Cindy Norcott | Scaling a Multiple Award-Winning Recruitment Agency and Tips for Working With Mentors

John Corcoran 12:31

You Your company has been around for about 30 years. And for about two thirds of that time, you’ve had the Robin Hood Foundation, which you started. So first of all, what is the Robin Hood Foundation? And secondly, why did you start it? And what role has it played for you over the last 20 years having run both of those things.

Cindy Norcott 12:52

So the Robin Hood Foundation is an NPO. It’s a nonprofit organization, it’s a charity. And, you know, it’s funny, John, because for years, I was one of those people who thought, you know, one day, when I have time, I’d like to make a difference. I’d like to leave a legacy. And it started nearly 18 years ago when my second daughter was born. And I realized, gosh, I could clothe 10 babies for a year with what I’ve got for this one child. And you know, South Africa is such an equal society. And, you know, I really have felt this burden of, you know, the burden of privilege where you feel like you, you’ve worked hard, and you’ve got a lot, but around you the people you don’t have much. So as the name suggests, I started the organization called the Robin Hood Foundation, we don’t steal. But we asked nicely we take from the rich and we give to the poor. And I think the fundamental basis of this was when I started this charity, I actually went to all my clients or my business associates and my friends in the community, you know, me and I said, this is what I want to do, I want to do something transparent, we we actually take from people who’ve got extra, and we then put the goods into the hands of the poorest members of society. So it’s transparent. It’s honorable, it’s ethical. And you know, it’s going with a needs are, there’s no middle Manning at there’s no. So so we have no one employee, but for I think about seven years, it was everyone was just a volunteer. And now we all just volunteer our time we use our skills when necessary. And you know, we’ve built for crushers, we’ve hosted some incredibly awesome inspiring entrepreneurial conferences for up to 1000 people at a time, which have been free for disadvantaged people where they get to see here the most incredible minds in our country. And for me, it’s giving dignity to people who are poor or disadvantaged by allowing them the opportunity to to be treated with with absolute dignity and kindness. And they meet The top minds in industry they would never normally meet. So I think it’s giving them something to aspire to. We also run other projects, building houses, and we help moms with, you know, brand new babies with clothing. We do a lot of food relief a lot. We had to segue into the disaster relief space during COVID, during a looting period that we had in our, in our province, and during the recent horrific flooding scenario. So we pretty much or unstructured opportunists, looking for opportunities to make a difference in the community. And yeah, it’s it’s incredibly exciting and very rewarding.

John Corcoran 15:42

I want to ask about the the looting and the flooding that you mentioned, more recently. But before we get to that 12 years ago, there was legislation that passed that you said in your words nearly broke the recruitment industry. So what was that that impacted you? And what was that experience like for you?

Cindy Norcott 16:02

So up until about 12 years ago, my recruitment company was not really focused on permanent placements, but on temporary staffing. So what we had was, many companies started outsourcing their staff to recruitment agencies. So there was this, you know, they had the permanent staff, and then massive pools of temporary staff that were outsourced to recruitment agencies. And then there was a labor labor law amendment that came out, but within a very short space of time, which said that companies couldn’t do that. There were only very few circumstances where they could do that. So many recruitment agencies were built only on that model. We, they they supplied these outsourced teams, which literally overnight, I’d say half my competitors literally had to close the doors. What was great for us was not that we saw it coming, but we decided to do a shift in our business, probably about six, seven years before we were pushing, least temporary, more permanent, least temporary, more permanent. So every year, we were veering towards that, you know, only placing more permanent staff. And that’s so by the time we had that change in legislation, we were probably about 60% on the permanent staff. So that helped us to weather that storm, you know, and thank heavens, because otherwise I think we could have been casualty like many of our competitors were at the time. But I think it was maybe just I don’t want to say there was a like a crystal ball. But I think it was, you know, I think sometimes when you’ve been in a game a long time you develop instincts that somehow just through osmosis, you just have a gut feel. And I really believe in following those.

