Transcript: Kos Lesses – Maximising your Workforce Planning (Max#20)

Here is the transcript of the motivating interview with Kos Lesses, a project manager with an extremely strong record for implementing talent management and workforce planning programmes within major city organisations. He is an excellent example of someone who has the drive and determination to deliver to be successful in life.


Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.

Welcome again to the Maximise Potential podcast and than you for joining us for episode 20. Finding and then encouraging the best individuals to join your company is widely regarded as the key determinant for business success or failure. Kos Lesses is a project manager with an extremely strong record for implementing talent management and workforce planning programs within a string of major city organisations such as JP Morgan. He is regularly engaged by companies to take on high profile business critical talent acquisition projects and he has done this time and time again within tight deadlines or for a very high volumes of requirement. He is known in the industry for his end to end project management skills and ability to deliver. In today’s interview Kos shares much of his approach to maximising the recruitment process within a company giving anyone who is involved within the hiring of staff an excellent insight into the strategy that he employs. Please enjoy.


Kos thanks very much for sitting down with us today on Maximise Potential, pleasure to have you here.

Kos: Thanks for having me.

Kevin: We are going to talk about a subject that is bang on for the podcast absolutely what you do every day of your career that you have done for investment banks and various other companies all around the world and that is quite simply how you maximise the value of the recruitment process within your companies to ensure that you are getting best talent for the best positions. And I think that is a perfect setup for what we are going to talk about today. So go on fire away.

Kos: I think I decide on the beginning of the process itself because so many positions which I have ran on my own team or helped to manage other peoples recruitment process they can a little bit a miss if they are not managed properly and can obviously drag on into the weeks and unfortunately months on occasion. So the way that to um approach this is by project managing the actual recruitment piece itself. The unfortunate thing is that when people look for additional members in their team chances are they are actually looking in a bullish market. So what that means is that every other firm is looking for people generally in the same team, in the same skill set. So you are going out into the marketplace with a role that could be one of many looking for a small pool of candidates. And I think the key thing is to try and make everyone aware of your role and get some focus on it. And I will go through that now if I can.

Kevin: Yeah please do.

Kos: I think first of all going through the fundamentals and that is actually the job description. The job description is probably the critical piece in the recruitment process because if it is not done properly from the very beginning you can waste weeks chasing the wrong people. In most firms job descriptions have a default template you know and everyone if very, very busy and I have always obviously been guilty myself when I have got a default template from the company and I have set it out to my preferred supplier list and there is obviously things on there which may not be essential or may be missing that are essential. And I think that you don’t have to spend too much time on the job description it can be half an hour or an hour. What I strongly suggest is that a Manager will need to take things out of that job description that they don’t need to avoid any kind of misdirection on the search and then of course other things that they definitely do need. And of course not only put in what you consider to be the best candidate and also what you accept as their bare minimum as well.

The one thing about getting focus on your role is trying to avoid the sales talk or the business talk on your job description. Some of the best ones that we have ever done have been written by a person on the team themselves so delegate this responsibility to a team member who has been in the team for a while and ask them to say write about your job, write about some of the tasks, write about some of the good things you enjoy doing in this position and if the language is natural it means there is more of a face to your job. It means that the vendors and the actual candidates who get sent the job description have a much better feel and understanding for the role.

Kevin: It is very interesting actually because that compliments exactly what Tony Dobbin was saying when we just interviewed him for episode 17 where he was saying if you want to get the best results for your department, for your company then get the people who are doing the job to actually instigate those results happening.

Kos: Absolutely.

Kevin: It sounds like you are complimenting that.

Kos: No absolutely and there is probably, there is about four or five questions that I always have someone or myself answer when I do a job description. The first one is what you as a company and department can offer a new person – and that is write down to the job obviously and maybe a cultural side of things. What they can offer to you – because if we are looking for the top 10% pool of candidates these candidates want to come into your organisation and add some real value. They want to come in, they want to be able to contribute to a project that has meaning, they want to be able to offer their experience and feel valued. And so what they can offer you is actually a key question.

The third one I always ask is what growth they can expect in that role. The other thing is there could be a day in the life of someone in your team, and that has always worked quite well I would always have that as an attachment for the agencies to use for themselves so they can actually understand what the person does on a day to day basis as well.

