Small And Mighty: What Leicester City FC Tells Us About Recruitment

An unfashionable football team, rewarded with pizzas, has won the Premier League by 10 points and left the established clubs in their wake. Leicester City FC will be a household name now, but their unassuming rise offers valuable insights about teamwork and recruitment.

There’s no doubt that big names impress, but as Leicester have so convincingly shown, size is far from everything. Their winning formula, and a culture of togetherness, has been built on nurtured talent and astute recruitment from lower leagues, at far lower cost. An enviable spirit and cohesion in a team which has its stars but has proven to be thoroughly balanced and remarkably light on ego (for a football team at least!)

Manager Claudio Ranieri, who famously promised to take the team out for pizza when they achieved their first clean sheet, said: “I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is to build the team around the characteristics of his players.” Equally true in recruitment, where candidate fit must be measured not only by experience and expertise but also by ethos. Team dynamic is vital and recruiting the right qualities needs a partnership approach – a close understanding of the client, the sector and its talent pool – that is only going to be found in niche, industry-focused search firms.

Logical then, surely, to choose a partner by specialism and service rather than size. This is about recruiting with know-how, finding candidates not by intensively searching on job titles but by carefully seeking out talent. That takes personal insight that large firms can’t hope to attain.

It’s often tempting to go with big brands, of course. Sometimes the name alone conveys a certain status or assurance. But their lack of sector specialisation means candidate matches on paper may be well off the mark in person. It happens too often in football, where eye-wateringly expensive marquee signings fail to fit with the club’s playing style or the combative culture of Premier League life.

Candidates too may be beguiled by big recruiters, with big promises, and this can also lead to a poor match. That end of the scale is more a numbers game, driven by process not people. However, success for specialised search firms depends on carefully-crafted, long-lasting appointments. This attention to detail is also much more cost-efficient. Lower fees at the outset, plus long-term value for money by placing people that fit well, stay for years and deliver greater ROI.

While the large multi-nationals undoubtedly have solid credentials (they didn’t get big by name alone), if you’re not on their A-list there’s a fair chance you’ll be paying a premium price for second-rate service. Using football analogy, you may find yourself on the bench while bigger players get all the game-time. And the senior executives that were so hands-on when you signed the paperwork have now handed you off to lower-level associates, juggling multiple clients and assignments, who are unfamiliar with your business. An added risk is your top talent ending up on their radar as potential candidates. That may burn bridges with you but for them it’s a small sacrifice to serve and retain larger clients.

While Leicester’s success is surprising, it is not secretive. In recruitment, the process is often shrouded in mystery, like a dark art, as if clients couldn’t understand or be trusted with the truth. By contrast, we work with complete transparency, openly sharing our methodology and processes with clients – in fact our software allows total access to review assignments, candidate data and so on. If anyone is interested in precisely what our process is, please call or drop me an email! *

Keeping things small-scale and low-key has brought high achievement at Leicester. It’s an illuminating story and a reminder that bigger isn’t always better. Compared to specialist search firms, do the major multinationals have the requisite sector knowledge, insight and focus? Do they really have the capability, capacity and commitment to deliver the high-calibre candidates you deserve?