Julia Tell me a little bit about your job and what you do
James The company focuses on business change, recruitment for transformation – my area specifically is in workplace consulting and workplace strategy. It is a very hot market – very job rich but candidate light. Most of what we do on a day to day basis is meet, search for and register new workplace consulting or strategy individuals
Julia Is it difficult to find people? If I I were 20 years younger – I would be there for you
James You have lots of demand for good candidates so it is more about identifying what we call passive candidates – people who are in jobs and are not necessarily looking but would be open to new or exciting opportunities
James Yes poaching – headhunting.
Julia Persuading them to take a look
James Not persuading them – more about identifying what would a new or better job look like because we have a massive variety. Everything from international co-working companies to established real estate global consultancies to small independent architecture practices that are all essentially pushing the same strategy – consultancy services. It is about identifying what people want
Julia An obvious answer to that is money but for me it is never just about the money. What does a better job look like for most people?
James It is not about money. In the last 15-20 years there has been a significant change in what employees want. It used to be final salary pension and salary but now, almost without exception, what they want is flexible working arrangements
Julia That is interesting. What do they mean by that? Do they mean working from home one or two days a week?
James They want to have options. Full-time workers will work 40+ hours a week – they want to be able to control when and where they do that work. For example, if you finish early to pick the kids up from school then you catch up in the evening after they are in bed. Having that flexibility and trust is one of the most important things. If it is not offered people will look elsewhere to find it
Julia Would you say that this is not just coming from the women?
James 100% – it is men as well. I have worked in environments with archaic working practices where you walk in at 8.35a.m. and you get frowned at yet the night before you were out until 10.00p.m. with a client. It breeds a primary school attitude to the working environment
Julia I have written a piece for the blog about empowerment and trust at work. It is about how you get the best out of people if you actually empower them to decide how to do their job; how to meet the objectives that the manager or the organisation has set and trust them to do it. You also need to allow them to make decisions based on changing circumstances
When I think of people like teachers, police officers, GPs – all of those people have had their power taken away and are no longer trusted – they work in a very prescribed way – you have to do this, you have to fill this form in, you have to do the other, you can’t do that until you have done this – I think that is a great shame and I would say that anybody from the most junior employee upwards should be trusted to do their job. If they don’t do the job properly then obviously you need to respond to that
James What do we have massive shortages of in this country? Police officers, teachers, GPs…
Julia Funny that – people don’t like it. I come across situations all the time where people are not empowered and trusted to do their job.
There are two things you must have to do – find potential candidates but also find potential clients. Are both those things part of your role?
James Yes, full 360 recruitment role encompassing both aspects. Sourcing new business, new clients, pitching new business, understanding what their requirements are and consulting with them to see how realistic they are in terms of the market and what they need to pay. Regularly we tell clients that what they are looking for is not out there at that price. We had an example last week in the co-working sector for an Operations Manager to be responsible for a whole co-working site (55,000 square feet). The client went through the whole spec – looking after recruitment, managing a team of six people, looking after an operation P&L. She was offering £35K. We had to tell her that short of doubling that salary there is no chance we are going to be able to find anyone
Now we are more established in the market we have repeat clients. We have built long-term relationships with them. They understand how we work. We are always looking for new business
Julia Is that nationwide? Are there other Talent Locker offices?
James No, just here. 90%+ of our business in workplace is London based. The type of jobs we get in are about 9 to 1 in favour of working through a consultancy rather than on the client side
Julia Maybe you might find me something one day then
Julia If there were a client in Edinburgh or Manchester you would be able to assist?
James Yes. We have placed people as far afield as Singapore and New York. We are working with clients in Glasgow at the moment – they are doing a big regeneration of the city centre and we have people going up there to work typically via the consultancies
Julia Those are fixed term contracts presumably
James A real mix – permanent staff or day rate contractors but not so many shorter fixed term assignments because these are usually not as attractive to the candidates
Julia What about finding the candidates? We talked a little bit about contacting people who are in a job. How do you find candidates normally?
James Traditionally a recruiter would use a job board or job site – in the past 18 months I have made 51 placements and only 5 came from job advertising
Julia So where did the rest come from?
James The rest come from personal networks, headhunting, recommendations and following these through properly – so if someone mentions a name you go and meet that person and understand what their requirements are. You are not necessarily looking to place them straight away but to understand what they want and then to go back to them when you have the right opportunity
Julia It sounds like a good approach. I am not sure it is the approach that most recruitment professionals take….
James It is the market we are in though. I don’t even bother advertising the jobs now because it is pointless. The best candidates are the ones who are in work
Julia What is your background? How did you come to this?