John Corcoran 17:48

Yeah, of course, a couple of the more recent events that have happened to you probably weren’t as easy to anticipate. So you know, COVID, for example. i A lot of people weren’t prepared for that. You said there was a sudden incidence of looting. Sounds like it was kind of sudden wasn’t something that people saw coming? What has that been like for you and for your company?

Cindy Norcott 18:17

COVID was horrific, I think, I think, you know, being told within a few days, go home, close up your business. And as an agency, I remember we were sitting with 106 job orders, which was quite busy. And within I think three days, we went down to zero. And it was like that for five weeks, we literally didn’t have a business. And then when we did go back to the office, it was like starting from zero, it felt like it was an apocalyptic time, because it was just no business. And I think for for me as a business owner, who’s always been a pretty self assured and always have a plan or is a plan a plan B and A Plan C and sitting there going, I have no idea what is going to happen. And also if you think about it, the commodity we sell our people and nobody wants to people and people carry a virus, you know, so we I must say I found it an incredibly stressful time. And and I’ve never felt so uncertain and so sort of anxious and going like what can we do? What can we do? Within four months it did autocorrect itself but you know, you can never sort of make up money you’ve lost as such. But I think it took its toll on clients. It took its toll. A lot of companies cut deep and they cut they cut a lot of staff and lead to sort of like a an ever launch of of unintended consequences where they’re sending more unemployment. So as a result at the same time is trying to run my business as a as a motivational speaker was also trying to motivate people through free webinars and just trying to put Little bit of positivity and pragmatic sort of thinking. And, and at the same time, getting call upon call at our agency, I mean, at our charity, from people who saying, I’ve lost my job, I’ve lost everything. So that it ended up being like a triple whammy Emotionally, I would say like we, you know, every day, you just felt like, I just don’t have enough capacity of what the world needs of me. And then the looting came out of the blue.

John Corcoran 20:27

And I wanted to ask about that, because I grew up in Los Angeles, and, and I was there when the LA riots happened in the early 90s. And totally bizarre, you know, bizarre experience going through that I was fortunate that my family lived kind of an outlying suburbs. So it was it was still happening, you know, we could, yes, you know, obviously, it was unfolding not too far away. But But what was that like for you when that when those that looting happened? Was it close to you?

Cindy Norcott 20:57

It was yes. I mean, you could hear sort of the, you know, when they there’s they’re burned too big storage units, near where I live. And many of our clients were taken out, literally, they, they lost everything. And I think I think what it did was a bit, it showed sort of a face of anarchy that that led to a lot of huge drop in business confidence, and lead to a lot of distrust of human nature, you know, and I think a lot of people felt quite insecure. Are we in the right province? Are we in the right country? Could this happen again? Why did it start? You know, what, what, what stops it from happening again. And for the second time, since COVID, we had a drop in business, we literally everybody froze, I think everybody went into shock mode. And a lot of clients adopted the wait and see approach. Let’s just wait and see how this unfolds. So took a huge dent into business confidence. And so almost like another knock that we didn’t really need, or we certainly hadn’t anticipated. And then in May this year, we had a horrific flooding incident in our province as well. So what happened was, roads got washed away both businesses homes, a lot of infrastructure was damaged. So people were reeling yet again. And it was almost like a, just one knock too many for many people, you know, and, and as a result, again, clients were saying, oh, let’s wait and see. On the charity side, people were phoning saying, we need food. We were distributing mattresses and linen and clothing. And so it just feels like the last since COVID, has been one obstacle after the next obstacle. And for many people that haven’t recovered. For many people, it’s been an emotional journey. It’s been it’s been, there’s a lot of evidence of anxiety, and depression, and people being quite uncertain of the future. But I think that’s where entrepreneurs have to somehow find within them the well of resilience and optimism that makes us entrepreneurs where you go, you know, tomorrow will be better. And I will be part of making tomorrow better. So I think for us, it’s been a case of digging deep saying how many people can we help? What can we do. But John, an interesting thing that’s happened, which was definitely an unintended consequences. And something I never foresaw was prior to COVID. If you own a recruitment agency, you kind of place people around you. And I think this, this new digital world we live in, has has opened up. So we are getting companies all over the world hiring South Africans to work remotely. And so for a country where the GDP isn’t growing very, very quickly, and there are not many opportunities from companies inside. As a recruitment agency, we are placing people to work in South Africa around the world. And companies that have started in South Africa and have moved to the UK, the US Australia. They love the South Africans work ethic. And often they relate well to South Africans, and some of them are working in towns where people are not willing to work, for whatever reason, maybe the rates aren’t great. And we are finding that the global market has opened up to South African employees who have got good skills, especially in the fields of it. Customer service, or project management, sales or business development. So it’s been a very interesting, unprecedented shift, which which has been very exciting.

