Dec 31, 2019
It isn't very common for a recruitment agency to hit a plateau and then grow beyond that plateau years later - but that’s exactly what happened when Robin Doenicke implemented a new recruitment model for his agency. His recruitment company - Tokyo-based Zensho Agency - has reimagined the structure and culture of its executive search service and as a result, has changed the model upon which the company operates and by which its team is built.
It’s this reimagining that has fueled an amazing recruitment agency growth of 10X. Naturally, I became very curious when I realized this, so I invited Robin to be my guest for this episode of the podcast. In his characteristic style, Robin was extremely generous in sharing the how, but more importantly the WHY behind the decisions he’s made regarding the structure of his company and team. The remarkable success they are achieving flows directly out of those decisions and you’ll hear him describe his approach in detail on this episode.
Robin is a martial arts expert - and that is not an exaggeration. He moved to Japan to study with grandmaster Bujinkan Ninjutsu and Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, both world-renowned martial arts instructors. As a result of his diligent study in a variety of martial arts, Robin has earned a top-rank 15th-dan black belt. It’s this background and experience that's lead him to one of his most vital philosophies about business: Be fully present in the events that make up life.
He believes that when you learn to be present you are able to effectively respond to the reality of what’s going on around you, and do so ways appropriate to the situation. This is in contrast to reacting, which is based on negative past experiences or according to ego-driven or fear-based motivations.
Robin finds this discipline to be extremely helpful in business and in recruitment in particular. The fast-moving, ever-changing environment of the modern recruiting agency demands a calm, measured approach - and mindfulness to being present allows that to happen. Robin has used the principle to shape the culture within which his team of recruiters drives the agency business forward.
When he read the book “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, Robin realized that he wanted to build a business that fueled the “why” of those it employs - not one that serves the “why” of its founders or board of directors. He believes that team members who are free to work on their own terms, completely empowered to be entrepreneurs in their own right will foster the most powerful and passionate recruitment service in the world - and as a result would fuel his recruitment agency’s growth. He was right.
The team at Zensho enjoys a community and support structure that readily and eagerly shares ideas and strategies so that everyone can succeed and clients and candidates are the beneficiaries. Though each recruiter is a contractor rather than an employee and is thus in business for themselves, they are never by themselves. Each of them enjoys the reputation and prestige of being affiliated with the Zensho brand as well as a generous compensation package of 70% to 90% of the profits from their placements. Truly, the strength and power of the whole trickle down to the individuals on the team. The results speak for themselves.
I invite you to join me for this fascinating conversation with Robin. His insight into the world of recruiting and the dynamics of what makes a team truly great will not only inspire you, it will equip you to raise the bar on your own ambition.
At the current rate of growth, including plans for the expansion of Zensho Agency to Australia in 2020, it looks like Robin will accomplish 10X growth within a 3-year span. How has he done it? I asked Robin that exact question and he pointed to two apparent things…
1 - Only allow great people to come on board the team
Robin says some of his biggest mistakes in growing the company have come from hiring the wrong people and he’s committed to himself that it won’t happen again. One of the hallmarks of this commitment is the company’s “No Asshole” policy, which makes it hard for those who are purely ego-driven or unwilling to contribute to the success of the whole to find a place within the company.
2 - Cultivate and encourage an entrepreneur mindset rather than an employee mindset
Because Zensho Agency has no employees and provides no base salary, recruiters who join the team must be self-motivated, proven producers who are eager to build their own business while contributing to the overall health and success of the team. Robin says those who have been hesitant to join the Zensho team are typically saddled with a belief that a base salary or "employee" status provides more security, when the reality may be that those are limiting beliefs that are holding them back from experiencing their best life. It’s this entrepreneurial mindset that has been behind the recruitment agency’s growth.
One of the things that set Zensho’s team apart is that each person on the team - though in actuality a competitor of sorts to the others on the team - is committed to the success of the others. This unique partnership mentality is something Robin says should become characteristic of the entire recruitment industry because when it is, the entire industry benefits.
Successful recruiters enhance both the image and the effectiveness of the industry, enabling those outside the industry to see what we do with a positive attitude and to believe that we offer something of value that nobody else can. For that reason, it’s to all of our benefits to help each other as much as we reasonably can.
I was happy to hear Robin say this because I’ve long had close relationships - even mutually beneficial business relationships - with people many would think of as my competition. Of course, I don’t give away all of my secrets but I do try to serve others in the industry - for the very reasons Robin highlights.
I hope you take the time to listen to this episode. Robin’s story will inspire you to aim higher, work harder, and dedicate yourself to forging relationships that serve our clients, your candidates, and the recruitment industry to a greater degree.
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