James I have been doing recruitment for 12 years – the first 10 of which were in IT recruitment. The IT recruitment market became highly saturated – very much a fastest finger first – every time that there was a new job there would be six or seven recruitment agencies working on it. It was not specialised and you did not have the time to develop the relationships – it was more just chuck somebody in as quickly as you can before the other guy does. No due diligence. Rates were pushed down really low
Julia A pretty soulless way to work
James Yes, it really was. Clients didn’t need to pay for the services so you couldn’t do a good job. Some companies were working on 7% margins. It is low level and is not profitable as a business. This is a much more interesting and less saturated market to work in
Julia It always needs to be about people and relationships, about knowing the client and knowing the candidate and putting those two together
James It is about being genuine about understanding what people’s longer term requirements are. They say they are looking for something that looks like X, Y and Z and then I come back to them even if it is a year down the line. It doesn’t have to be immediate
Julia What are some typical jobs that you would be putting candidates forward for?
James A typical one would be a workplace strategy consultant, a permanent position on about c£60K. My area is workplace change management and workplace strategy and my colleague, Daryll, focuses on space and occupancy planning – the more technical side. Space planner, occupancy planner, moves and changes manager, people-focused change manager, workplace strategist. People who put together large scale workplace strategy programmes and then helping define them and deliver them. The sector defines itself – it is a small market compared to others but everyone knows what they are looking for
Julia It is a hot market compared to others – these are jobs that wouldn’t even have been envisaged 20 years ago but now there is a big call for them. Everyone is understanding that this is important
James Of course it is – what are the two most expensive things for a business?
Julia People and place, staff and real estate
James Nail both of them and you have cracked it
Julia There was an article in Mix magazine a few months ago by Mike Whalley – he was arguing for a place on the board for the workplace/real estate senior person. I read it and thought “absolutely – why have we still not got to that stage in many organisations?” It is so important and such a key aspect of the business
Julia Do you ever speak at events?
James Not yet. I think people might be concerned it would be interpreted as commercial. We attend them all but no speaking invitations yet…
Julia Dan was saying earlier on about writing articles – about what sort of things would they be written?
James We did one recently about the value of workplace trends for me as a recruiter – many people wonder what the point of me attending and listening to all the theoretical stuff
Julia Pretty important background I would have said
James Exactly. To be a specialist in any area you have to know everything about it. People have this idea of recruiters just trying to fleece people. Charging high fees. Uncommunicative. No feedback. Recruiters are often perceived like estate agents are. Nothing could be further from the reality of how we work. The last couple of years I have had recommendations coming in from people who I have never placed in jobs as a result of a more genuine relationship-based approach
Julia Which is SO important in everything – it is what makes people feel valued and motivated
James We have people who have gone through a five stage interview process and then been rejected. It is difficult. – but if you go and see them and tell the candidate the feedback or follow up with the client if the feedback has not been adequate – people want an open and honest line of communication whichever side of the table you are on
Julia Some years ago I was looking for a purchasing manager – by definition if you’re going to be a purchasing manager for an organisation you have to be able to negotiate a good deal. I got down to a short list of two – a man and a woman. The salary band was something like £35-£50K. There was nothing to choose between the two – I asked them both what salary they were looking for. The man said £45K and the woman said £25K. I gave the job to the man because I thought I cannot give this job to someone who cannot negotiate a good deal for herself. Two weeks later she rang me and asked me why I had not given her the job so I told her. I don’t think she will have made that mistake again. I admired her for calling me and I hope she went on to have a fabulous career
James Feedback is essential. There are people I have dealt with as a client, then as a candidate, then as a client again. When they leave I call that organisation and start a new relationship. People move on. The best person to find them a replacement is me – I know the organisation and I know the job. I have some insight from the candidate who has moved on. It is just an honest and genuine approach
Julia Would you say that it is roughly 50/50 male/female candidates for these jobs?
Julia That would not have been the case years ago. When I started out it was considered quite surprising that a woman was involved at all in this sort of work
James The only area where there are more women placed than men is probably change management and communications. I don’t know why
Julia I don’t know why either but interesting. Change Management can be very techy, very prescribed, very process driven or it can be very people, relationships and communication driven. When I start with a new client I look at the culture of their organisation and try to deliver something between the two but slightly more to the people/relationships/communications side that also fits with their culture
James You can have a prescriptive 2-D framework to work from
Julia But if all you focus on is that prescriptive process you’re actually losing sight of the people side of it
James You need to win the hearts and minds and look at the behaviours and speak to people
Julia As a matter of policy, I don’t do Gantt charts. I think the entire point of a Gantt chart is to blind people with science and to discourage anyone from challenging you. I do a very simple spreadsheet that I call a change plan – it is basically just a sequence of tasks – when we are starting them, when we are finishing them, who is doing them and anything else we need to know. Anybody from the most junior person in the organisation can understand one of my change plans. It is about ensuring people feel connected to the project and are on board, consulted, involved, that they are adding value. It is not about coming in and saying “OK guys I am the expert, here is your complicated document -off we go”
What do you do when you’re not at work? I like asking this question because some people say the most surprising things!
