Are you looking to adapt to a changing business environment and better understand how to attract and retain top talent? On this episode of The Staffing Show, Suky Sodhi of Professional Selection Inc. shares what she has learned from her time in the staffing industry, including the importance of being cognizant of the employee experience and how work environments and expectations have changed during the pandemic.

 

David Folwell: Thank you everybody for joining us today at The Staffing Show, super excited to be joined by Suky Sodhi. Suky, why don’t you go ahead and start off by just telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got into staffing?

Suky Sodhi: Okay. Hi, thanks for having me. Oh my God, who am I and how did I get into staffing? Because you can tell I’m a Brit. Started my career back home in the UK, I now live in Canada, in Toronto, Canada. How did I get into staffing? Honestly, I walked into a staffing agency and said, “I need a job. I do not want to be sitting behind a desk, I do not want to be an admin, no disrespect. I don’t want two days to be the same.” And they said, “Well, have you thought of the recruitment industry?” And I’m like, “No, what does somebody in the recruitment industry do?” And honestly, that was it.

I joined a company called Prime Time, which was the UK’s largest private launch. The founders there, oh my God, they taught me, I stayed eight years with them, taught me everything I know. And you’re probably going to ask me what they taught me so I’m going to tell you. They said to me, sort out your handshake, never let anyone see you cry, and learn to drink. Seriously, I loved the eight years with those guys. But that was my intro into staffing.

Folwell: That’s fantastic, that’s fantastic. So in terms of what you’re doing now, I mean it looks like you’ve been running, I think was it 20 plus years now with Professional Selection Inc.? Tell me a little bit about your business and what you guys do.

Sodhi: For sure, for sure. So as I said, I lasted eight years with Prime Time back home in the UK. Burnt-out, went to work for a normal agency. So bored, I was so bored. I think I lasted maybe seven or eight months. And I kind of set up Professional Selection at that stage, my own business. So up until 2005 I’d done data securities across Amir, so I’m somebody that believes in specializing. Find your niche and dominate it. So I was doing data securities across Amir, so Network Associates, Veritas those guys. And how I actually ended up doing what I’m doing today is actually quite an interesting story.

So back in 2004 I had a client that I’d launched internationally, so all their Amir team executive hires were mine. And they’re a Canadian company called Shred It, and the founder of that company has said to me, “You’re never coming to any of our annual kickoffs.” So of course sure, I’ll turn up. So it was September 2004, I’m at one of their conferences. The founder’s name was Greg Brophy who’s unfortunately passed away since then, and he offered me his North American business. I thought, ”Hmm, never thought of that.”  So of course went back home, spoke to my husband. We thought, “should we make the move?” Now those of you that know Canada, we go knee deep in snow. It’s cold. So we had to come over at Christmas and see if we could cope with the snow.

So we’d done that December, March 2005 I’d registered the business. April 2005, 5th of April 2005 I turned up, me and the kids, had an acquaintance there and thought, oh, I got to start my business. And at that time I flipped verticals. So although Greg brought me here, I decided to change verticals and I went into what’s known as Rec2Rec. And you’re probably wondering what is that? And that literally is recruiting for the recruitment industry. So all my clients globally are staffing agencies, search firms, and that’s the lane I play in.

Folwell: That’s amazing. And I actually, when we started connecting about this podcast I was going through your website, reviewing things. I saw the Rec2Rec, super intrigued, I had to actually go out and Google it and learn a little bit more. And tell me, dig in a little bit on that and tell me kind of how do you guys work? How do you work with a staffing firm? Why the staffing firms come to you versus doing them? They have a team of recruiters I imagine.

Sodhi: Oh, my favorite question, my favorite objection. Here’s the thing, you’re an expert in recruiting for X verticals, so say accounting and finance. You’re not the expert in Rec2Rec, I am the expert in Rec2Rec. So one of the reasons clients come to me, there’s multiple reasons, but one is their time is better spent recruiting in their niche for their clients. So that’s one thing. Secondly, we have access to a passive talent pool. Think about it, can you imagine if you are working at a search firm, staffing firm and you put on LinkedIn whilst you’re still employed, “Open to new opportunities guys!” Rightly or wrongly our industry would, the employer would react. So we’ve created a safe place. And not only that, we have the market intel. You’d be shocked at how many of my clients actually speak to us before launching in a new vertical, and we come back to them with the market intel that’s relevant to what they’re trying to do.

And off the back of that during COVID we launched the, we took our coaching practice international, our coaching and training practice. So again, working within the staffing industry so I know who’s looking. And of course the flip side of that, from a client perspective, we do a lot a lot of hires, and our latest one, by the way, can I plug that I’ve recruited in 18 countries?

Folwell: Yes, absolutely. I was about to bring it up.

Sodhi: Let me plug that bit. So one of my global clients was last year looking to do a net new launch in Guyana, South America, but they didn’t want the market to know until they’d hired the individual. They came to us and we were able to confidentially source that individual, and they were able to announce their expansion when the time was right for them. So exactly the same reason your clients use you.

Folwell: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing to think about that. I haven’t heard of many staffing firms that are using a Rec2Rec recruiting firm like yourself.

