29 June 2018

What I learned about recruitment and motivation from Sir Ranulph Fiennes


I had the absolute pleasure of listening to Sir Ranulph Fiennes keynote speech at the MHR HR Director’s breakfast event held at Claridge’s earlier this month.

I’m sure I can speak on behalf of everyone there when I say that we were totally inspired to hear about his expeditions, as well as how motivation and building the right team are key to his success.

So how does he recruit his team, and how can I relate this back to when I’m looking for new candidates?

One story Ranulph shared was about an expedition where over 800 applicants applied for just two roles, which would involve several years of hard work with no pay. Thinking about my own experience recruiting for a role within my team, and how I went through the selection process, I started to wonder how I might change my approach in the future.

How do I make sure I choose the right person to complement my existing team and ensure the continued success of both the wider marketing department as well as the business?

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

The key thing I learned from Ranulph’s talk was how motivation can still be an overlooked attribute during the recruitment process. Whilst candidate skills should still be one of the main considerations when choosing the right person, motivation should be a notable character attribute to look for. One person can ruin an entire expedition, Ranulph said, “I can teach skills, not character.” 

Why is character so important? Fiennes gave many examples for why he has such strict personality criteria for his teams. On one expedition, whilst trying not to think about the hundreds of miles still ahead of them (1,400 miles at one time) and battling with the thought of gangrene and crotch rot, it was an absolute must for the whole expedition team to have strong personal motivation - they couldn’t have one person fall behind and jeopardise the whole trek.

Having the right people was crucial under such difficult constraints. Enduring these trials is a challenge in itself, but being stuck with someone who is not personally motivated to succeed makes the whole experience even tougher. Ranulph said, “I selected the best people, and go for their motivational factor. With many of these expeditions in harsh climates, there can be a variety of setbacks and disappointments, which mentally must be overcome by the person’s own motivation in order to keep going”.

Fiennes told us that he set out on six different expeditions over 26 years in order to find the Lost City of Omar, crossing hundreds of miles of harsh desert terrain. 40 percent of plans have failed over Fiennes’ career, but that hasn’t lessened his motivation to continue his searches. This is why motivation is so important when he recruits his teams, as they must be able to embrace failure as well as success. If they have the right frame of mind he can train them to the necessary skill and fitness level required for the expedition, but without the right self-belief there would be no team.

The right fit

Working environments aren’t exactly treks into the wilderness, but Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ inspiring insights into the importance of motivation could be translated into improved teams and better company cultures for a variety of organisations. His examples of overcoming adversity, persevering through setbacks, and ensuring goals are met no matter the struggle can be useful lessons to incorporate into your organisation.

We must remember that individuals are motivated by different things, and need different levels of support to work at their best level. It is important that new employees are considered for how their personalities and motivations match others in the team. A range of personalities help to balance a team dynamic effectively, and they will all have different motivations for how they work. 

Fiennes was open about his own motivations. When asked what keeps him going, he replied “My lack of A-levels” and in his words, not being academically gifted. He wanted to make his father and grandfather proud. He never met either of them, his father having been killed in World War 2, but having a strong respect for them from stories throughout his childhood, he found other ways to overcome adversity and push boundaries.

According to Fiennes, motivation comes from a mix of everything that happens to you when you’re younger, as well as your genetics. Whenever he started to feel defeated he would picture his father and grandfather and imagine how they would react to his actions.

So next time I have to recruit for my team, I won’t just score a person strictly against the job spec and skills set. I’m going to look at what motivates them, how that matches with the current team and how that links back to business success.

Thank you Sir Ranulph for your inspiration!


Sir Ranulph Fiennes was named the world’s greatest living explorer in the Guinness Book of Records in 1984, with six decades of record-breaking expeditions. He was the first person to be awarded a double clasp medal by the Queen to acknowledge both Arctic and Antarctic achievements and has led over 30 expeditions including the first polar circumnavigation of the Earth. Despite suffering a heart attack and undergoing a double heart bypass operation just four months before, Fiennes joined Stroud in 2003 to complete seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge for the British Heart Foundation. On 20 May 2009, Fiennes reached the summit of Mount Everest, becoming the oldest British person to achieve this. And across all his achievements, he has managed to raise over £18 million for a variety of charities.

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