Kevin: That is very interesting I hadn’t heard of that before. So it is not necessarily part of an advert but it is just helping other people who are recruiting these people for you to actually help them fully understand what this role really is.

Kos: Absolutely and I think this goes on to a point if I can about putting a face on the role on your particular role. If we are looking at numbers and this may scare some people who are not aware of this numbers but when you are working in HR and in a bullish market, in a say medium when I say medium size firm it could be anything from 500 people upwards to obviously 20, 30, 40,000 people that is a larger firm obviously. In a bullish market you could easily have 3 – 400 positions in HR that are live at any given time and that is quite a massive number. And generally speaking the recruitment team doesn’t actually increase in size. When the market is a bit more of a bearish market and you have say 30 positions you may have a team of say five people looking after those 30 roles. In a bullish market when there is 3 – 400 positions you still have five people managing those positions. So you can understand that your role amongst those numbers can be diluted and forgotten and sometimes overlooked.

Going beyond that when your HR counterpart then gives that to a vendor those vendors will have five or six clients and it is not unreasonable for them to have themselves 3 – 400 positions on the board. And back a long time when I started my career in a vendor I do remember working in a very bullish market and coming into the office and to do your job properly you can only probably find 2 – 3 very good candidates a day and that is a good day in a tight market. And so one of the key questions in the morning is which roles shall I work on. And when you look on the board and there is you know 200 positions that we are trying to allocate you can see how your job can obviously get lost amongst the roses so to speak. The most important thing is to get the right message out to the market so the candidates can really understand your role and feel like there is more to the role than the typical default template that we all gate from most firms. As a Manager one thing I always do is brief HR on the person I want not the actual vendors first. I will go to HR and I will say what I really need is this, this, this and this. So they have a very good understanding of what we are looking for. So when the CVs come to them they can actually then send on the appropriate CVs. Then I always have a vendor briefing very soon after, probably two or three days later or maybe even the same day on occasion. That is an opportunity for me and the hiring managers to sit down with the preferred supplier list and actually explain in very basic terms what we want. Once again trying to avoid all the business terminology. There is no point saying we are looking for bright people or intelligent people because I think you know that is a gimme. But it is more about saying the team size is this, this is our culture, this is the hours we are working, these are the type of projects we are working on what we are really exciting about now is A, B and C. What we are really looking forward is you know A, B and C. So trying to put some flesh on the bones so to speak.

Kevin: This is a rare approach the actual face to face briefing from what I understand but it is something that you feel extremely strongly about and it something that you feel adds a lot of value and that people take their role seriously and they promote them going back to what we said earlier.

Kos: Yeah absolutely and it is about taking the role seriously and in a weird way by bringing people in face to face and meeting the Hiring Manager you are actually giving them ownership. You are actually saying to them we are serious about this and they go off like they have to work on the role because they are obliged to because they have met the Managers they have gone through the job in detail and they can also see the commitment from the Manager. And one thing I do stress is that when you have a vendor briefing I always put a timetable together. So say for example the briefing is on Monday I will then say to the agencies if we have all the CVs in by Friday I can guarantee the feedback on Friday from 2 o’clock onwards. The following week Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we will telephone interview and then the following two working days say Thursday and Friday we are going to do the first round of face to face interviewing. This does two things – first of all the agencies know that you are serious about finding this position, the role is very much active and they have got a deadline they can actually aim for. It does another thing it also means that when I speak to the candidates the candidates in a bullish market will tend generally speaking have several agencies calling them sending several job descriptions over to them and not any timeline so it is kind of hard to gage you know I am on my second round interview I have got a third round interview next week do I really want to start a process with another question. So there are all these questions that candidates have to answer themselves. So if an agency calls a candidate and tells them I have just been to a briefing on Friday we will have feedback and on Monday and Tuesday we will have telephone interviews and we are going to have a face to face Friday. Then it gives the candidate the confidence that something is going to happen from this role.

