the main interviewer, an overweight middle aged man with a sweaty face and pinkie ring, a sergeant major / banker type, bullied him incessantly.  Needless to say that at 1300, once back in interview-mode, Mr. Sans Tie was nowhere to be seen.  The interviewer couldn’t have been happier with himself!  “Survival of the fittest” he said.  Obviously he didn’t have what it took to be a recruiter.

After lunch we watched video clips from Boiler Room, Wall Street, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart framed as “motivational” in preparation for the group activities that we would undertake shortly.

The activity part descended into all sorts of absurd.  The interviewers and supervisors took notes of the people shouting the loudest.  This was a good thing apparently.  Heads nodded as the room got louder and louder, although not a single activity was completed properly.

For the final hurdle, at 1730 we presented and pitched ourselves to a panel of interviewers.  By this time I knew the job wasn’t for me and my heart wasn’t in it.

But much to my own amazement this wasn’t the last time I would interview for a recruitment job.  At another group interview we were asked what interested us about going into recruitment.

One girl piped up, “I’d like to help people get a job.”
Silence…  And then a roar of laughter.
“Hey Marisa get a load of this – she wants to get into recruitment to help people get a job!  Ha!  If you want to help people get jobs you want to apply to the Job Centre.  Recruitment is about making money.”

Once in recruitment I loved it.  I still do.  Even though I don’t recruit today I’ve remained dedicated to the industry.

What kept me keen through the raft of poor interviews was the fact that I had been offered a job by a guy who, in my mind, sums up what recruitment should be.  He took a chance on a guy fresh out of university, treated him with respect, gave him advice and helped him to get on the career ladder.  He was diligent, cared about my prospects and managed my expectations.

I was lucky enough to have this guy as my boss in recruitment.  He taught me so much that I continue to use daily.  The job was about being tenacious, respectful, smart, having integrity, working hard and having fun.  His recommendation to always manage expectations has stuck with me.  The experience of being a recruiter – for me at least – was nowhere near as horrific as those interviews.  To this day I am thankful to have met Chris Birley so early on in my career.

Maybe I fell into the right crowd, or maybe I was part of the new generation of recruiters who were moving away from the wannabe bankers of the ‘90s.  It would seem I had just missed the era of tie-cutting (if you wore an ugly or flashy tie in one well known agency it was cut off) and the pocket tearing (another agency was well famed for ripping pockets from shirts because they looked cheap).

Tie cutting

For me, being in the recruitment industry, these tales of the “old days” make me laugh.  Those horrible interviews were just something that I went through – kissing the proverbial frog – before I found where I really wanted to do and where I wanted to do it.  We joke about what recruitment was like and we can laugh guilt-free because for the most part it isn’t like that anymore.  And for the record I have meet with thousands of recruiters across the UK and Europe and very rarely do I see a throwback to the naughty ‘90s.  Today the boiler-room offices, drill sergeants, tie-cutters are a thing of yesteryear.

The problem today is that the damage was already done.  We have put a lot of people off recruitment.

If I was one of eighty people interviewing with that one agency every two weeks, then they probably saw 2,080 people in a year.  I would assume they would probably only go to hire five to ten of those people per session.  Of those hires 60% of those would leave in the first year.  So they would hire 208 and keep 83 after the first year.  2,000 people would have gone through that experience to be rejected, fired or quit.  Alarm bells start to sound.

The interviewees were selected because they were graduates with average to good grades and certain characteristics which meant they would likely go into a professional working environment.

What are those 2,000 people doing today?  What is their view of recruitment agencies? What did they take away from that episode?  Scale this out – how many other recruitment agencies were there doing the same thing, giving that same message, creating this same image in all of those peoples’ minds?

Today recruiters complain that their clients don’t treat them like partners.  What a surprise.  They don’t like you!  Not liking someone means that the last thing you want to do is give them your hard earned cash.

So many recruiters tell me that their unique selling proposition to new clients is that they are different.  Different from all the rest of the recruiters.  All the other agencies that people dislike.

When they explain how they are different it tends to go along the lines of “we listen to our clients’ needs”, “we are diligent”, “we are tenacious”, “we are respectful”, “we work smart”, “we have integrity”, “we work hard and are fun”.  Shouldn’t that be a given?  That is the stuff I learnt in my first job out of university.  Why are we selling on that?  I guess because the expectation is that it won’t happen.

The recruitment industry has a brand issue.

How could we make the recruitment industry less loathed?  It is time to reconnect with the people we work with: our candidates and clients.  They need to trust us.  The industry needs to show that it cares.

Listening to clients’ and candidates’, being diligent, tenacious, respectful, intelligent, having integrity, working hard and being fun has to be a given.  In addition to that; what are we doing?  As we move to a world where everything is global and faceless (just picture the 30,000 McDonalds around the world) the idea that a business cares about you as an individual seems alien.  It shouldn’t be.  It is time to demonstrate that recruitment truly is a people business.  We should care about the individual, the place they are from, the industry that they are in.

How many recruiters give back to the community that they work in?  How many technical or engineering recruiters support local schools and universities to promote STEM skills?  How many IT recruiters ensure that local underprivileged schools have computers?  How many recruiters do pro-bono work for charities?  Which recruiters spend time with the long term unemployed trying to get them back to work?

For the last half a decade we have been in a recession and many recruiters have certainly struggled.  Thousands of businesses went bust.  I appreciate that it may have been tough to do extra-curricular activities alongside the day to day job then, but as we move into a time where the economy is turning and recruiters start to make more money, we have time and resources to change that.

