Interview: Charlie McArdle Talks About Raw Talent

Until recently, Charlie McArdle was Director of Operations at Lhasa Limited, a Leeds based organisation who are world leaders in data and knowledge sharing for Life Sciences. Heading up the Operations function, Charlie implemented wide ranging strategic change, including growing Operations from about 40 people to just over 80 before he left.

As part of this change, Charlie helped revise the hiring strategy and recruitment process, to concentrate on potential, with compelling results.

Claire Ackers, Director at Leeds-based IT recruitment firm Adesse Search, interviewed him to find out more …

Charlie McArdle, most recent Ops Director at Lhasa

Charlie McArdle, most recent Ops Director at Lhasa

1)      Tell us about the Operations teams when you joined Lhasa, and what position they were in when you left?

When I started in 2009, the Operations team comprised of a Knowledge team, a Database team and a Software Engineering team.  At the time, the three separate teams lacked formal processes and project management and were struggling to deliver what was needed on time and to the required quality in terms of numbers of features.

During my time Lhasa evolved into a project focused organisation based on sound processes. We introduced a Project Management Office and Test team to help with the work being carried out by Operations. Moving from traditional Waterfall to Agile methodologies. This really improved responsiveness and quality.

2)      What are your thoughts on the IT & Technology sector in Yorkshire?

It’s vibrant, there are a lot of great things happening across the whole sector, there are many creative and innovative companies that people don’t even know exist, let alone realise that they are based in Leeds (and Lhasa Limited is a prime example).

This impacted on our ability to attract talent and Lhasa had been struggling with recruitment for a number of years, as a growing organisation, there was so much more work we could do if only we could find the people to do it.

3)      Describe your original recruitment process, and selection criteria

When we did attract suitable candidates, we followed a very traditional candidate management approach. We would review CVs by ticking off the candidate’s skills and experience against key criteria contained in the Job Descriptions. Successful candidates would progress to telephone screening and then the lucky few on to face to face interview. The process could take several weeks.

4)      What problems was it causing?

Once people came through the door, they were quick to see that we were doing interesting and different work and not just building the more usual business solutions, however, other companies were snapping up candidates before we managed to speak with them and so we were missing out.

The senior management team were challenged by the Board of Trustees to explore options for changing the way we were recruiting, and we did just that.

5)      Tell us about the strategy you implemented?

To me it is all about identifying the ‘stars of the future’ – people with that extra spark and untapped raw talent, rather than looking at evidence to prove that they can do a particular job. To do this we needed to concentrate on assessing attitude, behaviours and potential, whilst speeding up our recruitment process.

Following a period of investigation we engaged with 2 consultancies to help train us on LAB – Language and Behaviour motivation.

6)      Describe the process – what do you do?

We started by benchmarking our current people and identifying a set of criteria for the ideal candidate’s behaviours. We then re-worded our recruitment adverts (to attract the type of people who would thrive in the culture and workplace Lhasa provides), updated our job descriptions and devised a new set of interview questions.

These questions drilled deeper down than traditional competency-based questions alone. We were not just looking for evidence that a prospective employee had a certain skill, or they had done something similar in the past, but were also concerned about how they would respond in certain scenarios. This gave insight into how they think and behave allowing us to assess whether they would help drive things forward in the right ways.

7)      What benefit has it brought to the business?

It has enabled Lhasa Limited to attract and recruit, and retain, some exceptionally talented people over the last few years. They have taken on responsibility extremely quickly, being proactive and showing initiative by identifying and then implementing their own great ideas.

8)      Have there been any bumps in the road implementing it?

Oh yes, lots of people were sceptical at first, and it took time to embed in the culture. Seeing positive results has helped gain acceptance.

9)      Why has it worked so well in Lhasa?

There are many very good people working there, committed to the organisation and usually receptive to trying out new ideas. These people are used to taking a scientific, evidence-based approach though, so it was a leap of faith for some of them.

10)  What advice would you give other senior managers thinking about adopting this strategy?

To keep an open mind and look to try out new ideas, because doing more of the same will probably just get more of the same results which may not be good enough in this fast paced world of rapid (technological) change.

The challenge for businesses is to get people with the right attitude, behaviours and potential. Skills can be taught and knowledge gained.

Setting aside a healthy training budget helped too!

11)  What’s next for you Charlie?

I’m looking to join an organisation where I can work with people, sharing my experience and knowledge, to help deliver beneficial business solutions so that I can once again leave a lasting, positive legacy.

Claire Ackers, Director at Leeds-based IT recruitment firm Adesse Search, interviewed Charlie in January 2017.

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