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Janine Milne

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Talent spot: Lorraine Makepeace, head of amazing at The Chemistry Group


 ‘Head of amazing’ is a job title you’re unlikely to come across very often, but The Chemistry Group is not interested in following the crowd.  This unusual job title was created especially for Lorraine Makepeace to reflect her skills of dealing with people and communicate the simple idea that “Amazing people do amazing things.” 

Officially, Lorraine Makepeace’s role is to run HR for the consultancy, which provides predictive assessment to solve complex people problems in large businesses. It’s her job to bring in new recruits into the business and help them and existing staff develop their skills, talents and careers. But Chemistry has just 21 staff and is often the case with small firms, Makepeace has the chance to get involved in many areas beyond her official remit. As a result, colleagues often refer to her as the “office mum”.
Makepeace also operates as the chief executive’s number two. The two of them work well together because they have complementary skills: he’s an entrepreneur and a visionary and she is a great implementor of his ideas. “Because of the way I am, I’m structured and organised and work things through, whereas he’s a visionary,” she says.
HR beckons
Makepeace didn’t start out in either HR or recruitment. “If I think about my career, it spans a lot of industries," notes Makepeace. "I started in IT in sales support, but I’ve worked in travel, leisure, advertising and for the last 10 years in recruitment."
Even though it took her quite a while to settle on a job with an official people focus, it was an interest and skill she’d brought to previous roles. “I’ve always had a natural interest in people, so even prior to recruitment and HR I’d always been supporting or managing teams. I like to be around people and try to get the best out of them,” she says.
During those early years in sales support, she worked on proposals, dealt with clients and generally helped out the sales team. One stint was at software giant Oracle working in the education centre, where she headed up the call centre for customers booking training.
Seal Recruitment Solutions was her first foray into recruitment. “I enjoyed the recruitment aspect and it was a really good company in terms of training, but my frustration was in recruitment in general,” she remembers. 
What didn’t sit easily was that it was too “bums on seats” and numbers driven. “Recruitment consultants are basically the estate agents of the business world,” laughs Makepeace.
The aspects of the role she did enjoy was learning about the client companies, their values and requirements and the fact she was placing people from account management up to ‘C’ level. “It was a great way to get inside the heads of people in business and that’s what I really enjoyed," she says.
Despite her misgivings, she stuck with recruitment for her next move to Chemistry, originally joining as office manager but later running recruitment. The company ethos was vastly different, however. Although at that time a recruitment firm, Chemistry shared her view that it was more than bums on seats; recruitment was about finding the right people for the right role.
Makepeace joined the company in 2004 as employee number six, but the company looks very different today from when she joined and no longer focuses on recruitment. The morphing into a consultancy was a natural process, as clients kept asking for more than simple recruitment. They were happy that Chemistry had taken the time to get to know the candidates, looking at more than experience and their CV and discovering their attitudes and values through profiling.
Some clients wanted to know who their next generation of leaders would be from those recruits. Another client, had a massive 30% attrition problem and wanted to know how to identify the people that would stick with the company. So, what Chemistry does today, says Makepeace is: “Give companies insight into the DNA of their people.”
Rather than recruitment, the company helps clients put in more robust recruitment procedures themselves or offers more insight into the current team or how to develop individuals. Chemistry aims to start with the business and the value it can create. That means really understanding the company and the individual.“We get under the skin of what makes someone tick,” she says.
It’s Makepeace’s job to apply the same rigour to staff onboarding and development as the company preaches to its customers. There’s a robust interview process involving far more than the usual half hour ‘tell me where you see yourself in five years’ scenario. Using psychological profiling means that the company knows a lot about their strengths and weaknesses and each employee has a detailed career path as soon as they begin. 
For every role, they have a blueprint of what great looks at, but no one is ever an exact fit for a role. But their process means they can highlight problems someone may have with particular roles; for example, pointing out to someone who is naturally a high-detail person that this role does not require high precision work, which may frustrate them.
Rather than hire experienced people, Chemistry tends to take on new graduates as business analysts and train them up, a three-tiered process that takes 18 months to two years to complete. As these are new graduates, work experience is not an important hiring criterion. Instead, Chemistry looks for four key values: intellect (“we work at a speedy pace and there’s lots of ambiguity”, says Makepeace), values, motivation and behaviour.
Makepeace maintains that all firms should hire candidates based on these four values rather than fixate on experience. Ignoring these other elements can explain, for example, how someone poached from a competitor may not necessarily perform in their new role. “Some will work and some won’t, because what’s missing are the things they valued in their last job are not the same in the new one, “ she explains. 

A little effort
The fact that the last role was highly structured role and the new one isn’t could make a massive difference to how individuals feel and perform. But, a simple interview process is very unlikely to pick that up.
It takes a little effort to get the message across to clients that experience isn’t the only thing to look for in candidates. Chemistry does this by asking clients to write down exactly what they require for a role. “It’s fascinating to see. They start talking all about experience, but really they will write down words like ‘tenacious’ or the ability to think on their feet. Nine out of 10 things they write will be about values, motivation and behaviour and very little about experience. It’s a lightbulb moment for them,” she points out.
In the same way, traditional training can often fail to deliver. “Training is just about transferring skills, but what it doesn’t do is change behaviour,” says Makepeace. 
To illustrate the importance of behavioural changes, Makepeace draws a parallel with weight loss. Everyone knows that to lose weight you simply need to eat less calories than you use. If it were that easy, of course, we’d all have perfect BMIs. Where initiatives like the Weight Watchers programme are successful, however, is they set about changing behaviour. Weight Watchers gives people goals and incentives and the weekly weigh-in gives people something to focus on. In the same way, “You don’t send someone on a training course and expect them to change behaviour. If they are not motivated to be a manager, they won’t be,” she says.
Motivation is clearly not a problem for Makepeace and she has a busy year ahead. In 2012 the focus was on recruitment, expanding the workforce from 12 to 21. The year, the aim is to concentrate on developing those people and investing online, says Makepeace.
Who do you admire most and why?
Richard Branson. He’s a risk taker and I’m definitely not! What I really like him is he’s created something fantastic and you associate Virgin with first-class service. It’s  across different industries, yet it has the same culture running through it. The other thing is that he really seems to care about getting the best out of people. It feels like he’s putting people first.
What’s your most hated buzzword and why?
“People are our number one asset.” Companies that say that then go and spend more on IT than people.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
It was something Mark Twain said that made me stop and think: “I’ve worried about a lot of things in my life, most of which never happened.”

How do you relax?
It’s all about spending time with my family. I work really hard – when you work for an entrepreneur you have to. I’m a real foodie and love eating out and cooking. We have a nutritionist at Chemistry who has put us on a nutritional programme and made us feel more energetic. I love reading cookbooks and trying new things

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