Sodhi: You’d be shocked.

Folwell: As you talk about it it makes a lot of sense. And it’s also, when you think about the conversations I have with agencies, they’re like, “oh, we’re thinking about expanding to this market.” But they don’t know what the salary rate is, they don’t know how hard it’s going to be to find the right people, they don’t know what it’s going to be like to source candidates in that market. And you probably are working with all of those people, have that intel that you can then share with them.

Sodhi: One of the things I find really fascinating is when people are trying to do an international launch into a new country, and they rinse and repeat their model. I’m going to stick with us Brits because that’s where I am. We think just because our model worked in the UK it’s going to work in America, it’s going to work in South Africa, it’s going to work in Germany, it’s going to work in Canada. No, no. I learned the hard way, by the way. You’ve got to change that. It doesn’t mean you’d get away from the core values of your business, that’s not what I’m talking about.

But one of the interesting pieces and when, and it’s an area I absolutely love, new launches and change management. It’s really helping people understand look, if you want to be successful in this territory, this is how you do business. And of course there’s those that are insisting on their model and you still see that rinse and repeat kind of thing. But yeah, no, honestly it’s the hardest vertical I’ve ever recruited in. Because here’s the thing, my clients know all the tricks in the book, my candidates know all the tricks in the book, right? We love it, I can’t see me doing anything else now.

Folwell: Well that’s amazing, that’s amazing.

Sodhi: I must be a sucker for punishment, right?

Folwell: Well with that I know you’re clearly passionate about it. I think in a conversation we had earlier you’d mentioned something about a Facebook group where you’re doing some training?

Sodhi: Yes. So of course last year, wherever in the world you are, we were all hit with a pandemic. I don’t know of anybody else, but I thought we were going on lockdown for two weeks of this whole thing was going to disappear. And then suddenly two weeks later it’s like, “oh my God, this is here to stay.” So you can imagine doing what I do, honestly it broke my heart hearing how some companies in our industry were treating their staff right around the world. Staff were panicking, it was just people’s lives were just being destroyed through no fault of their own. So what I’d done at that stage, and this is when I really pushed my coaching international, I set up an, can I plug it again, the Elite Global Recruiters Group on Facebook, and I set it up completely free.

Every Wednesday, 10:00am I made a conscious decision I was going to go into that group, go live, and do some form of coaching to help everybody help themselves. And to be honest, I didn’t know how that was going to turn out, but here we are over a year later, every Wednesday I’m in there. We’re now at a stage where we’re bringing guests in and doing panels and things like that. But that was why I set that up because we all need a helping hand. But I do have one rule, actually the only rule I have in that group, nobody is allowed to advertise their internal jobs, I don’t advertise my jobs. Because we created it as a safe place for every single person in our industry, regardless of where they are in their career. We have CEOs in that group, we have staffing specialists in that group. It’s a place for learning, so that’s kind of what that group is.

Folwell: Well that’s amazing, that’s amazing. And congrats to the success of it, it sounds like it’s grown quite a bit. And the commitment to it and helping the industry I think is something we can all get behind. It’s been a hell of a year and things are still pretty wild depending on where you’re at. With that, kind of changing gears a little bit, what are some of the biggest challenges you see or hear from staffing agencies day-to-day right now?

Sodhi: So it’s interesting we were speaking about this in our team the other day, money. Everyone is throwing money at the problem now. And it’s really interesting because during the pandemic, I know we’re still in the pandemic, but over the last year I see those companies that panic and just got rid of everybody. And I was saying to those people look, we’re a critical, critical service. Yes, we just need to see how the land lies, don’t get rid of your staff because business can’t come to a standstill. I’m sorry, McDonald’s cannot run out of food, Starbucks cannot run out of coffee. You’ve still got to get it there. So those companies that let those people go because they wanted to save money, are now desperately, desperately trying to hire, and they’re throwing money at the problem. And honestly, that’s not the problem. The problem is how you treated those individuals and how much damage you’ve done to your brand. So that’s one thing we’re seeing. We’ve seen certain regions, we’ve seen salaries over the last year increased by $20,000, $30,000.

Folwell: Wow.

Sodhi: I’ll give you an example here. I won’t name the company, but one of the top three largest agencies in the world. They lost five members of their team within two weeks to the same company. And when they investigated, it was a company out of California, that’s all I’ll say, who actually just sent blanket emails to every single employee saying, “we are hiring, whatever your salary is we’re going to give you a 30% increase.” And that’s what they’d done.

Folwell: Wow.

Sodhi: But you and I both know, 30% increase, 100% increase on expectations. That’s one of the biggest things we’re seeing right now, salaries are so misaligned. And the other piece we’re really seeing right now is people didn’t think… So let me back up a second. One of the things we’ve really seen right now, the companies are really struggling to hire outside of the dollars and cents. Of those companies that I talked about earlier that literally just panicked and said, we’re going to pay our own money, our own wages, not yours, government subsidies, unemployment, whatever the case may be. We’re seeing they are really struggling to hire. And I’m seeing that in the US, I’m seeing that in the UK, I’m seeing that in South Africa, I’m seeing it here in Canada. The candidates, this current pandemic is very, very different. I’m showing my age here, I think I’ve been through four or five recessions here, right? 2008, 2001, then the ’90s, right? You’re probably too young to remember this, when job boards first came out we were told we were going to become obsolete. No, but this one is different. The employee brand is damaged for a number of these large and small companies.

