Is any behaviour acceptable for a top biller?

Tiger Partners
Tiger Partners
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Managers are on the constant lookout for top billers. It’s fair to say when you come across one, it’s easy to get excited. We are all equally guilty of this. It’s highly likely that you know the names of the top recruiters in your specialisation and I’m sure you are constantly tracking and approaching them to join your team.

In Vocay’s ‘Money’ publication, we recently published a list of what the top recruiters in Hong Kong and Singapore bill. In Hong Kong, the top billers are generating revenues around HKD 4.5m – 6.0m whilst in Singapore, they’re generating SGD 750,000 – 1,000,000. These individuals are very rare and I’d imagine they represent less than 1% of recruiters.

As we all know, most top billers are angels! Sometimes, however, hiring top billers can come at a cost. In this article, we explore some of the adverse habits exhibited by top billers and their resultant impact on the agency.

Where possible I have delved into my personal experience to cite examples but in such a way that no one can possibly be identified. After all, it’s worth repeating that most superstars are angels and a pleasure to work with.

Overly aggressive and arrogant behaviour

I remember working with a recruiter some years ago. We hired him out of London, where he was the top biller in his agency, to join one of our offices in Asia. When he moved to Asia, he brought with him an aggressive style of recruitment which was successful in London.

His levels of aggression, combined with a belief that he (and his billings) were infallible. A huge cultural clash and sky-high arrogance led to an extremely bad tempered individual. That said, he continued to be an outstanding producer.

It’s pretty obvious that this general behaviour is overwhelmingly negative and the obvious consequence of negativity is demotivation. For the team, for everyone. In the example I gave above, it would be fair to say that team output dropped. From a tight, happy and motivated team, we began to see a real reduction in productivity and, of course, revenue. This scenario will also inevitably lead to resignations. Can’t be a good thing. Nip it in the bud. If you don’t, you will lose your team.

Territory grabbing and stepping on toes

By territory grabbing, I refer to a biller demanding or acquiring an increasing and often exclusive share of candidates, clients, coverages and regional locations.

This is extremely common and often it is approached sensitively, keeping colleagues and team members in mind. However, if it’s approached without consent from the affected individuals, the recruiter may be stepping on toes and it can create a problem that divides the team, spiralling out of control over time.

I knew a recruiter who would delete a candidate from the ATS and keep them in a hard copy folder so only he had access to that top quality candidate.

Territory grabbing can take on many manifestations. The recruiter who requests that no one touches their clients, the recruiter who refuses to share ownership of candidates or the recruiter who keeps on entering a ‘grey area’ close to a colleague’s patch.

If territory grabbing leads to a caustic environment, with recruiters working in grey areas and working without a collaborative approach, then it can lead to outright hostility. On the rare occasion, I have witnessed big arguments erupt in an open plan office.

The same impact will be seen on the team’s motivation. If you, as a manager, concede ground then your team may see you as ‘taking a side’ and you risk losing them.

Increasing or unrealistic demands

It’s understandable that as a recruiter bills more and becomes a top biller, there will be an increase in demands – that is obviously justified. There are some situations, however, when demands can put a manager in a tough position if they’re unrealistic.

One of our top billers back in the day argued, successfully, that as he was hitting thresholds no one else was hitting, that he should get a higher percentage of that tier. It was a reasonable request, but increasing the percentage tier for one individual could affect the team’s motivation. I remember agreeing to the request, but the increased commission was offered to the whole team. I still miss that guy.

Demands are not always that reasonable. A 30% increase in salary simply because a recruiter had a record Q3. Is that reasonable? Would that same recruiter take a salary reduction  if they had a terrible Q4? Nope, not a chance.

Another tricky demand is keeping up with a top biller’s aspirations to constantly progress, sometimes too quickly ahead of their level of experience. Numbers are not the only consideration when it comes to promoting someone to Manager or Associate Director level to lead a team. A recruiter deals with new and challenging situations every day and it’s this experience that can’t be replaced by hitting numbers.

Other demands I have seen include a personal data inputter to input into the CRM, a private office when we were open plan and a PA! I am exhausted just recalling all of these, and there are many more, believe me.

I intentionally introduced a positive spin on what can also be a negative factor. Sometimes there can be sensible and reasonable commercial arguments for certain demands and, if approached sensitively, then no problem. If, however, the demands are propelled by arrogance and a sense of entitlement, then it will end in tears. I have had recruiters ask me to make ‘private’ deals with them and ‘don’t worry, no one will know about it’. I’m proud to say that I never would do something like that. Don’t be tempted. It will come back to haunt you. I promise you that.

In my experience, it’s all about finding a healthy balance where you can meet demands and incentives without going overboard. If you give someone everything, others will feel left out and you will find it more challenging to manage expectations in the future.

The rule of 2

So where does this lead us? Well, neatly to ‘The rule of 2’.

Everyone reading this, I am certain, will have seen some evidence of the disruption above and I suspect the nodding of heads is akin to an ACDC concert audience!

Disruptive recruiters, for all the dollars they bring, will cost you money. That is for certain. You may not see it in that gleaming Q3 you just had, but if the above behaviours are in play, then you will feel it in the prevailing year. You may have a demotivated team and an increasing turnover rate.

That brings us to the rule of 2. Hire a positive top biller, of course. But my belief is that 2 billers who bring collaboration and a good attitude to the team will bring you more revenue than a disruptive top biller. If the top biller is disruptive, you may lose team members.

I’m very interested to hear about any comments or your experiences managing recruiters with some of the habits above. Please let me have your thoughts on LinkedIn and I’m looking forward to an interesting debate!

If you are experiencing some of the disruptions above, have a straight forward chat with your manager or director. If you’ve exhausted all avenues, please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities or follow our LinkedIn company page to be kept in the loop about new articles like this and new opportunities.

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Tiger Partners
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I specialises in senior rec2rec searches in Asia. Get in touch with him to discover opportunities.

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