Thought Leaders Series: Julie Mills, CEO at ITCRA

Julie Mills_Bio_Pic_2014

Julie Mills on building a community, social media and always finding the time to blog

In this week’s HR Thought Leader interview, we feature Julie Mills. Julie is the CEO of ITCRA (the professional body for the ICT contracting and recruitment sector in Australia and New Zealand). As an association, ITCRA continues to generate significant attention using some very interesting approaches to research, partnership and social media.

In the interview, Julie chats to Steve Pell about the ITCRA approach to thought leadership, the importance of research and data and how ITCRA has significantly increased its returns from social media.

The interview:

Steve Pell: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Julie. Let’s jump straight in with the subject of Associations and thought leadership. There are a bunch of the Associations who’ve just gone straight for thought leadership as the core of everything they do. Is this something you buy into?

Julie Mills: I think the whole thought leadership thing is really around what you cultivate rather than just making big statements. It’s about what you cultivate within the network that the Association represents as – opposed to getting out there and making big bold change-the-world statements.

Our CEO Circle for instance, at ITCRA, is a classic example. It was originally branded as a thought leadership process. What it’s ended up with is really just a conversation. It’s 30 of the industry’s CEOs sitting around a table. So it’s around bringing a whole lot of people that wouldn’t normally sit in a room together and engaging in discussion that makes recommendations for the improvement and benefit of the whole industry. Is that thought leadership or just leadership?

Steve Pell: What about your own thought leadership – what kind of response are you getting to your writing?

Julie Mills: It’s just escalating. I have a target that I publish something every Friday. Sometimes it’s a bit of a killer but it’s done. It’s usually based on something we’ve either developed or a topic that I think we should be leading into.

Something on privacy awareness, which I probably thought would be my worst piece for reaction, had the highest response rate from across the industry. Not just from Members but from clients, contractors, Privacy commissioners… there’s a whole range. It actually surprises me how far that reaches.

Steve Pell: How do you decide what you’re going to write each Friday?

Julie Mills: Sometimes it’s based on what’s going on in here, but I’ve got a backlog of writing if I’m having a bad week and I haven’t got anything done. The one this week will be directly based on our research which we’re publishing today.

Today I met with a guy – and I’ll develop a blog around this – who was showing me a new software product.

Steve Pell: After a while you just start to see blog ideas everywhere you look…

Julie Mills: Yes, and I love to write. I love public speaking. It’s things I just enjoy doing. I believe that because I’m real about it. I enjoying sharing those experiences, and I don’t pretend to be something I’m not.

Steve Pell: Do you have views around how we’re going to see in the employment and recruitment market change over the next 5-10 years?

Julie Mills: There’s this constant push/pull between transactional relationships in recruitment and real person-to-person relationships. If there’s one thing that the market is pushing for it’s to pay less and less for the recruitment process.

They’ll look anywhere else they can to get cheaper solutions. They’ll try and do the hiring themselves. They’ll go to some of these employment marketplaces where people put their resumes up and just go and download them. That makes it a very transactional process.

But there are more and more conversations around partnerships between a recruitment organisation and the client too. It’s getting less about “you’re going to supply on this set margin for three years” and more about, “Okay, I’m your recruitment partner, what do you see as your talent pipeline? What do you see you need for the next five years and how can I make sure you’re continuing to get that? I’m going to work as a partner with you.”

Steve Pell: Tell me about your research at ITCRA.

Julie Mills: What we’ve had for 10 years now is a programme called SkillsMatch.

Basically our Members voluntarily put in their data around placements they’ve done in the month, how long it’s taken to fill the role, what they’re paying the contractors, etc., and it’s fed into a centralised system.

So there’s a dashboard that says, “What’s the hourly rate being paid to contractors in different states? Is it permanent? Is it contract? How long does it take you to fill roles?” Believe it or not it takes 84 days to fill an ICT role in ACT at the moment because today’s report says that.

We also partner with Burning Glass which is a big aggregator from the States – and with RIB report which provides industry benchmarking. The medium to really small businesses in our Membership feed their financial data into this report every month, and that is reviewed and analaysed and shows them whether they’re tracking above the average, below the average and what they need to do to improve their business.

Now we’ve partnered with Seek too, we’re actually discussing data from them to compare what they’ve got on an Australia/New Zealand wide scale against what we’re seeing. It pretty much marries up but it provides for some interesting comparisons.

We also do some stuff around what’s coming down the pipeline. What are the disruptors? What are the new things that are interrupting the industry? These pieces start conversations which often end up back at the CEO Circle, so all the pieces link together.

Steve Pell: Are there other channels that you use to communicate with your Members? Do you go down a social media route?

Julie Mills: Oh yes. We run a number of LinkedIn groups. We use Twitter. We’re building our Facebook page for our Dinner this year for the first time. Again, it’s about having the resources to do it well.

It’s having somebody who can dedicate the time and keep it up-to-date. I can’t stand social media that’s a hundred years old, figuratively speaking.

Steve Pell: Is there one secret you have to make sure you get ROI on social media? What do you think has really improved your returns there?

Julie Mills: Being responsive. I think the biggest frustration for people in social media is when they don’t get a response. Now we’re able to respond within the hour. Our Membership growth is almost totally from social media of late.

The second thing is having enough things that you’re reading and following to fill in the gaps when you’ve got nothing to say. It’s not that you need to say something every day but you need to say something of interest regularly enough that people come back worrying that they’re missing something.

We do make an effort to linking it all together, so if we put out some new insights there’ll be a media release, a blog, there’ll be all the LinkedIn stuff, if it’s relevant it’ll go to Facebook, and we’ll Tweet. You have that whole chain and that chain just goes on every day.

Steve Pell: It sounds like you’ve got a really good integrated approach where things feed out across your entire platform.

Julie Mills: We also use four journals that I have columns in. Quite often I won’t write a new piece, I’ll just pull a piece I’ve done on the blog or whatever, and rework it to fit that particular audience, then retweet it and reblog it. We have integrated the approach because I think everyone reads something differently.

We just thought, okay, we have to communicate to our Members. We have to communicate to the clients or the market our Members are in. We have to communicate to government in some way if we can. So we’ve got all relevant Ministers, anyone we can, following. When I started and I was doing this, we probably had 30 people in that group, now we’re up to thousands.

Recruiters, and particularly ICT recruiters, are never off their phones, are never off their iPads or handheld devices. If you’re popping up in front of them regularly through the social media stuff they follow, you’re reaching your market and you’re getting people engaged. 

Steve Pell: I can see how it helps having a dedicated social media specialist. But how do you find time to write your blogs?

Julie Mills: Peter Bregman’s 18 minutes a day rule. The 18 minute rule changed my life. I saw him present at a conference, him and Malcolm Gladwell are probably the two people I’ve seen at conferences that I’ve walked away from and never forgotten.

Associations are all consuming. You can work 24/7. There is not a minute of the day where there’s not something you need to be doing. The 18 minutes book stopped me from being all over the shop. I actually mentor a group of Association CEOs based on that book, and it’s just been critical in finding the time to write.

Steve Pell: Fantastic, some great insights there, thank you Julie.

Julie: Thank you.