Folwell: Yeah, it’s amazing. As we’re talking about the difficulty for finding talent right now, every year with Staffing Hub we do an annual report and that is always the top challenge. But this year right now I think it’s actually more pressing than it’s ever been. And I was hearing just anecdotally from a few different agency owners that their cost per application on Indeed had gone from like $4 to $15 in one of the light industrial. And then we were hearing in healthcare space that it’s like 1.5 to 2x, so were hearing lots of demand. Everybody’s trying to throw money at the problem on job boards, and it’s to your point, people are going to work where they want to work. I mean potentially lifestyles have changed and people are like, I don’t want to go back and do that.

Sodhi: No, I agree but it’s also something else. Think about it, when the pandemic hit we’ve all got mortgages to pay, we’ve all got kids or dogs or whatever it is we’ve got. So we’ve got a lifestyle that we’re used to, a certain lifestyle that we used to. And when companies, cash rich companies, now I’m not putting the shareholder value hat on here, I’m taking that off I’m just looking at it from an employee perspective. When suddenly, I mean I can tell you I know companies that pretty much got rid of their staff. Okay, I’m thinking of a company here in Canada, global player. Government subsidy stepped in, and I have to say the government has helped big time. What they’d done was they got rid of individuals so they could get government subsidies. This particular company had not made money in Canada for multiple years. Guess what, they made profit last year. But the teams didn’t get their commission, but the CEO did.

Folwell: Wow.

Sodhi: The country manager did. So anybody that’s listening, that kind of behavior is why if you’d done that, look to those kinds of things. That’s why you’re probably not able to attract people. As I said, this one is different, this one has impacted people’s mental health, physical health, mental health, financial stability, everything. This is different.

Folwell: Yeah. I mean it’s been a wild ride and I think it’s going to continue to be. So with that, knowing that a lot of agencies made different mistakes and are trying to figure out how to get through it, any advice that you have in terms of next steps you think agencies should be taking to rebuild or to approach this differently?

Sodhi: Yeah, no, absolutely. But what I do want to say is there was one particular company here in Canada, and I’m going to give them a shout-out, they’re called Agilus. They’re privately-owned, one of Canada’s largest privately-owned. And I admired what they’d done during the pandemic last year. They had to let individuals go because their market sectors and things like that fell low and what have you. But what Craig Brown the CEO had done there was he set up a separate website, separate and everybody had access to it. He made sure their benefits continued and he really went way over and beyond. And every week he went into the group that he had set up of all of these individuals and he kept them updated of what is happening and what he as the leader was doing to bring them back, to help navigate the storm. So they’re the kind of success stories I love, love sharing. We need more of them.

So I wanted to take that opportunity to talk about that, but what can people do? Absolutely you’ve got to look at the dollars and cents, but that can’t be the be all end all. It absolutely can’t be all end all. You have one or two choices. You come and work with somebody like us where we actually help to rebuild your brand. We’re not going to lie for you, we’re not going to mislead, but what we’re going to help is help reeducate the market on the learnings and so forth. You don’t want to do that, you don’t want to spend that money, you need to spend that money with somebody because it’s a massive exercise. Stop putting all these ads out that you’re Canada’s top 50 employer, U.S.’s top 50, U.K., Germany, whatever. This day, right now it means nothing, it’s your actions. So that’s one thing I would suggest.

Secondly I would suggest you actually look back, if it’s at all possible, those individuals that have left you since the market has returned. And depending on where you are in a world the market’s been returning since about September-ish. Those individuals that left you and went somewhere else, I would actually listen to their exit interviews. I would actually really listen to that. 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: Be aware of that common theme, what the pattern is, what that theme is. Problem you’re going to have is too little too late. 

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: Right? Too little, too late. We’re all talking about mental wellbeing and working from home and stuff like that so I’m not going to bang that drum, because there’s a lot that’s been said about that.

But yeah, and take a look at your leadership team. Sorry guys, take a look at your leadership team. How many of them are physically — how many of your leaders, and I’m talking CEO — how many of your leaders are actually out there working hand-in-hand with your frontline staff? I promise you right now, I don’t care whether you’re the world’s top 10 largest agencies or you’re in the 500s, I really don’t care. I’m telling you right now what I’m hearing from your employees, those executives that are genuinely, genuinely leading the charge, getting into the trenches, are the ones that are recovering a lot faster.

Folwell: That makes sense, that makes sense.

Sodhi: We don’t want to hear that sometimes, right? Sometimes we’re guilty as leaders of thinking, well I’m the leader, why would I go into a branch and fill an order? Right? We’re guilty of thinking like that. I promise you, start doing things like that, depending on where you are in the world, start really listening to your employees and start doing that job. Walk an hour in their shoes.

