Billing Managers in Recruitment – A long running debate

January 15 0 Comments Category: Opinion, Recommended Reading

OpinionThis is a topic that creates a lot of debate. What is the role of a team leader or first line manager within a recruitment business. What is more critical? The leadership aspect or the managing part of the role. This is certainly something that I believe has contributed to the attrition rates experienced both in the UK and the US. It is also, most definitely a subject which has been much discussed, quite heatedly, in some of the firms I have worked for.

I was looking through my reference library, and at the back of one of the bookshelves I found a small (only 46 pages) paperback book written by one Anthony R. Byrne entitled Managing Recruiters for Maximum Results. I guess this really shows my age (and yours) if you do or do not know who he is. [Recruitment Dad’s eyes glaze over as he remembers watching VHS recordings of Anthony R. Byrne, in his trademark red braces, talk through his executive search process in “The Differences Between 100k and 500k Billers” and his classic 30 steps to the recruitment process.] In his book, and I choose to quote him directly, he explains the syndrome that effects the billing manager:

“Here is the syndrome.

• Manager is appointed because of his/her talent as a recruiter and trainer.
• Primary mission is to train and lead by example.
• Soon he has three or four people in his group.
• They are always asking questions and he is always answering them.
• Personal billings start to slide.
• The owner asks the manager, “Why?” The manager says “Because the people in my group are taking up all my time.”

Sound familiar? Here’s how to correct it. The manager’s priority has to be changed. PERSONAL BILLING is the top priority for a working manager. It sounds like a contradiction in terms. If he is a manager, why is personal billing the top priority? Because by billing himself he is setting an example for the other recruiters. You see the job is first and foremost to lead by example.
The counseling aspect of the job is exaggerated in importance by the recruiters who are always asking questions and by the manager who is always answering them.”

Anthony the goes on to say:

“When the manager’s billing falls, refocus that manager on personal billing. When the manager’s billing recovers, miraculously the whole department will improve and – the morale of the department will improve because the managers billing too! It is no good for morale when the manager says “make 75 calls today” and the manager made 10. When the manager says “Bill $10k this month” and the manager billed $5k three months ago.
But how do you find time to bill? You don’t find the time. You make the time. Set aside four hours a day when you are there, present among the recruiters, but not available to deal with their issues. You are there to work. It sounds unhealthy but it’s not. You see when the managers are billing the recruiters are billing. “

That was written in 1988! Yes 1988 and it is still as much an issue as it was 22 years ago. Why? My opinion is this; A lot of recruiters say they aspire to become managers so that they can “get involved in more strategy” or so they can “build their staff development skills” which are both fine reasons. Some I know did it so they could take some of the billing pressure off themselves and see it as the only way to get out of the continuous placement cycle and move higher up the ladder. I.e. They didn’t want to be team leaders or first line managers, they wanted the next step that comes after it, something non-billing. I have seen many a team leader spend their day combing through the database checking on recruiters daily activity and cracking the whip about getting on the phone when they themselves would barely make 10 business development calls in week (and not because they were billing well!) How would you feel as a fired up new recruit with all these dreams of success only to find that the person who interviewed you and sold you the dream doesn’t seem to do anything (activity or productivity wise) and has very high expectations of what you will do each day and week?? I thought so. Me too – time to find a better manager! This is what I have seen, first hand, lead to good trainee consultants leave a business because they have no role model to emulate. Even worse is when you have a manager with a team made up entirely of rookies (nil experience) who expects them to just “do it” without any form of example to copy.

The job of a billing manager is the hardest job in recruitment. I know that, as I did it for long enough! They are the chosen ones and those that do it well have my infinite respect. They are, however, a minority.
This debate will rage on until either the expectations change and it becomes a non billing role (and the promotion criteria would then have to change) or we have greater clarity as to the importance of leadership as opposed to managing the teams they run.

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