A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk about ‘Authentic Personal Impact’ at the workshop Crossing Thresholds, which was set up to empower women in senior positions in the Civil Service to climb higher up the career ladder. Writing my talk and participating in the workshop got me thinking about the place of personality in building and running a business.
Most entrepreneurs would probably agree that personality is a vital resource for inspiring employees, creating a positive company atmosphere, and striking up relationships that will help sell the business. But it’s hard to articulate exactly how it works- there’s no rulebook for using your personality at work, only common sense and good and bad examples.
‘Authenticity’ is perhaps not the most useful term here. Though, of course, the most successful businesspeople are genuine, I believe it’s just as important to be considered; to think, before every interaction, about the impression you want to make upon the person you’re engaging with. How do you want them to perceive you? When I started Venatrix, I took some time to sit down and think about this- to devise the impression I wanted to make as CEO of the business. I set some rules about standards; what would I strive for and expect, and what would I never allow?
My rules and standards are largely dictated by what I do. As CEO of a graduate recruitment company, the mainstay of my job is motivating people- whether it’s inspiring my staff to perform well, getting the best candidates I meet excited about our jobs, or convincing potential clients to choose Venatrix over the competition. I base my approach on a Maya Angelou quotation: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” The key to motivating people, I believe, isn’t to try to create an image of yourself, but rather to make people feel something. In my view, to get the best out of people, that feeling should be a healthy blend of energised, encouraged and uncomfortable. Rather than trying to project my own personality, then, I try to understand the personalities of the people I’m working with- and more specifically, I ask lots of questions that make people feel challenged without directly challenging them.
This is probably easiest to explain with an example. Graduate recruitment is a candidate-driven market, and Venatrix is in competition for the best candidates with other recruiters and hiring managers. When I meet an impressive candidate, therefore, I set aside some time at the end of their interview to find out about their goals and motivations. I’ll ask where they see themselves in a year’s time: what kind of role they want to work in, what they want to have achieved, and how much they want to earn. Next, I ask how close to achieving this goal they are, what they’ve already done to make it happen, and how a job in tech sales might help them on the way. Without me having to say much, the candidate should recognise the distance between their current situation and where they want to be- and at the same time, begin to see a way forward via a Venatrix job.
I use the same technique to pitch my business to potential clients. Selling Venatrix comes down to making a case for the value of newly-graduated salespeople to businesses, which in a sense is easy- they’re fresh, full of ambition, ‘digital natives’, and comparatively cheap. But, often completely new to the world of work, they are also a clear risk, and require a lot of training and guidance. Rather than launching into a pitch about the benefits graduates bring to companies, therefore, and leaving myself open to objections about experience, I take control of the situation with questions. I ask the decision maker about their company, its goals and future plans, and how graduate salespeople can help achieve those aims. In articulating how graduates fit into their vision of future success, the prospect in a sense sells Venatrix to themselves, and perhaps even silences their own objections.