I would like to recap I mean the most important thing from the client side is that we have the message right. We have the culture of the team the work / life balance information; we have the role in detail, what we offer the candidate, what they can offer us. We have all that ready to go. The vendors have that information and have more information in fact so they can actually really you know speak to the candidate at length about the role. HR then has that information knowing that when the CVs come through they know which ones to put forward and there is a timeline so everyone is aware of that timeline. And for me that is the only way you can run a proper recruitment process. And in the marketplace when you have got those numbers if a vendor knows there is that dedication to a role I can guarantee because I have been there, it is many years ago and all the vendors I work with now, I can guarantee that your role is on top of the pile. If they know they have got four days to find good people they will have people dedicated to that position.

Kevin: I think what I like about what you are talking about, we are talking about it with specific regards to the recruitment process within an organisation but very quickly I am applying this in my mind for all manor of projects and it just the whole approach of identifying all the stakeholders, getting them together, communicating, ironing out any issues and getting collective buying. And you know what we are talking about here is such a great management approach and team management approach to actually apply generally throughout business but one I think so often will just try and cut a couple of corners with because we think we are a bit too busy or we haven’t quite got the time to bring this group of people together. But I think you have probably seen, going back to the recruitment side of this, you have probably seen what happens when you do cut maybe a couple of the corners.

Kos: The one thing that I find extremely frustrating is when a project like this, I always call them projects because that’s what it is, when it drags on and then you have a situation where a Manager will be doing first round interviews on a Monday, doing final interviews on a Tuesday and then doing a second round interview on a Wednesday. And then getting new CVs on a Thursday. And you will have, and I think candidates understand this, vendors understand this as well that a candidate will be told you are fantastic you have finished the process can you please wait one or two weeks while we see the other four or five people. A it doesn’t give the candidate confidence that they are the best candidate and more times or not they will disappear and go to another firm and if you go back to that candidate after two weeks and say we would like to make you an offer then of course I guess the excitement of joining the firm has been diluted you feel that you are not as wanted. And of course the Manager will generally speaking have a meeting per day at 3 and then 1 and then you know 5 o’clock so the days are wasted because hoping between different meetings so to speak. The reason why I like to block things out is that if I can say to a Manager you need to give feedback for two hours on a Friday. Spend one hour reading CVs come back with feedback and then we have blocked times for interview they can manager their diaries a lot more efficiently as they can say well I don’t have to worry about looking at CVs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and they can relax because there is that time frame and by not having that in place you will find the recruitment process will drag on. It will become stagnant, the vendors loose interest because of course other new positions are coming through to them, HR will loose interest because the roll is still sitting on the system not really going anywhere. And it can be quite hard to bring that excitement back up to the initial levels. Even if you relaunch that role and you get the vendors back in, you get HR back in everyone that does sit back and think is this really real now, is this actually going to happen. So you can actually loose that momentum which is quite critical in a role like this.

Kevin: Yeah that makes so much sense. Just going back on what you said about the time management issue because that is a really, really valid point that you are bringing up about just blocking off a clear space, a clear focus because I reckon that from your experience you also get an awful lot more back from the managers when they know that this is my time for recruitment I am going to focus solely on this I am not being distracted I am not checking my emails I am not thinking I have got to be at another meeting which is about something completely different. That must have a huge impact in a positive way.

Kos: Yeah absolutely and the mangers buy into the whole process a lot more as well because they feel it is being controlled, they feel like there is a deadline. So they know that in two weeks time on a Friday they can actually almost guarantee they are going to make offers. So it gives them confidence to actually put a lot more effort into the process itself rather than the ad hoc approach so to speak.

Kevin: Yeah.

Kos: And one of the important features of doing something like this is looking at the diaries of the people involved. So for example if the Manager is going to go on holiday in two weeks time, if the Manager has an offsite meeting, if the Manager you know has the appraisal season you know there is things like this we need to be aware of.

Kevin: What other issues do you have to consider within that process before the actual role is going live and it is out there and you are in the throws of all of this?

Kos: Well with any project the first thing I do is I look at my project triangle which is three key factors which and that is time, cost and resource. And the cost is a critical piece of that, in actual fact it is a piece that tends to get overlooked at the very beginning and ends up killing the result at the end or ruining the offers or you loose the best candidates because of that reason as well.

Kevin: And when you talk about that you are actually talking about the actual salary/contract rate or?

