Being Number 2, Spare Tyres and the Importance of Workplace Processes

We live in a golden age of Irish Rugby, both at Club and National level, European Club Champions and Grand Slam Winners, the weight of expectation for our National side coming into a World Cup year is heavy but with a talented squad and a mastermind coach we can but dream of going far. A key factor in Ireland’s success has been the depth of the squad, in the modern era, it is no longer about the 15 players who start the game but the 23 players that are involved over the 80 minutes.  Each player has individual talent, but it is the sum of the parts where the winning appears to be. Further it is about trusting in the structures and processes instilled by the coaches, the communication and relationships players have with teammates and ultimate respect for opponents.

Similar to our Rugby team, the Life Sciences Industry represents a huge success story for Ireland, one that has sustained and evolved over many years. The sector not only represents massive growth opportunity to those directly involved with the many operations but also to the many ancillary services and businesses that have evolved to support the needs of this dynamic industry. As a relatively new services provider to the sector, we can be forgiven for striving to achieve a small piece of the action.

“Working harder because we’re number 2” is a very famous line that enabled Avis Rent a Car to win market share from the market leader, Hertz

Two years ago, we came to market, initially adopting a local and regional approach to developing and winning business, leveraging contacts within our own networks, developing rapport on common grounds of geography and niche service offerings. It’s served us well to date and has enabled our team to deliver on specific service tasks that in turn has led to the introduction and traction on our further service offerings.

With a growing client base on the home front, capacity to offer more and appetite to venture further afield we turned our attention nationally in early 2018. Like any business, it took us some time to re-configure our approach and value propositions to prospects that were previously unaware of our existence and indeed capabilities, you’re approaching operations that are blind to you with no evidence on your track record. Fast forward 12 months and we’ve won, delivered and continue to provide consultancy, project management, resourcing & recruitment services to clients in the Midlands, Dublin and West along with our home fires. One could be forgiven when reading this and thinking it was easy and for everything we’ve touched it’s turned to gold, this is far from the case!!!

The Silent Treatment:

Being met with objection (or silence) when prospecting for new business is commonplace and within highly regulated industries such as Pharma and MedTech it is no different.  Initial advances can be met by an ethos of “better the divil you know” and of course the further you move up the value chain for new business the more challenging to seek out decision makers due to large employee bases and deeply layered functions. I do however live by the idea that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it! This is where time, information flow and relationship building is key when engaging with Engineering, Validation & QC decision makers.

The Recruitment Equation:

However, when it comes to seeking out new recruitment clients, navigating the challenging waters of HR & Talent Acquisition can be a far trickier proposition. Enter the PSL (Preferred Supplier Listing). Some, not all companies, (and I’m careful to say this,) through the medium of the aforementioned functions, can use the PSL angle to firmly close the door on advances, irrespective of the context of your message and indeed questions you ask.

“We have a PSL in place and we are not looking to go outside of this. We have your contact details on file and if we need to go outside this we will be in touch.”

There’s a good chance of the above polite yet generic response making it to your inbox and at times this will be the first and final communication. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that there is no point to having a PSL, what I do believe is a mistake made by some HR & Talent Acquisition teams is getting a little too precious and inflexible with their PSL.

I’m not suggesting you present this in its exact state, but here’s a simple analogy that we can all resonate with including HR & TA Managers, believe me, mundanity will get you nowhere…

“Do you carry a spare tyre in your car?

Of course. Why?

You have four perfectly good tyres. Have they ever failed you?”

No, but what if I get a puncture?

Exactly, and it’s guaranteed to happen at the wrong time when you’re under pressure and you don’t have time to waste. That’s why you carry a spare tyre.”

Utilising All Your Players:

Let’s turn back to Rugby for a moment and the importance of utilizing 23 players over the course of 80 minutes. Take the example at the Aviva last Saturday (irrespective of the result, England were great value for the win), look what happened when Rory Best, who’d given his all for 65 minutes was replaced by Sean Cronin. Although Sean did not start the game, his impact when introduced was felt immediately, culminating in a great break and setting up the only Irish try of the second half. He brought with him a skill set that was different to that of the Irish Captain and although he was the second choice in the pecking order, his ability to respond and deliver when called upon was evident for all to see. The Irish Coaching team utilise such options across their bench as they are aware of each player skill sets, niches and value. Similarly, when an emerging player is identified to them from the underage ranks, they take time to scout them, understand who they are and what they could potentially bring to the table, in fact, such youngsters are often brought to train with the senior ranks on a trial basis to test their initial value and more important strategic value for specialist positions. Let me try and pull this altogether…

While yes where there are PSLs in place, it’s not our businesses intention to replace suppliers but rather complement them. Because we have niche focus areas, we’re looking to prove what we can do, we have to work harder, successfully impact on role delivery where companies and PSLs are struggling, often for long periods. We’ll either make that break that leads to that try or gets caught at the bottom of a ruck. Either way, the coach will know what we’re capable of and who knows we might get a call from the bench for further roles! My message to HR & TA is to look at each individual approach on its merit, especially where a service provider has taken time to outline their value proposition, identify gaps that can be clearly filled, asked engaging questions to help understand the potential a company requires, provided insights, information and profile on niche advertised roles. A default rebuttal to this may be, we’re too busy, inundated with such requests, high volumes etc. Well my counter to this is we’re all busy, we all have common objectives to ensure a demand is met, it’s as important for an SMEs growth as it is to a multinational’s critical role function fill.

The Importance of  Workplace Processes:

Moving away from the ramblings of how we seek to make changes externally, I’ll finish on how we deliver our services internally and the importance of workplace processes and structures, back to my Irish Rugby Analogy! Our office is an ever-changing environment, our recruitment, operations, commercial and software teams ever present, all doing vitally important but very different activities, the engineering arm of the business means more often than not team members are site-based and some of our contractors we see very little of at all! We’ve also implemented remote working options every Friday for our Waterford based team. If colleagues don’t buy into a system, trust the process and align to objectives then we’re on a hiding to nowhere. Developing an ethos backed up by tools which facilitates autonomy and clear service delivery is paramount. A decision was taken before we went to market to invest in such tools that provides all team members with access to real-time information on all activities of the business, we brought on board a great CRM from the good people at Copper, manage all our projects through a slick project management tool from Teamwork and have instant access communications and channels depending on team members and activities through Slack. This enables Aphex to communicate effectively to clients, professionals and colleagues alike, provides insights on pipeline activities for current assignments and prospects, measures activity and defines tasks against deliverables to present clear process flows to clients and partners. Such structures and processes keep us accountable, ambitious and professional thus ensuring every time we go market to say we can deliver our services, we deliver, best in class!