James I have a family – two boys aged 6 and 4 and a Romanian rescue dog who is two years old. I like cooking. I am quite an anal cook
Julia So you have a Gantt chart for cooking? I know from my own experience that when you have young children it is all consuming but also absolutely brilliant
James On Saturday we went to Hobbycraft and bought a castle
Julia Hobbycraft is like a winter wonderland
James Yes! I had never been there before but you can literally buy more or less anything you would ever want
Julia And many things you didn’t even know you wanted
James You can put together your own castle – it sounded brilliant.
Julia Please send me a picture. Do you get flexibility here in the way that you work in order to fit things around family?
James Absolutely. The two directors have both got similar age families – they both came from a very large, very structured, corporate recruitment company. I came from that sort of suffocating work environment as well
Julia Suffocating is not over-stating the case
James We all work – we are not trying to avoid the work. That kind of respect and trust breeds mutual respect. I get paid commission on placing someone so I am going to be very focused on working as hard as possible to ensure that the placement happens. We go up to London once a week and spend the day meeting candidates and clients which can be a long day. I finish early on Tuesdays to go and get the boys from school. Dan works part-time. Matt finishes early on Fridays. There is total flexibility. My business is people and people are at work during the day so I need to be able to speak to them in the evenings
Julia Any job, any sector, any size of organisation – the last thing you want is your people demotivated so why would you do anything ever to make that happen?
James It doesn’t matter about anything else other than outputs
Julia The time of day or location does not matter at all
James I work more than the prescribed hours but that’s fine because it suits me and the demands of my home life
Julia And you are trusted to deliver those desirable outputs
Julia Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed – I think we have put the workplace world to rights
Appreciation of the workplace team at Talent Locker
“James and the team at Talent Locker were great to work with. For the first time in my career, I was able to speak to a recruiter who truly understood my workplace role. The professionalism and expertise demonstrated by James was well above expectations. I would highly recommend James and the team if you are a candidate or an employer.”
April Lachlan – Workplace Consultant
“I would highly recommend anyone looking for roles in workplace change or occupancy planning to take a look at The Talent Locker. I found James Saunders to be very attentive, working closely with me to find appropriate and interesting opportunities. James kept me informed on progress with applications and stayed in touch after he secured a role for me.”
Anne Wilson – Workplace Change Manager
“It was a pleasure working with James, who provides a very prompt and professional service, combined with good industry knowledge, great contacts and opportunities. I’d thoroughly recommend James and Talent Locker for both employers and candidates.”
Andrew Wignall – Workplace Space Planner
“James is charismatic and a natural people person. He came to me with a great role and was incredibly supportive and attentive throughout the recruitment process. I would wholeheartedly recommend James to anyone looking for new opportunities.”
Alexandra Witney – Workspace Membership Lead
“I found James to be exceptional. The service he offered from the beginning as an agent he listened with an acute ear. Only proposing genuine opportunities based on my experience and career goals. The recruitment process was a little longer than anticipated James kept me informed every step of the way with integrity. Making the whole process less painful. I would have no hesitation in recommending him as a relationship building recruiter. His attention to detail, professional sensitivity and transparency is outstanding.”
Sandra Rowe – Workplace Change Manager
“All too often the recruitment process fails to match you and a suitable role together. James obviously understood the client he was working for and then took the time to listen and understand my experience before linking us together. It was refreshing to be put forward for a suitable role and then supported the whole time that I was in it.”
Lynn Gilbert – Workplace Occupancy Planner
“Daryl is without doubt, one of the best recruiters I have ever dealt with. He is extremely professional and very knowledgeable about occupancy and space planning. He has helped me find the perfect job myself and made the process enjoyable. I can’t recommend Daryl highly enough! Thank you.”
Ali Omrayat – Occupancy Planner
“Daryl is a highly efficient, commercially astute Recruitment professional with whom I have worked in close partnership. He is always very focussed, pragmatic, open and honest in all of his interactions. These attributes have enabled a very effective working relationship. Most importantly, I have found Daryl to be an approachable, very warm person, with a great sense of humour, which is so necessary in today’s hectic work place – he has been a pleasure to work with.”
Karl Buxton – Workplace Project Manager
“It was a pleasure working with Daryl, he made the job-hunt very enjoyable and showed constant concern in the process. He listens, gives great advice and acts in the best way possible for his clients. I highly recommend him and wish him good luck in future endeavours!”
Alex Stoica – Workplace Project Coordinator