Folwell: I second that so strongly. And I’ve actually, I think I brought this up in other versions on this podcast, but just the idea of talk a lot about digital marketing on the websites here and it’s like, go apply on your website. See what that experience is like. Reach out to support, see what that experience is like. But I think getting in the actual role, you’re going to learn more, you’re going to understand what they’re telling you and why they’re saying what they’re saying. And you’re probably going to uncover new things that you can do in your business that are going to move you forward so much faster than any internal meetings you’re having on a daily basis.

Sodhi: 100%, if you’ve watched any of my training videos I always say there is a voice missing in that boardroom table and that is the frontline staff. I’m not saying go and bring everybody to your boardroom. I’m saying you go to them.

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: Be in the bull pen. I can think of two CEOs that do that and they do that, now they’re doing it via Teams. But in the past they have made sure every quarter they’d go into a couple of different branches. And they get to hear, feel what’s working, what’s not working. Because especially if I just pick on Canada here, a lot a lot of government subsidies have come in. So one of the biggest challenges agencies here are having is getting light industrial workers to go to work.

Folwell: Same in the U.S., it’s wild.

Sodhi: Yeah. So we’re saying, oh my gosh, so many people are unemployed, everybody needs jobs. Why are those roles not covered? It’s easy for you and I to be sitting here outside of the branch saying, hang on a second. We have X unemployment, we have the orders here, we have X number of people in our database. You’re not making enough calls, make more calls. That’s not the case.

Folwell: Yeah, that is, the number of light industrial companies I’ve talked to in the last few weeks that all of them are saying the same thing, which is it’s so hard to get people back right now. And I think that goes back to taking it another level, but I think there’s candidates who are like, I don’t want to work with-

Sodhi: These are happening in professional services, slightly different in professional services. What’s happening what I’m seeing, I’ll just speak North America for now although it’s everywhere. What I’m seeing is candidates have this fear of moving. Better the devil you know, right? So there is this fear of moving. Counteroffers are off the charts at the moment. So companies are looking at it and saying, oh my God, oh my God. Again, what I said throwing, and we all, every single one of us know do not accept a counter offer. We hear all of that, right? The truth of the matter is people are accepting counter offers, companies are counter offering. So if I look at technology, every region, every country I work in, they cannot get enough people in the tech space. 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: So it’s not just isolated to general staffing, it’s just a different version in what I call professional services.

Folwell: Absolutely. And kind of jumping off from there talking about the recruiters and agencies themselves, you posed an interesting question to me the first time we met and talked, and I thought it’d be great conversation for our audience. Which is, what would happen if the candidate was paying your invoice? I would kind of just like to hear your thoughts on that, and I thought it was a great question that you brought to me.

Sodhi: Yeah. I mean first of all disclaimer, most countries it’s illegal. Let’s just get that bit out there. I don’t want anybody saying, “Oh, well Suky told us to charge the candidate,” that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m suggesting, and this is what I’m doing with all my executive clients that are on my coaching side. This is a conversation I’m having, I don’t care how big they are. I deal with your top 10, bottom 1,000, right the way through. And one of the conversations, one of the questions I’ve been posing to them is: You’re all talking about your unique selling points and why you’re so different and things like that.

Yes, technology. I mean if you haven’t embraced technology you’re in trouble already, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is take a look at it and go back to your boardroom table with the voice that I’m talking about, and just get your head of marketing there, head of HR, head of sales, head of delivery, head of this, this, this, whatever the departmental heads are, and just do a strategy session on what would happen if the candidate was paying our invoice, would our process still be the same? And I bet you the answer’s going to be no. The answer is going to be no in a number of cases.

Pick on light industrial. I know agencies that take, okay, now it’s kind of being done online. But even online it’s an hour, hour and a half, just in terms of registration process. There’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Why would you, why would anybody take an hour and a half of their time to fill out an online application, do all of these tests, and then maybe they’ll get a job at the end of it? 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: Right? You look at, you alluded to this earlier, online applications. Upload your CV and now fill in all these boxes. “What’s your name? What’s your address?” 

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: Right? And remember, our clients do this, why the hell are we doing it? We’re supposed to be the experts here, right? So you’d look at that type of thing.

We all hear about ghosting. Forget anywhere else, two places you should go to is LinkedIn and just look at some of those posts, what candidates are saying. I swear, I think I see at least two or three times a week a, I won’t use the word I was going to use — moan — about the treatment that the recruitment industry has given them. And what I want to add to that bit, look at how your internal staff are responding to those comments. It’s actually quite shocking. It’s actually quite shocking some of the response recruiters give to these individuals instead of showing compassion, empathy, and things like that. They’re turning the table while saying, “you’re just as bad, you’re this, you’re that, you’re that.” Your whole audience is reading that.

But outside of that, go look at Glassdoor. Now I don’t care what anybody says, if there are 50 reviews, and one review saying you’re great and the other 49 are distasteful, come on. There’s something going on there. Right? You look at the process in terms of we allow clients to not reply, not give feedback after an interview for days and days and days. If the candidate was paying our invoice would we allow the client to do that? We wouldn’t.

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: We wouldn’t, right?

Something else, candidates, I mean now nobody’s traveling, well it depends where you are in the world. But sometimes candidates are, like in the group somebody posted the other day that they’d set up an interview, the particular hiring manager wanted a face-to-face interview. And this is just last week I think it was.

