You might think that a digital recruitment company would involve people with poor interpersonal skills searching for other people with poor interpersonal skills.
Futureheads, however, is a six-year-old London-based digital recruitment company that puts interpersonal skills at the very heart of its business and has been rewarded with 40 per cent year-on-year growth as a result.
"Our employer got bought and we didn’t like the new culture. So we decided to do something driven by relationships not the bottom line," says Be Kaler, co-founder and 25 per cent shareholder.
As any marriage guidance counsellor will tell you, the key to good relationships is communication. So you could argue that
Futureheads is not really a recruitment company at all – it is a communication company.
Kaler and her three partners, two of whom are also women, use the quality of their communication (as opposed to communications) as the tool with which they run, differentiate and brand their operation.
As women, their take on communication is not about willy-waving strategies and set-piece campaigns. It is about something more personal and intimate. It is about talking to people.
So when the company had a wobble late last year, and revenues dipped below forecast, they did not do what many management teams do in that situation – which is try to conceal it and ‘white-knuckle’ their way through. Instead, they took the employees into their confidence and enlisted their help with a company-wide briefing, team meetings and then individual conversations. "We communicated. We explained what was happening and asked everyone to work a bit harder," says Kaler. Sure enough, within weeks revenue had picked up and the problem was solved.
The same thinking informs the way Futureheads treats its clients and candidates: "We have become friends with lots of them by talking to them, not just about recruitment but about what is going on in the industry and supporting them when things are not going so well."
Not all the conversations are one to one. Conferences and directors’ breakfasts are a favourite way to engage with groups. Digital is a famously male industry so Kaler hosts a quarterly dinner for women called Ball Breakers. And for those geeks for whom conversation with another human being really is a step too far, Kaler stages tournaments of 80s-style Atari games.
PR is important within recruitment, but conventional media relations-style PR is not so important to Futureheads, says Kaler – although they did "dabble in PR" to promote the fact they came second in the small business category of the Great Places to Work Institute awards.
But in the digital field, as one might expect, social media are critical. "We have a well-defined approach to media. We sit down and understand who we need to build relationships with and then we work out how to do it," says Kaler. So there is a carefully segmented Twitter strategy in which posts fall into one of five categories – digital issues, product related, trends, personal and retweets.
Then there is the website hosting the company blog and other content alongside job ads. For the sake of diversity and authenticity the blog is policed lightly, says Kaler: "It’s open to anyone to write." The success of the ‘loose but interesting’ approach is such that 70 per cent of visitors come for the blogs – the relationship, if you like. Just 30 per cent come for jobs or a transaction.
Now this may all sound a little bit ‘soft’. But it would be wrong to mistake directness and simplicity for lack of purpose, says Kaler: "We are not fluffy, we are serious businesswomen. This is a culture-driven business and authenticity is the key. It’s what makes us flourish."