Once the overwhelming majority of recruiters reach a minimum standard of practice, then Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) could well be the answer to the recruitment industry’s bad brand.  Recruitment agencies can find ways of giving back, and demonstrate that there is more to the industry than the bad press shows.  If we can show that our clients’ recruitment fees aren’t going straight to the nearest Porsche garage and instead a portion of it is being reinvested into society that is a start.

Many recruitment agencies already do charitable work, but often this isn’t publicised and shared widely.

Working with Tangent International has shown me the true value of implementing a CSR policy.  Simon Dear, the CEO of Tangent, shared his experience in this space.  In addition to talking about their CSR they also publish their activities online and have a standalone website dedicated to their charitable work.

Simon Dear

Having a Corporate Social Responsibility policy for the past four years has been a wholly positive experience for Simon, and the business.

“We wanted to bring together a few elements; our support of charities, environmental awareness, responsibility to our staff – and CSR was the perfect route to achieve this.

“I think we have always been a decent, flexible, caring, company.  Because we are a decent, flexible, caring, company naturally.  But we also understood that side of us had intrinsic value in terms of developing and retaining business.  As one customer said, ‘I know you are nice, make sure the rest of my company does too.’”

Being nice doesn’t work on its own.  Tangent do the basics and they them well, so with this extra dimension they have something more than most of the other recruitment businesses.  Today a number of Tangent’s largest clients expect CSR commitments and demand to see proof of socially conscious actions as part of their tender process.“On one occasion we wouldn’t have won the client’s business.  That is how significant CSR has become.”

When a multi-national, multi-billion dollar business showed their major shareholders the Tangent CSR website at their main AGM the true magnitude of what they had created sunk in.

Tangent International's CSR site

“We appreciate that our CSR policy has business benefits but really we do enjoy helping the communities in which we work and helping our staff get involved.

“We have tried to direct our fundraising initiatives towards sporting and outdoor activities which promotes healthy pastimes in and out of work.  As a result our staff have embraced this entering Tough Guy challenges, the London Marathon, the Mulburry Mud Run [Tangent is actually a main sponsor for the event], among other sporting events around the globe.  Our team is even healthier as a result!”

As an international recruitment business it isn’t only local initiatives that Tangent have been involved in.  They have gone further afield looking to disadvantaged communities in the countries in which they operate.  Tangent sponsor a football team in Malawi and a cricket team in the Middle East.  Charity work that they undertake makes a difference and is incredibly relevant to the target audience of their candidates, clients and consultants.

But Tangent’s main charity is closer to home: Little Havens Children’s Hospice.  “We have had talks at our company day from representatives of the hospice and from a parent who had a child at the hospice – this was incredibly moving.”  Additionally, with many of the company’s employees having visited the hospice it has made them more determined to make a positive impact.

Tangent Havens Hospice

Seeing the impact that CSR has had at Tangent from a client perspective demonstrates the value of implementing a policy.  I am sure candidates will be equally as positive about their charitable work.

But CSR goes further than just giving a recruitment firm the opportunity to win more business and make more placements.  It can also be used to help drive your employee value proposition, increase the number of prospective applicants to the business and help to retain staff.  Everyone wants to work for an organisation that they feel proud of, and what better way to achieve this than by working as a collective towards a shared vision and positively impacting local causes through charitable work.  Talking about your CSR policy as part of your recruitment process certainly helps to demonstrate the fact that there is more to your business than just making placements and making money.

If we can change the brand of recruitment by doing the basics right every time, we have a foundation to build on.  Working with the communities, people and regions that we support as recruiters through charitable efforts could change the face of recruitment for the better and for good.


Steal the Process – Not the Logo

“I like what they’ve done.  It really means something to me.  Why don’t we do the same thing?”  Yes!  Fantastic.  If you are inspired by something you should steal it.  Not the outcome, but the process.

“Imitation is the sincerest of flattery”
Charles Caleb, 1820

The outcome – the brand, the logo, the strapline, the website, the office layout, the business idea or whatever – might be incredible.  But it won’t work for you.  Or at least it won’t entirely work for you.

If something means something to you that probably means that the other party have thought long and hard about how to make it resonate.  The outcome wasn’t predetermined… but their process probably was.

Cops and RobbersIn recruitment; look at a business like Hays or Michael Page.  Each of these businesses has a clear message to market.  You know what to expect if you go to an interview or if you appoint them to fill one of your roles.  They are run by people with visions and direction.  You can’t set up a Pays or a Michael Hage tomorrow in a bid to do exactly what they do in exactly the same way.  It doesn’t work because you aren’t the same.  You don’t have the same people, history, culture, vision or direction.

The brand of a business is about the way it looks, but it also goes much further and deeper.  The brand affects the way you respond to a business, how people feel about an organisation and how employees act in their jobs.

Don’t spend your time copying other brands or businesses – but take the time to do what they have gone through.

The 5 Steps to Steal:
What do you want to achieve?  Who are you?  What is your big idea?  What is your purpose?  How are you different?  What are your values?

Create the message
How do you explain your purpose?  What is your vision?  How do you show that you are different?  How can your people live your culture?

Create the identity
How do you sound?  How do you look?  What is the experience you are delivering?

Build it
Create.  Design.  Write.  Paint.

Ship it
Get your message out to the world.  Make sure that whichever channel you use there is a clear and consistent message that outlines your purpose, your vision, and how you are different.

And guess what: if you are lucky enough to have people trying to copy your brand it means you are doing something right.  Imitation is flattery.  The truth is that they aren’t the same as you and be able to pull it off with authority.  People can smell a fake a mile off.

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