Folwell: Oh wow. I didn’t know those were happening anymore.

Sodhi: Yeah, well they are. In certain parts of the world they’re happening because not everybody’s in the shutdown that we are here. 

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: So yeah, so the candidate had left home 7:30 a.m. in the morning for a 9:00 a.m. meeting. The person arranging the meeting had spoken to the candidate, the candidate is on their way and things like that. Candidate arrives in the lobby 20 minutes before the interview, fantastic. Right?

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: The hiring manager at ten ‘til nine tries to cancel that meeting. Now if that candidate was paying that invoice would that meeting have got canceled? Would we have allowed a client to cancel the meeting at that stage? That’s before we start looking at this mass emailing. If you’ve watched any of my videos, I absolutely think there is a place for automated emails and things like that, that’s not what I’m talking about. But really if the candidate was paying the invoice would we just be doing mass emailing or would we be looking at it to make sure that there is an alignment or relevance? Because all we’re doing is churning and burning, churning and burning.

And that’s before we start talking about the actual physical engagement process and the post-care. Because one of the things I teach in my coaching practice is yes, we have targets and what have you for client candidate attraction. Then we have the process management, then the good old dollar sign, right? How much are you invoicing? 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: But we really don’t have the long-term metrics on success. So if a candidate was paying that invoice would you just dump them after 30, 60, whatever your replacement term is? Right? No you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t, you’d stay in touch with them. And you certainly wouldn’t go back and head hunt them again after they’re outside of their guarantee period.

Folwell: And I think we’re transitioning away from it as an industry right now, but definitely feel like there’s a, historically has been a big push for really transactional focused interactions. And it’s kind of funny because you do hear about the ghost theme, but then you think about, “well how were they treated? Do they feel like they were respected and they should show up because you were communicating to them clearly throughout the process? Or do they feel like you were just pushing them as hard as you could to get what you wanted and then the second it wasn’t there you moved on?” So I think there’s a, you got to have that reciprocity, build trust with the candidates.

Sodhi: Well here’s the thing, that’s not the consultant’s fault, that is management’s fault. 

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: That’s them enforcing the KPIs, right? And micromanaging and making sure you have this process where everybody is working the same way. Now don’t get me wrong, the level of service needs to be consistent, that’s not what I’m talking about. But here’s an interesting fact, I’d done an experiment in my team, Q1, I completely flipped KPI’s on its head and flipped it into a coaching and KPI. And we really tracked, because I want to get away from managing my people.

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: But I want to make sure they’ve got the tools and all that kind of good stuff. One of my guys through this has billed over $100,000 within two weeks of being in me.

Folwell: Wow.

Sodhi: Right? And people say to me, because I shared this in my Facebook group, right? People say, why do you share it? Aren’t you scared people are going to headhunt him? Great. You can’t force somebody to stay.

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: Right? So I’ve got to practice what I preach. And the reason I’m talking about this is, like I’m a firm believer in KPIs, don’t get me wrong, but you’ve really got to customize those KPIs. You’ve got to create the right behaviors. And I promise you, if you focus on it for three months, really do the hard work over three months, you are making your life easier, so much easier. Because now what you’ve truly done is given the individual their metrics to be successful.

I’m not saying you change the end results. You suddenly start to say, “Well I’ll only — you’re only capable of doing $10,000, I’m only going to ask for you $10,000.” It’s not what I’m talking about, so I’m not saying change that metric. What I’m saying is if you want to build high-performance sales teams, invest in the three months, because I always look at it and say, look at your business as, your fiscal year as 12 weeks. Because we all know if end of month six you’re not on budget or you’re drastically behind budget, forget it. Unless there’s a hail Mary, you’re not hitting those targets. Right? So I always say to all my clients look at it as 12 weeks. And what you want to do is get as much as your budget, your annual, each recruiters have as much of their annual budget front-loaded, because what that allows is that allows time for, we all have a bad month. We all have a bad month.

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: We all like to go and sit on a patio, drinking wine every Friday afternoon, right?  When the sun shines. We want to be able to do that.

And it also, what it does for all your employees’ perspective, it maximizes their personal income. They’re able to look at it and say, “You know what? I actually want to do $200,000 this year and I know exactly the activity I need to do, to do $200,000,” instead of you having to crack the whip there. I mean maybe it’s just, the way successful agencies, I don’t care whether you’re a big, small, mid size, it really doesn’t matter, the ones that I’m seeing that are owning their market are those that are saying, “Okay, the way we’ve always done stuff? Yes, parts of it is good,” but you’ve got to look at it. One of those things is look at it from a candidate perspective. And if you want to retain your staff, stop beating them up, stop expecting $300 a week. I don’t know anyone that’s doing $300 a week. If they’re doing it they’re faking it.

Folwell: Yeah. And with that, how do you — so you’re training recruiters, you’re training executives at agencies — but how do you go about identifying the top recruiters or what metrics do you look at? Is it more soft skills or any of that that you’re willing to share?

