Leading an army of 400 people is a challenging task for any leader, and Managing Director of Randstad Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, Michael Smith, is quick to point out that there is a difference between managing and leading. Citing well-known business consultant and writer Jim Collins, Smith’s former boss Pat Digby, and his own father as people he admires, Smith iterates that being a leader nowadays is often compared more to serving others rather than merely telling them what to do. While pedants may argue the semantics, Smith says serving others does not necessarily mean doing work for others, but rather, “doing everything possible to make that person successful in achieving their personal and professional goals.”
This distinction is reinforced as Smith spells out his definition of success, dispelling the notion that financial success is the only defining factor. “The person who is truly successful is one that has managed to be at a point in life where both his and her professional and personal lives are fulfilling and happy.”
This philosophy is apt considering that Randstad and its Chief Executive are precisely in the business of filling in key positions for demanding clients who want the best of the best.
“As long as an individual is open and willing to receiving constructive feedback,” says Smith, “and is genuine about their willingness to put others first and has a high level of emotional intelligence, leadership can absolutely be taught.”
Tackling human resource issues is a multi-dimensional task, as people do not fit into neat, tidy boxes nor are they homogeneous in nature. Smith approaches human resource issues by trying to “conduct an autopsy without injury,” when finding out the root cause of an issue and the ‘why’ behind it. Being empathetic to all individuals involved is a good start, he believes, while a leader must be careful to be a spectator to his or her own thoughts to prevent becoming emotionally charged in the situation.
On a macro level, Randstad as a company has had its fair share of changes to endure and weather. There are always challenging decisions around making people redundant and closing divisions. Additionally, the company is sometimes faced with having to decide strategically what to focus on as a business. Smith offers his advice on tackling such issues with this managerial nugget: “Approach all challenges with a positive mindset, draw on the expertise of the people around you and maintain the faith that you can and will succeed despite the odds.”
Looking to the next five years, Randstad faces the potential of disruption to the industry from the continued developments in human resource technology. The company has launched the Randstad Innovation Fund, founded three years ago, which is a fund designed to seed and wholly acquire technology companies. Technology in the human resource industry will hopefully automate processes that will increase the productivity of its consultants and ease the process of connecting candidates with opportunities. The consultants are then able to focus on adding the human touch to the recruitment process.
Lessons in good governance can be gleaned from the Randstad case as the company does everything that is reasonable and practical to place the right candidate in the right role. This includes six-point reference checks as well as behavioural-based interviewing. While some processes might involve impartial third party testing, they also focus on the core skills of the candidate and their fit with the culture of the organisation, the candidate’s interpersonal connection with the management and skills for the role. After all, a company is merely an empty shell without people to drive its engine.