post by Alex Hens - CEO; Founder; (self-titled) Solutionista
As the end of 2023 draws near it’s time for a quick reflection back and a projection forward through the medium of a blog. I waxed, actually, probably more waned tbh, at this point last year about how I was done with 2022, although I knew that it’s pushing through challenges that makes us stronger… and I’ve seen it in quite a few cycles of experience in my life, not just reading it from a fridge magnet perspective. And here’s another that could or should be a fridge magnet classic too: “Only a crisis, actual or perceived, creates real change”. Now I thought I’d heard Steven Bartlett attribute something like that to Richard Branson – but it doesn’t actually matter whoever said it or repeated it or recycled it, what matters is the chord it struck and the truth I’ve seen in it.
My fellow founder and I, Tony (CTO), very much fell into what we do. “Amor fati” as the Greek philosophers (and many who have come since) of the Stoic persuasion opine – which is “love fate / love of one’s fate”. Over previous years I maybe would have thought that was all about being grateful for an unexpected new biz win here, or a requirement for a client popping up when we were about to start scratching for work, but as we step out of 2023 the real change that I see being created is… well… amazing. You see - those tough calls, well they were fate too. And at times I guess it did feel like we were in crisis mode – fighting for our future – but to quote another fridge magnet classic “it’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”(Vince Lombardi)
So let me set out a little about why, as we stand here today, I feel there’s good reason for there to be a renewed glint of steely determination in our collective eyes.
“The process is the foundation of success”
Individual brilliance is.. well… just that… brilliant. But it’s simply not scalable. And that’s what a business needs to be – scalable. Because sooner or later blood, sweat and tears just isn’t enough, or you don’t have any more to give, and what process does, well… good and proven process anyway… is enable that brilliance to shine beyond its own limitations.
Over the last year or so, there’s been some incredible shifts in our structures and process, bring a level of clarity and insight unknown within our own way of doing things. I mean sure, building brilliant systems and robust process for our clients is 100% what we do – and generally we knock it out of the park – but bringing that critical thinking and brilliance back into what we do… just didn’t happen. There’s an old Spanish proverb (so must be a magnet too, right?!) that translates roughly “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” – meaning that someone with a specific skill is often so busy assisting others, that their own affairs go unattended.
No more. Lord Kelvin famously said “If you cannot measure it, you can’t improve it” and with a drive for proper and considered continuous improvement in all we do, the insights are eye popping and the improvements already very clear to see.
Further to go? More to do? Hell yeah. But now that we’re seeing direct impacts, it makes watching all the more addictive.. which makes evolving how we do what we do all the more exhilarating… which makes the future all the more exciting.
“Get the basics right and the results will follow”
We’ve always put our clients front and centre in all we do – they pay our bills after all. But in doing so in some ways we’ve kinda compromised a little on what our primary driver was from the get go: candidate first. And we believe that if you truly put the candidate first then clients will get the best results. There’s a beautiful mutuality of success – and through it our success.
But our approach to this point has been pretty much bespoke by any other name. Bespoke sounds expensive… and it should be. But we didn’t carry ourselves that way, so we battled with “off the peg” / out-of-the-box providers whilst burning the midnight oil to fashion our solutions, which meant we couldn’t truly live to our candidate first driver.
That’s why next year we’re going to be looking at splitting our offering – one aspect concentrating on delivering highly configurable, feature rich, compliance robust solutions that will all be branched from the same singular codebase, whilst the other will be built from, but not tied to, that codebase and enable our historical level of agility and bespoke solutionising. And why is that an important distinction to be made? Because that will more freely allow us to develop and plug new functionality into client systems … candidate first functionality that we can build because we know it’s the right thing to do, rather than seeking for someone to want us to build it first.
“AI is neither good nor evil. It’s a tool. It’s a technology for us to use”
Well you can’t write a wrap up blog from 2023 and not mention AI now can you??!!
S’awesome isn’t it?! We’ve been playing quite a lot with it, in fact Tony’s done way more than that, and in his understated way we found out about halfway through the year that he’d been playing with OpenAI (creators of that there ChatGPT) directly since late 2022.
Internally we’ve used it in a plethora of ways, from evaluating documents and emails and blog posts to helping with various aspects of creative thinking – creating or validating. For me one of the more interesting working was when Tony came to his personal progress review with an evaluation on his progress already partially done, using it as an executive coach where he sought its feedback from a perspective of “internal monologue” i.e. a prompt that basically says “don’t pull punches”.
Sure, AI can be viewed as scary, but the genie’s outta the bottle, so you may as well get with the programme and see it as augmenting your intelligence rather than assassinating it… or indeed us.
From a client system processing perspective it’s a bit of a shame that we haven’t specifically plugged it into any client systems as a clear singular feature at time of writing - see the previous sections about why we’re changing our delivery model - but we’ve built proof of concepts and until it’s simply part of our new singular codebase then we’re, as always, looking for clients who want to work with us to next level some aspect of their process.
“When you are led by values, it doesn’t cost your business, it helps your business”
A couple of years into this we formalised Values and Reputational goals, having got input from our merry band of what was probably 12, maybe 15 people at the time. As the years zipped by I'd like to think we've done our best to build a business around these, although of course I can't say that we have always lived to that standard... and whilst I understand the reasons behind compromise decisions that were made (or in instances compromising by not making hard decisions) there's of course an element of curiosity about how things might have been different if we'd committed to living our values more completely.
So we’re re-invigorating our values… and we’re gonna ensure they’re enshrined in what we do and how we do it. Dare to Care is very much our driver, but we’ll be holding ourselves accountable for acting: collaboratively; with openness and honesty; bringing passion and pride to what we do; delivering dynamism. And each of those we are confident will lead to the remaining 2 values: quality output; having fun.
“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence”
Despite all we’ve done over the years, all the clients we’ve worked with and delighted, all the millions of candidates who have passed through HARBOUR systems and had a better experience than they’d have got elsewhere, and the thousands who have accepted a job and been smoothly onboarded through to their day one, our drive to never be too big for our boots or take ourselves too seriously kinda showed itself as what I can only describe as corporate imposter syndrome. Now, few things can shift overnight, and mentality is definitely not one of those, but having seen it, acknowledged it and called it out, we know now is our time to look at what we’ve done, see how far we’ve come, and back ourselves.
To that end we’ve got a little side project we’re currently working up – but we won’t say more about that until it’s good to go – however I’ve often joked over the years that we were “industry ninjas” or “our primary skill was hiding our light under our own HARBOUR bushel”, and that is not something we will be repeating going forward… be that for HARBOUR or any sister platform / product / offering.
Soooooo….it’s fair to say that a lot has changed over 2023. And it’s going to keep changing, because I believe organisationally, we’ve really got the taste for it. “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” (Socrates), and that’s what we’re all the more driven to do. It’s amazing what a bit of belief can do. Next year I hope we can see what a whole lot of it can do, because from a business that has truly sought to deliver on our ‘Dare to Care’ promise, it’s now time for us to dare to believe, and through living our values see just how next level we can take this thing.