Sodhi: Sure, no sure. So from an executive perspective I won’t work with somebody that says to me, and I call it arrogant, whatever the word. Yeah, maybe it’s arrogant but I’m proud of it. I won’t work with a company that is being led by an individual that wants to sit in their ivory tower. I’m sorry, you’ve got to be the vision, and you’ve got to demonstrate the behaviors you want others to see in others, right? It’s not cliché, but it really is true. So if you’re sitting there saying, okay, rolling out these new KPIs. I was speaking to a really senior executive yesterday, and he was telling me he’s been in this particular company since September, October. He had 10 interviews to get in. And by the way on one of them the HR person, it was a Zoom interview, HR person stopped to put her groceries away, I kid you not. And he left there, online, on camera.

Folwell: I was just about to do that Suky, I’ve got the groceries. No, I’m kidding. That’s insane.

Sodhi: And this is not a small agency, a big global player. But anyhow, so he still accepted the job, still accepted the job. But he was telling me yesterday the only time he had spoken to his country manager was as the last stage of the interview process. Since then the only communication he has from his line manager is to tell him how crap his region is and how he needs to tighten up on the KPIs and things like that. So individuals like that, I can’t help them, right? We’re just not aligned. But those individuals that are looking to truly, truly want to go through change management, truly want to create a high performance sales culture, well that’s right up my alley. What do I look for in the individuals? I look for the desire to be successful, okay? So some of my clients say look, can you coach one-on-one? And some are in a group setting, right? There’s the balance of two. But even with the group setting I always make sure I speak one-on-one with the individual because I need them to really tell me, are they lying about their numbers? Because if they are they can tell me, I’m not going to go back and repeat it, I just need to know what the baseline is. 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: And what I look for are those individuals, I don’t care whether you’re getting it or not, are you trying? Because you and I both know like riding a bike, the first time you ride a bike you’re going to fall off. Second time, third time, fourth time, fifth time, you’re like, whoa okay, I managed to get 10 yards before I fell off. Next time it’s 20 yards, that type of thing. So I really look for those people that are going to hold themselves accountable and just really be vulnerable.

And when I mean vulnerable, be prepared to say, “Suky, I don’t get this. I don’t get this.” And those that, and don’t get me wrong, we sometimes end up with those that are just faking their numbers and the results don’t turn up. 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: They don’t turn up for some of the sessions. So those individuals, well they’ve disconnected from the business already.

So yeah, so to answer your questions so what are some of the KPIs there? So let me answer that one as well. So what are some of the KPIs that I think we should be tracking? Again, it depends on your business, but if I just stick with the candidate side just for ease sake. Your, for lack of a better word, your social media output. I don’t care what you, I mean different verticals have different platforms whether it’s Twitter, whether it’s email, whatever. And then we look at unique candidates, got to look at unique candidates. And then you’ve got to look at the process, I 100% agree with the process. But then you’ve got to look at the post-care. And I’m not talking three months. I’m not talking, you know a lot of people cross their fingers and say, oh God, yes, they’re out of their guarantee period. That’s not what I’m talking about. So those are the kind of buckets that we look at. And the aim always is to be able to step out, hand the individual, and they know, “Okay, I’m able to look at my desk. Oh, crikey, I better get more of that part done or a better, or I’m lacking here, I need to now focus my energy back.” So people are able to look at it and say, what do I need to do to be successful? Not hit a metric, those days are gone, that’s how I was trained.

Folwell: Yeah, I’ve seen the industry change over the last, I’m sure you’ve seen, had more experiences and examples of this, but it’s shifting away from the, every recruiter’s got to do 100 cold calls a day.

Sodhi: I can tell you there is, one of the world’s largest agencies, 125 still a week.

Folwell: Still holding that?

Sodhi: Oh, still holding to it. And when I, obviously they’re not one of my clients, but when I talked to a senior executive there and I asked the question, “why?” And it kind of on some crazy level it makes sense. They have however many thousands of people in North America. If everybody is targeted for 125 activity, and let’s say half of them lie, half actually hit it, they still hit their shareholder numbers. They still hit their budgets. And I just look at it and I shake my head and I’m like, how about just have everybody tell you the truth? How about having 70% of your employees actually hitting the right numbers that are achievable?

Folwell: I would also add to that I think the shifting away from activity-focused KPIs to outcome-based, a few of the best sales people I’ve seen in the software side of the business, they send fewer messages. I would say it’s shifting away from shotgun to sniper, sniper beats shotgun every day. And they would spend 45 minutes crafting each message, but their response rate was unreal. Every executive, and they were very thoughtful and intentional. And if you were holding that same person to an email or outreach metric that wasn’t outcome-focused, you’re going to make them a bad salesperson because they’re not going to be able to spend the time on those thoughtful and engagements.  

Sodhi: That’s why I say, “Think of it from a candidate perspective.” Now you’re receiving that same email. And sometimes instead of, “Hi Suky,” it says, “Hi Jennifer,” because somebody forgot to change that. But you’re right, but not only that, numbers tell a story. I’m a firm believer in numbers, tell a story, but you can manipulate those numbers to tell whatever story you want them to. So the key to this is getting to the truth of that story. And getting to the truth of the story and as a manager, we haven’t even talked about the manager part, but as a manager really bringing out your coaching leadership style. And sorry to say, we don’t as an industry.