Kos: I am talking about everything I mean cost as well in the sense of the salary, the contract rate, the vendor percentage, you pay the vendors it can be everything from the cost of advertising all across the board. Where you have the biggest issues of course is the rate you are paying the vendors and also the salaries you are paying the candidates. The market changes so quickly now there can be a situation where the benchmark has been completed in January you can say typical candidate A can be worth £50,000 in January and in June it is not unheard of to see the same person be worth £75,000 six months later. And I have seen that and the reason for that is because you could easily have six large firms looking for the same people at the same time for critical programs.

Kevin: It goes back to what you were saying right at the beginning which is if you are looking for the odds are that a lot of your competitors are.

Kos: Everyone else is looking for them. Exactly. And the same thing for contract rates it is not uncommon to see a contract is on £450 a day and then all of a sudden six months later they are turning around saying they want £650 a day because they can basically demand that level. From the outset one of the key things a hiring manager needs to do and this is once again saying to a hiring manager if you are being proactive you can really take control of your recruitment and don’t leave it up to HR entirely because HR is going to be flooded with another 400 jobs as well. So as a hiring manager if you want to get your position filled you can take the lead on this and you can say to HR what is the salary for you know Associate banding and they might turn around and say it is going to be X amount of money. You might look at your team and say well that is about right because my team is that is the benchmark for my team. And I think in this situation it is really important and it is very, very easy to go to the vendors and the preferred supplier list and say can you please give us some guidelines how much a person with this skill set is currently commanding in the marketplace. Generally speaking they will come back with a similar level that your team is on. It is never going to be crazy, there is never going to be a crazy difference in level but on occasion there is. There is sometimes a situation where your team might be on an average of £50,000 a year and the vendors you know, you might have seven or eight vendors come back and say in actual fact everyone in the marketplace is now looking at £65,000 a year. this is a discussion that you can then have with your business partner and say this is the information that I am getting from HR what can we do about it, can we quantify that, what is the reasons for this. And in a lot of those firms where I do, do that and sit down with the hiring manager if there is a big discrepancy we either look at the team itself and there has been occasions where we have had to realign the benchmark because of course if we don’t realign the benchmark we know that there are people on the team will naturally get calls from vendors and will naturally be told about the other rates and of course would be leaving the firm and going elsewhere. So it is very important for us to retain individuals as much as attract other individuals.

Kevin: That is a very good point.

Kos: If there is no movement whatsoever then it is a situation where we have to sit down and look at the job description and say it is pretty unlikely that we are going to find someone with all the competencies with all the technical experience we need so what can we do about it. And there has been more times or not we have decided to turn around and where we couldn’t change the salary we have turned around and looked for a possibly more academic person who we can train up, looking at the cost of training and going that avenue if we have time. Looking for a person who has fundamentally the technical experience but from a different industry, from a different department. I think one of the craziest things I have ever done was in a firm I worked with several years ago we were looking for an investment writer and at that particular time in the marketplace investment writers were extremely sought after and we found it extremely difficult to find anyone even at a very good rate so we approached the subject and said well what are we looking for essentially in this person. And what we were looking for is a very strong English on this occasion, very strong written skills and the ability to go out and put together something quite quickly. We decided to go and look for English teachers. You can imagine initially when we thought about the idea it might sound a bit crazy but we actually went out to the market and looked for English teachers and of course there is an opportunity for a teacher to come into a financial environment we stuck him on a one month training course. Quite quickly we had three new people in three months producing outstanding documentation. Obviously very, very excited about changing their career and moving into a financial environment that would never have happened if we looked for investment writers and if we did we would have paid way beyond the premium to get these people on board.

Kevin: Interesting that was all just getting creative and thinking outside the norm and just approaching it from a different angle.

Kos: And it is about moving into a different pool of candidates. You know if you like your fishing and you go to a pond and you see 30 people standing around one pond sometimes it is worth going to a different pond and trying your luck there. So in a weird way by changing direction on your search you can actually tap into a completely different market of people.

Kevin: Yeah and I think you have touched on there are certain skills that people are after and they just simply aren’t available because people are just tied up in projects, potentially long term projects or permanent roles or whatever and for love nor money you just cant get hold of these people.

