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According to PwC’s latest annual CEO Survey, 54% of business leaders plan to increase their headcount in 2018 – but tackling hiring in the right way is fundamental to future business success.

While in the early stages, start-ups often survive on the expertise of the owner-manager, and are run on ‘gut feeling’, there comes a time when a firm must scale up or resign itself to ‘lifestyle business’ status. However, while success is often measured in ‘headcount growth’, companies that expand their teams too swiftly open themselves up to the risk of being over-exposed to external market conditions or being forced to make rash hiring decisions.

There were 5.7 million private sector businesses in the UK last year, and many of these are vying for the brightest talent to take their enterprise to the next level. Any company is only as good as its people, and without the talent to sustain, solidify and grow current offerings and relationships, a once-blossoming business can quickly begin to implode.

However, there is a fine balance between ensuring that you have the capabilities to deliver in line with growing customer demand, and ‘panic hiring’ without considering the long-term impact of permanent headcount costs or if new recruits are truly the best fit for a role. Sustainable headcount growth often comes organically, by taking a measured approach to addressing real-time business needs.

At Healthier Recruitment, we started out with a team of two five years ago, and we plan to enter 2019 with a workforce of 20. However, I have learned that success lies in quality – not quantity – of hire and that bringing on board people with the right attitude and values, with a view to training them internally, often beats hiring for experience.

In recruitment, for example, professionals can easily pick up bad habits that are difficult to reverse, or they may have values which are simply not aligned with our own. Our mission is to create a healthier NHS by helping trusts to plan their workforces more efficiently – it is essential that our people keep this belief front and centre of their day-to-day operations.

True, if you bring on board somebody with no experience in your sector, you will have to offer that employee the resources they need to learn the trade. However, by hiring for core competencies rather than work history, you have the opportunity to shape that professional to fit your own organisation – they are essentially a bespoke employee. What’s more, while you can train individuals to follow processes, you cannot teach traits such as passion, warmth and resilience. In my experience, hiring for potential is always more efficient in the long run.

Indeed, in our work with clients we always advise that they consider the drivers behind a candidate’s decision to apply for a role if they are to build workforces strategically. For example, the mechanic who decides to change career and become a healthcare assistant to ‘give something back’ is undoubtedly applying for the right reasons. A more experienced candidate, on the other hand, could be disengaged, looking for some extra cash, and may leave the employer in a matter of months. It’s always crucial that you look at the big picture, particularly when smaller organisations have so much more to lose from making a dud hire.

The decision to grow your team should never be made lightly, but for every successful business, the time will come when you need to bring in more bodies. Ultimately, headcount growth should be intrinsically linked with not only a business’s short term requirements, but also future needs. And by looking beyond past experience and focusing on potential in new hires, you will build a culture from the inside out which will boost retention, productivity and future success.

Margo Leftly, managing director, Healthier Recruitment

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