As an industry we’re either the commanding leadership, do as I say, or we’re the pace-setting leadership. So what that is, and I am guilty as hell because I was always told, this is the way to go, leader sets the pace, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And you’re expecting everybody to keep up with you, and if people don’t keep up with you you’re a failure. It’s recognizing that some people have a different style. So I’m fully aware that half your audience listening to me right now is saying she is bat shit crazy. I’m fully aware of that. I’m like marmite, not for everybody, but that’s okay. And the same applies to these KPIs and leadership style and things like that. We’ve got to recognize that not every candidate is right for us as a business.

And even harder, I know we said if a candidate paid the invoice, not every client is right. And that’s okay. And when you get comfortable with that, when you have a sales team that is truly embracing that, truly recognizing and giving themselves permission to say no to a client, you’re going to secure high-fee paying clients, because you’ve found your tribe. You’re not going to have that high metrics, cracking the whip type of environment. Why? Because you’re working with those clients that are aligned with you as a business. So you may have, and those clients are not looking for the cheapest provider. I’m not cheap, I’m not. I set my value, you set your value, everybody should be setting their value. But your value has to represent what the client’s getting back in return. Else you know what, all you’re going to do is churn and burn and it’s a race to the bottom.

Can you imagine a world where we as an industry said to a client, “Sorry, Mr. Client, I’m not working at 6% globally. I’m not filling that role, a perm role at 10%.” Oh my God, nobody should be getting out of bed for that, nobody should be getting out of bed for those kinds of rates. Because if you actually sit down, and there’s always somebody that’s going to do it cheaper, I get that, I get that. But when was the last time a client said to you or anybody in the audience ask yourself, when was the last time the client said, you know what, I’m going to pay you 10% but I only want 10% worth of value.

Folwell: I’ll give you half the commission and you can do half the work, right?  

Sodhi: Never, never, never. I’m all about adding value to the client, and that’s where technology comes in, and that’s a different conversation. But yeah, we have to start respecting ourselves as an industry, because if we don’t respect ourselves how do we expect our clients to? And we’re a phenomenal industry. I mean I haven’t seen last year’s numbers yet, but the U.S., world’s largest, largest economy, if I remember correctly floating around $180 billion or something was the spend. Canada is something like $13, 9, 10, $13 billion, something like that, U.K. was something like $50, $60. We are a critical service, we are an important service. And AI is never replacing, well certainly not in our lifetime, is going to be able to replace us. And those clients that are going to pay the higher value, the ones that are getting the human service. Doesn’t mean you don’t go with AI, it’s not what I’m talking about. But the clients that are going to spend the money with you and pay the higher fees, are those clients that are getting that human service. I’m not talking answering the phone at midnight, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Folwell: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that’s great insights there. Suky, I know we’re kind of rounding out the end of the podcast so I’m going to jump into the kind of personal questions, a little bit about your background, kind of the quick hit questions. Very excited to have this conversation with you I think, I don’t know if I remember it exactly, but I do remember when I read your LinkedIn profile the first sentence said something about being an adrenaline junkie and celebrating every win, which is part of the reason I’m excited to hear how you answer some of these questions. So with that I will go ahead and jump in. Suky, in the last five years what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Sodhi: Oh, crikey. That I don’t know everything, that I’ve got to keep learning, and it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say “No, Mr. Client, you’re not aligned with me.” The one I’m working on really, really hard is to say no to that last glass of wine. I haven’t mastered that one quite yet.

Folwell: I will second that one as well. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? It could be an investment of money, time, energy, et cetera.

Sodhi: Okay, that one’s a kind of easy one, investing in a coach. Been a total, total 100% game changer for me. And the other one is, you know for relaxation and mental wellbeing we’re supposed to do yoga and things like that? I invested in kickboxing. Oh my God, love it. Weight lifting and kickboxing. So not that we again, in Canada been in lockdown, we’ve not been able to do that. And climbing, so really spending a large chunk of money every month to be able to do that has been a game changer for me.

Folwell: That’s great. Those seem like great, great activities. I think I actually came across a picture of you kickboxing when I was doing my research.

Sodhi: Yeah, yeah, he made me do the top 20 questions and I wasn’t sure what I was going to let people see that much craziness. But I’ve done it.

Folwell: So what are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Sodhi: Just send the CV, just send it. Just call them, just send the CV. Just tell them they have to go. Yeah, just ring them up and tell them we’ve got a candidate. Tell him that, yeah, we’ve got a shortlist of candidates on their way. We’ve got to stop all of that. And that comes from leadership, it comes from leadership. We’ve got to start being honest with our clients and candidates. And it goes back to what I said earlier, it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say I don’t know.

Folwell: It’s better in most instances.

Sodhi: We’re fearful of it, right?

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: We’re fearful of it. 

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: Yeah.

Folwell: Great. And what is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?

Sodhi: Okay, that one’s really easy, John Maxwell Failing Forward.

Folwell: Failing Forward, I’m writing that one down.