John Corcoran 24:48

Have you had to change or innovate or pivot your your business model as those needs of the market have changed?

Cindy Norcott 24:58

Absolutely. So I mean, beforehand, office was like a train station, having people in an art for interviews. Everything is done online now. So I think we are equally equipped to play somebody within five kilometers of our business as we are to play somebody, internationally, the same principles apply the same processes. So, so yeah, it’s just, it’s just opened up the world in a way we had never imagined. So yes, we’ve had to invest in all the infrastructure or the it in all the systems, in good databases, and in a lot of training. But now I feel we are, I think the sky’s the limit. Yeah. And the other thing is, we used to always only have staff in the office, you remember those good old days, we everyone was in the office. Now we’ve we’ve also taken on freelancers, and they are incredibly hardworking and self motivated. And, you know, they come in the office when they want to, but we also realized that we can hire people around the country or the world to work in our business. So that’s really opened up opportunities.

John Corcoran 26:06

Now, one of the challenges you’ve experienced, other businesses have experienced is people get poached, you have incoming people calling, trying to recruit people out to go work for their company, with labor, so fluid now and with people kind of jumping different roles. What have you done? or what have you advise other companies to do in order to make your company somewhere that people want to stick around?

Cindy Norcott 26:35

I think this is possibly one of the biggest challenges for companies in the knowledge economy, going forward, you know, service businesses, you know, jobs where, where people can be quite fluid. So I think the biggest, the most important thing is to keep communicating with your staff trying to create an environment where they feel valued, where they are engaged. We they know they are valued and appreciated. And you show that not just once a year with a 13 to Chico, but but on a regular basis. And I think now’s the time for culture to really sort of be not just a buzzword, but you know, what is our culture? What is our mission? Why are people here? How are we treating people? So I almost think that employers are what we realized, as a business, our biggest challenge isn’t getting clients to give us business is to retain our staff, our staff, our assets more than clients. So you know, what I would say to any business person who’s feeling like the staff are being poached, you know, find out what they need what you know, Do state conduct stay interviews, why do you stay at what can we do to make you happy, not in a neurotic way, and not in a desperate way, but try and work out? How can we make the experience of an employee better in our company? What do they need? Asking questions like? What is freedom and flexibility mean to you? Is there anything you don’t have? Yeah, that you would like? What would make you leave? Then almost having those pre emptive discussions? Because, I mean, we all know the cost of replacing people, nevermind the morale issues, nevermind, the long lead training time and what have you, but I think what we’ve seen is LinkedIn, it has become an incredible source for for people to just start looking for staff and poaching. And if you own a recruitment company, all your staff on LinkedIn, on LinkedIn, obviously, because that’s the to one of the tools of the trade. So, you know, I think employers who think all my staff are loyal, and are not looking, or possibly delusional, because they might not be looking, but others are approaching them. So you know, just the fact that they’re working on LinkedIn, or that they have a profile. And let’s be honest, a lot of people are open to opportunities. And and I think loyalty is different to what we used to think it was years ago. You know, people used to think people would stay 10 years now, a lot of people say I was loyal was the 18 months and it gave you I gave you my, my heart and soul, but there’s a new opportunity. And as the world opens up and becomes smaller, I think we’re going to see more people being more fluid.