Kos: Absolutely and I think this is where the vendors play a key part and this is where you need to have the communication with the vendor directly because it is very easy to go through a process, the internal process where you send off your job description you then see on the system that it has been sent out to the market then you wait two weeks CVs coming in dribs and drabs nothing looks really appropriate for your team. And by having a face on with those vendors you can ask those questions and say is it possible to find someone with these five key skills. They would tell you very, very quickly and more times than not my vendors will say to me yes but these other four clients are looking for the same people we have recently placed three people in the last four months and this is the situation, this is what’s happened so you can engage very, very quickly if it is reality and if it is not what are other competitors doing to get these people on board, what else you can do to get people on board and also looking at the cost efficiency with vendors. It is interesting because a lot of firms when they increase their headcount dramatically say for example going from 30 new headcounts to say 300 new headcounts they tend to look at reducing the rate that agencies are currently on. I always find this counter productive because if an agency has five major clients on their books and one client is saying we are going to reduce the rate because we are giving you extra positions it is natural for them to go and look for other people because the other clients are offering a better percentage. So I occasionally I have spoken to agencies and said you know I would pay a premium if you would focus on my positions and you give me the service I require which is giving me the CVs in four days time, giving me the competition information, giving me the market information. And also delegate some time to the testing parts of the role is part of the interview process. Get them to do a lot of the screening, the testing and so forth which frees up the managers time which frees up my time. Off load as much as I can to them basically.

Kevin: Yeah just listening to you talk about this and talking generally about how you approach this it is a genuine partnership.

Kos: Absolutely.

Kevin: It is not saying right I know what is best and you are just delivering this service to me and there is purely an invoice at the end of it. It sounds like there is a genuine partnership approach and you appreciate everybody’s skills that they bring to the table with this.

Kos: Well you need to you know it is like any industry if you find a good vendor they make my life very, very easy. They give me great people, they give me all the advice I need, they give me the information about what is happening in the marketplace which allows me to do my job a lot better. It means I fill my positions a lot quicker and of course if I haven’t got a genuine partnership and I don’t feel like there is synergy between myself and that firm generally speaking I won’t use that firm. So I will continue to look until I find a pool of vendors that I have a very strong relationship with, they know exactly what I am looking for and the other thing about that this I almost train them up to sell the company and sell the team and sell the environment better than anyone else. So by using the same vendor who I do trust and do have a good partnership with if they are passionate about the firm because they are having, they are obviously placing people and it is of benefit to them they will go to the market and sell your firm so much better than anyone else and that means that the candidate that has come to you and has also gone to the other three firms more times or not they will lean towards you because they have had a much better process from the start to finish which is the vendor telling them a lot more about the role. When they come and see us we have a timetable in place and so I have a very high hit rate on my offers purely because we are ahead of the game in that sense. And also you know sometimes your hands are tied and we also face we have all been there you get a situation where you want to use a firm HR say we cant because their rates are too high or our rates are too low to attract sufficient CVs so in that situation once again you have to get quite creative and I may then look at speaking to two firms only that are on the preferred supplier list say to them look you know I am looking for five people I am only going to use either one or both of you therefore all this work will go through you and be channelled through you, obviously our rates aren’t as high as our competitors we cant do anything about that, that is the contract and that is what HR has stipulated. However you are going to have five placements with our firm but I do require this level of service. So if you can’t adjust your rate accordingly then there is other ways you can get the service and that is by once again offering something beyond the rate which is exclusive rights or one of two or one of three maximum.

Kevin: Kos I think that just pulls everything together so I think we have found a lovely point now to wrap up this very educating interview that you have given people regarding maximising their recruitment process within their company. Do you want to recap by just talking about again that triangle that you refer to time and time again because that seems to be the essence of what you keep coming back to?