Sodhi: I suggest that to every single person I coach. Don’t care what level you are. Actually, I was given that book by one of my clients, a global CEO, he’s the one that introduced me to that book. Honestly, I read that book multiple times. It reminds you that there’s something to learn. Like I’ve probably said something here that’s going to upset somebody, right? I just don’t know what I’ve said yet. I’m sure I’ll hear about that. I’m sure we’re going to hear about it at some stage, right? It’s like looking at and saying, okay, have I got something to learn from that? Okay, great. Thank you, fair point. No, nothing to learn from that, move on. 

Folwell: Yep.

Sodhi: But seriously I recommend that to everybody. And if I can have a second one that recently introduced, and the author skips my mind, I literally just finished reading it the weekend, Pig Wrestling.

Folwell: Pig Wrestling, all right.

Sodhi: Lindsay somebody. Lindsay somebody at Spy, great book.

Folwell: All right, I’ve got two that I’m adding to my list. I’ve not heard of either of those so that’s fantastic.

Sodhi: Failing Forward’s a great book.

Folwell: And the Failing Forward also follows perfectly into the next question, which is how has a failure or apparent failure set you up later for success?

Sodhi: Oh, wow. I should have really rehearsed the answer to this, shouldn’t I? I should have figured these were going to come. How is it… Okay, so many years ago when I was trying to set up the Rec2Rec, as I said earlier agencies don’t practice what they preach. And I had so much negativity from the market, because suddenly I’d created a space for their staff to go to confidential looking for another job. 

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: And long, long story short I was working on a particular CEO search for a chairman. And when the chairman left to go on holiday the individual that he was replacing got wind of it. So he’d rung me up demanding to know what searches the chairman had put him on. And of course I refused and all the rest of it. And it ended up with, in fact, the most abusive one-sided abusive conversation. So at the time I remember saying to my husband, what the hell have I done? I can’t cope with these kind of people. Because I was really, really shocked. I thought, “Hey, we do that for a living, you do that with your clients, right?”

Folwell: Yeah.

Sodhi: But what I learned from that was how to really stand up to a powerful CEO and how to go to a global chairman and represent, replay the situation, bring him up to speed on what had happened and things like that without bursting into tears. And I have to say, don’t get me wrong, I did cry after that call but not during the call. But it brought me back to what I said about when I first started working in recruitment, never let a client see you cry. So I actually, and that taught me such an important lesson, that even though we as an industry move people around all the time, people are fearful of losing their job and they’re going to react from a place of fear. So it’s not necessarily targeted at you. So to answer your question full circle, just not to take everybody seriously. Not to take everybody seriously, just keep going. Stay in your lane, keep doing what you’re doing. People are going to try and crash into you, going to try and take you out, slow down if you have to.

Folwell: I love it, love it. And with that are there any, that’s kind of the end of the questions I had for today, I’ve really enjoyed having you on. Any closing comments or thoughts that you’d like to share with the audience?

Sodhi: Yeah. You know what, for every single person that’s listening to this, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, the market is hot. In fact, some areas it’s burning hot. Clients are hiring, they’re just not hiring through you. So you’ve got to look at it and you’ve got to say, “Why are they not hiring through us? What is it?” Maybe it’s the wrong team, maybe it’s training, maybe it’s coaching, maybe it’s your pricing, who knows what that is. But the market is burning, burning hot. But also you’ve got to invest in your staff. Right now if I look at it, “Why are people leaving?” Yes, absolutely, money helps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that. But rarely do we have people say we’re only going to move for X amount.

They’re leaving the companies for one of two reasons for the most part. Company, how they treated them during COVID, during the pandemic over the last year and things like that. Unreasonable expectations, that’s one of them. And secondly they feel their career is not going to grow there. They feel they’re not being invested in. So start looking after your staff, because your competitors are going to head hunt them. I’m going to head hunt them. I’m sorry right, that’s what we will do. Right? So make it, and let the guys take the call. If people don’t want to stay with you, let them go. Who wants to be in a bad marriage?

Folwell: Completely agree. And as you were talking about that reminded me, I’m probably going to butcher this quote but it was something along the lines of, what if we invest in our people and training and they leave? And then the response is, well what if we don’t and they stay?

Sodhi: Yeah, it’s so true. Absolutely true. Because if you invest in people, likelihood is they’re going to stay. But even if they only stay two years, I’m telling you that first placement has 2, 3, 4  times made the cost of training, you’ve recouped it. And not to mention all the added bonuses and the morale going up and all the rest of it. You’re right, we don’t invest enough in our internal training. Listen to the advice you’re giving to your clients, then take it yourself. Because everybody tells their client, “Mr. Client, you need to retain your staff and this is how you do it. And we’ll do behavioral tests, we’ll do exit interviews.” Shouldn’t you be doing  it yourself?

Folwell: Absolutely, absolutely. Couldn’t agree more, I think that’s a great, great closing comment. And Suky, I’ve really enjoyed having you on. Everybody that’s listening, go out and join, check out her Facebook group. The name is escaping me right now.

Sodhi: Elite Global Recruiters.

Folwell: Elite Global Recruiters on Facebook, check that out. And thank you so much for the insights and the conversations today, Suky, really enjoyed having you on.

Sodhi: You’re welcome, thanks for having me.