John Corcoran 29:20

I’m really curious, because you just recently scheduled a three month sabbatical, which I’m incredibly jealous of. Is this a case of you feel all set? Like you could do it tomorrow? Or is this a case of oh crap like now, now that I’ve scheduled it, I need to get everything ready so that I can do it when it when it comes time?

Cindy Norcott 29:45

I think I think it’s been a beautiful combination of a few things that have sort of worked together. I was working with an executive coach saying, you know, I’ve been doing this for years. And you know, there’s that saying, you know, sometimes we get so busy We always, like waiting to live, we’re always getting ready to live, but we never really living because we’re so busy working, work now play later. And I think that sense of when will I start living because I’m running this business, I’m helping everybody else. But the kind of work that the kind of energetic needs that go along with it are immense, you know, doing doing motivational speeches daily, or, you know, several times a week, coaching people, inspiring your team, dealing with the needs of of a desperate community, and they take the toll. So I think I’ve been working towards this, without even realizing it, and empowering management, empowering my team’s work with the most incredible people and these beautiful, I think, relationship of trust and respect. So I am very excited about it. And I would encourage anybody who has been in business for a while, if they feeling a little stale, a little tired, a little worn out, to say, how can I make this happen? And then to, I think, risk to try and avoid the temptation of filling it jam pack that that is exhausting. You know, I think it’s a tension between wanting to do something exciting, and also knowing you need to rest and, and fill your tank, you know, so I’m very excited about that. And it’s definitely not done as a knee jerk reaction. I think it’s, I think it will usher in a new way of being, because it’ll give me permission to, to show up in a different way. And I think I will get some learnings from it, which will maybe help me become the architect of what this future of my life will be. So yeah, I would encourage any entrepreneur who, who knows that they’ve been giving it their all and feel a little bit stale or tired. They know that they owe themselves a gift of rest, I would say, and I think many of us have been traumatized. Since COVID, we’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety, a lot of, you know, trying to hold space for everybody else. And I think a lot of us, maybe ourselves this gift of rest of freedom of time, freedom. And, you know, yeah, and I feel if you’ve got the right people around you. That’s that’s isn’t that why we want to run a business. It’s not just to always be the shopkeeper.

John Corcoran 32:30

Right, right. All right, final question. My gratitude question. I’m a big fan of expressing gratitude. For those who helped you along the way especially peers and contemporaries, mentors, we always think our family, of course, we always think our teams, of course. But in addition to that, who else would you want to just acknowledge for helping you in the journey?

Cindy Norcott 32:53

You know, I think, if I, if I think about people that I’m close to, I would probably give thanks to my EO forum, I’m part of a forum of seven people. And we meet every month for five hours, we connect with each other, we share that 5% That we don’t tell the rest of the world and, and, you know, there’s a saying that the person you are in five years time will be based on the people you hang around the books, you read the podcasts, you know, everything you listen to. And if I look at the growth that I’ve had over the last six years, having been part of this forum, I think the influence they’ve had on me has been profound. And it’s been done in a very beautiful, gentle way. There’s been no advice given, but just experience she is the way they show up the bravery, the way that you know, they think bigger than me, the way they challenge me. And, and this sort of dedicated approach to learning that we have this peer to peer group. So I think I think the most accelerated growth I’ve had has been in the last six years, and I would allocate attribute the vast majority of that to these six other humans who you share the truth with me and hold mine gently as well. So I would say I would encourage anybody to get into whether it’s a mentorship group mastermind group, join a group like YPO EO or but just try and work with like minded people because, you know, they say iron sharpens iron and you know, it’s a beautiful space not to be lonely. It’s a beautiful space to get support, to be challenged and to you know, hold up a mirror in a gentle way. So I think that’s that’s what I’m most grateful for.

John Corcoran 34:46

Pro Talon pro appointments, how to be unstoppable. How does she do it the name of the books, where can people go to connect with you and learn more about you,

Cindy Norcott 34:54

Cindy? They can go to my website, Or they could go to my company website Or they can email me [email protected].

John Corcoran 35:18

Excellent. Cindy, thank you so much.

Cindy Norcott 35:20

Thank you very much.

Outro 35:21

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