Kos: Sure the project triangle is you know time, cost, resource. The easiest way to look at it and to plan for it is anytime I start anything I actually write down three columns – Time, Resource and Cost – and I literally will write down every single thing under these columns that I can think of that I am aware of already, that I am expecting to happen but also the unknowns as well. By doing that then I can actually have a very clear picture about the resource you know if we are looking at 100 interviews I need resource to interview 100 people. Looking at the cost you know the cost of the tests, the test of the room bookings so almost like getting to the point of being pedantic and actually writing every single item that I can think of and by doing that you will quickly find that things will start to stand up and you go that could be a killer for me if this doesn’t go right, if that doesn’t happen then this whole thing could fall apart. So it also enables me to focus on the signals, the red signals I guess. So yeah the time – what is our time limit is it four weeks we need to work back and we have got 20 working days to get this done. The cost are we pitching this at the right level of salary, are the agencies on the right rates, are the cost of the testing you know what do I need to go to the stakeholder and say how much money do I need. And of course the resource and the resource as I mentioned before is a room booking, is the team secretaries, it is the stakeholders, it is the vendors, the interviewers – that bit there I think a lot of people underestimate and I think that is where people have to really lay out who the players are very quickly again you can see we have got a big gap here and most times or not it is always a small thing. It is a case of we haven’t got a enough rooms and that can throw a massive issue into the whole process so finding out all those little details in advance is very important. So by doing those three areas you can really summarise the campaign very quickly to yourself and then be able to communicate that to the senior stakeholders.

Kevin: That is superb and I am going to close off but before I do close off I want to ask you how you maximise your potential?

Kos: I am a bit of a perfectionist so if a campaign is completed and those 25 people are turning up everybody might give me a pat on the back and say well done you know job finished but all I can look at is all the mistakes and all the pitfalls I didn’t see. So one thing I have always strived in my life is learn from my mistakes or learn from my oversights or just learn from the curve balls that come in and hit you from the side you know and being aware of it because by doing that I just feel like I have a much more complete picture in the workplace. I have a much better understanding of the risks that are out there. Also the other thing I do in my personal life is I try and stay creative you know if it is music or writing or whatever it is I am always doing something. I find that by being creative it does actually give me an advantage at work when I am thinking outside the box, when I am, even with something as basic as writing a report you know it just gives you an added element to your you know to your arsenal. And the other thing I have tried to do throughout my life and this sounds a bit like project management speak which it is I guess is I have always tried to focus on the critical path you know what do I need to do, what is the bare minimum I need to get done to make sure this works. It sounds really sad but I do it when I go on holidays you know what is the bare essentials do I need to go on holidays and I plan my life like that. And I do find it has helped me a lot. It helps me at work, it helps me in my personal life and.

Kevin: Is it because it takes away the noise?

Kos: It takes away the.

Kevin: Is that what you are saying you focus on the most important bits.

Kos: Exactly and I think that people focus on the noise way to much and when you get down to it I have always had my own theory and it is called the Car Theory and it is just something I will tell you now, when I think about it if I was asked to build a car you know what do you need and I think where there is noise people start to talk about the rims and the doors and the roof and the lights when in actual fact when you think about it you need probably three wheels and you need a steering column and you probably need a bit of metal to sit on. So you know when you strip away all the noise you can get to see the guts of what has to get done. Like I said I do it in my personal life and I find it does actually help to keep me focussed and I like to be focussed on things.

Kevin: Kos that is a perfect way to finish this interview. Thank you very much for your honesty, your experience and everything you have shared today I really appreciate that.

Kos: Thank you.


Kevin: Thank you Kos for giving so much of an insight into the strategy that has served you so effectively throughout your career and also the companies that you have applied it within. For those of you who are directly involved within recruitment you will be very pleased to know that we actually have an extended version of this interview available which includes a detailed case study of a high volume recruitment program which Kos created and implemented within a major city organisation.

If you would like to receive a copy please just send an email to and please ensure you include some personal details so we know who to send it to. You will also find this email address on the webpage for this episode so just go to episode 20 on the Maximise Potential website.

So a special thanks to Jenrick IT for arranging this excellent interview with Kos and seeing this is likely to be the last episode before Christmas I would just like to say thank you to everyone for the interest and support that they have given us throughout the last year.

I am still staggered by how well the podcast has been received all over the world and I can’t wait to start releasing more interviews in the New Year. Have a great Christmas and a prosperous New Year and here is our final track from Xerxes for 2010 and it is very appropriately called ‘Snowman.


Thanks for viewing the transcript of this very motivating interview with Kos Lesses.

Want to hear more? The Maximise Potential Podcast is crammed with motivating interviews with inspiring people from all walks of life, so go ahead and listen and take your next step to maximising your own potential.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!