Sinead Connolly has so many achievements and awards to her name you can’t help but wonder how she gets it done. As the Director and Co-Founder of Lotus People, a recruitment agency, she has picked up the Best Small Agency (2019) and Recruiter of the Year at the Recruitment International Awards, Anthill’s Top 30 under 30 (2018) and Young Entrepreneur from the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce (2017) – to name a few. Sinead’s also a Premium member with Business Chicks so we sat down with her to unpack how she got started in business and what drives her ongoing successes.
Tell us a little bit about Lotus People and what you’re working on at the moment.
Lotus People is my office support recruitment agency – Lotus was set up with a vision to change the face of recruitment; bring a dynamic, energetic and fresh energy to an industry that notoriously gets a bad rap. It has been so incredible building a brand over that last five years that is now recognised as a credible award-winning player within the industry.
Given we’re at the start of the year, I am in planning mode right now – strategising for the year ahead. This year is our fifth year in business, so we are developing a new website to mark the occasion, as well as thinking about what events we can run this year to add value to our clients and candidates. There’s always a lot going on at this time of the year!
What compelled you to launch Lotus People?
Joining the industry at 23, I instantly loved recruitment – the people aspect, the relationships you can form, how much trust people put in you. I loved the industry but I felt there was an opportunity to create an agency with a very different approach. When Lotus was launched in 2015, office support agencies tended to be more corporate, stiff and lacking personality – it felt so natural to want to create an environment where everyone could be themselves.
I wanted an agency that cultivated high performers but also supported them by creating a genuine emphasis on work life balance, wellness and health and I am proud that we have achieved this!
Many people rely on networks and the ‘people they know’ to kickstart their business. How did you find that experience of starting your own business in a new country without that traditional support network?
It’s a good question and isn’t really something that I’ve consciously thought about before. Recruitment allows you to make really strong connections as you meet so many people, so I built relationships in the industry quickly and have been lucky to have built an extremely loyal client base over the years. When starting Lotus, I wanted to have a strong temp business, which requires an extremely healthy cashflow and exceptional accountants so, from the beginning, Lotus was backed by SustainAbility Consulting, an IT and Accountancy recruitment agency. As soon as I met the Directors of the business, there was an instant synergy and value alignment and it has served us so well in developing our networks further and allowing the business to expand.
Since starting Lotus, I have been involved in more traditional networking groups – I do a lot of work with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and co-chair their peer-to-peer female leadership group, I have been involved with Irish/Australian charities, the recruitment association and, as well as being a Business Chicks Premium member. I have also started a female agency owner network for our industry and we meet monthly to share ideas and workshop topics.
What are your top three tips for people who have moved countries and helping them build meaningful connections?
- Join networking groups – go to events that are relevant and of interest. Bring a friend, put yourself out there. Say yes to invites, don’t be closed off to opportunities that come your way!
- Be yourself when networking – the power of being genuine and forging genuine connections with people can be far more valuable than surface level connections.
- Figure out your hobbies and meet people through those – book clubs, surf lessons, photography, yoga. Figure out what you enjoy – it’s a great way to meet likeminded people.
How important is the role of mentorship (both giving and receiving) been for you?
It’s been absolutely huge. I speak at industry women in leadership events and mentoring is a topic that comes up again and again. Personally, I have mostly had informal mentors. My best friend and ex business partner/Lotus co-founder has been pivotal in my life and my career and acts as a mentor constantly. As do my shareholders and my team! I think it is important to surround yourself with people who inspire you and who will give you candid and objective advice and support.
I have also had many instances where I’ve reached out to business people whom I have admired and my experience is that people are always so generous with their time. Likewise, as people reach out to me, I will always respond and offer guidance too.
What actions do you think have been most important in manifesting your culture?
Culture has genuinely been a passion and focus of mine from day one. Recruitment is a tough gig. It is deadline driven, competitive and requires many different skillsets all packaged into one high pressure and fast paced job. We are in the business of people and I have created a mutually respectful environment where my team feel valued and cared for.
It does require constant work and isn’t easy but these are the things I focus on;
- Consistency – cultivating a positive culture isn’t a case of set and forget. If you set boundaries/policies/rules, they have to be consistently maintained from the top.
- Communication – we hear it from candidates all the time; they complain that they don’t know where they stand in their business or with their manager. At Lotus, we run quarterly review meetings, weekly 121s and daily morning meetings allowing everyone to know where they stand at all times.
- Engagement – I place a lot of value in making strategic decisions as a team; I don’t want to decide alone which charities we support, what initiatives or projects we focus on. I see great value in operating from a democratic leadership perspective.
We often see that great culture comes from a great leader (good things trickle down!). What are some of your core values as a leader?
I think as we get older our values become more defined and as a business owner, your business tends to reflect your own values. My values could be seen as conflicting but I think are very complimentary; hard work and balance! I really value hard work – my parents and sister are extremely hard workers; I’ve worked since I was 12 as I’ve always wanted to be financially independent and I take my duties and work responsibilities very seriously.
On the flip side, I also value work-life balance; I don’t feel compelled to work in or on the business seven days a week day and night. I love my business and my role in it so much but I also my life; my social life, my friends, my hobbies, my travel. I have a good ability to switch firmly off which is probably a gift!
With that in mind, I respect my team so much for their loyalty and hard work and I consistently reward that – I believe that success is to be shared and love being able to facilitate special experiences and memories for my team.
We’re reflecting on the past year. What’s something you’re really proud of that you changed or improved in your business?
Reflecting on the past year, I am so proud of my team. I have a team of committed, hardworking, loyal, kind and hilarious people who are a joy to work with every day. The last year was a year of new hires, promotions, training and development and I am so proud of how far everyone has come and how much they continue to grow and flourish.
We’re all talking about 2020. What’s the attitude or mindset you’re bringing into the New Year?
I am optimistic about this year – it marks my 10-year anniversary in Australia, Lotus People’s 5th birthday! Right now, my main focus is balance and boundaries. After such a special Christmas break with loved ones, I am so careful not to burn out and run myself down, so I am being so mindful and conscious about how I manage my diary, my week and my life!