Greg Savage, legendary talent acquisition blogger of the Savage Truth for the past 15 years, shares his opinions on: recruiters building a personal brand and getting rid of imposter syndrome. He also goes into successful leadership, business transformation, and which businesses will come out of COVID stronger than before. According to Greg “disruption” is just small changes over time.
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Max: Hello and welcome back to the Recruitment hackers podcast. I'm your host Max Armbruster and today I have the honor and privilege of hosting the legendary Greg Savage, who is a principal at the savage truth, a great source of industry commentary on the recruitment and staffing world. Welcome to the show, Greg.
Greg: Thank you Max. It is a pleasure to be here and I think you may have gone a bit big with the word legendary but fine let's all say it then why not.
Max: I was told it was legendary when I came down under. I don't know if your brand recognition is as powerful and in all timezones but certainly, in my timezone, it applies.
Greg: Well I mean I don't know about brand recognition or anything like that but prior to COVID I used to go to a lot of speaking tours around the world and if you watch the calendar of those speaking to us it always seems to coincide very fortunately with international rugby matches and football matches. But, I can turn up in Manchester or Singapore or Cape Town and we will get three or four hundred recruiters turning up and it's actually a story I tell about brands, because at the end of the day. I'm actually just an aging unemployed extra crud art, and yet I can go to most cities in the world, people will turn up the list, and pay money, still astonishing.
Max: Amazing. Well done. I must say. I read your bio you come from Cape Town, right?
Greg: Obviously yes.
Max: Yes, I made my way to Cape Town or Joburg three years ago to the future of talent event, and it was on my bio I had San Francisco on it, and that opened the doors to the front stage for me and there was an international cache to bring in CEO from an international destination and I was too happy to latch on that. But, yeah, I guess today, the borders are down, the frontiers are down. Everybody can build their brands at the global level because even the advantage of being able to afford a plane ticket isn't an advantage anymore, so there's no more barriers to entry.
Greg: That's true. The only barrier to entry into building a brand is that it's very very hard work. And you've got to have a few things in your kit bag including something useful to say, an ability to say in an interesting way and I think then. And if you're consistent and long term. People often say to me, "Well, you're lucky Greg you've got this brand". Well, I've been blogging every week for 15 years mate, 15 years, and videos and Twitter and LinkedIn. So, it is hard work. But the rewards. I've tried to teach my recruitment companies that I advise them there are, and recruiters, that there are devilish rewards to amplify your brand. As long as your inr real life brand is good, you can amplify it online, you can't finish it, long term anyway because people will blame you and call you out. If you're not if you're not authentic.
Max: So authenticity, okay prerequisite. How about having something interesting to say, some people will, maybe, of course, most people don't have your experience or humbly I may say, my experience. I'm on the wrong side of that equation right and I've got 20 plus years of work experience myself, so for those in their 20s and 30s, the imposter syndrome must feel so overwhelming. How do you have the balls to pardon my expression. Well it’s my show, so I'll pardon, to go out and start to brand yourself as a thought leader. Was there a special moment in your career where you thought okay now I can start to take the front stage, or how did this moment of revelation come to you?
Greg: Well, I'm not a great example but I've got some good, I mean that's a great question you asked about authenticity and imposter syndrome, and have I got something to say. Prior to building an online brand I've been in this so long I spent many many years standing on stages at conferences and I really had a bit of kudos around having something to say or maybe that kudos was in my mind, but I thought it had something to say and I had a lot of experience, even when the internet started, so it was a little bit easier for me, but let's come to your point, two little anecdotes. I often find myself walking down the street and a recruiter will stop me, someone I don't even know, and say, 'Hey, I like your blog' and then I go, 'Oh, that's great. And then they say, 'I don't actually agree with you. But what I like about it is, I know what's your point of view, and I love the fact that you tell it the way you see it and that gets me thinking, so you don't have to always try and be I’m not suggesting you be controversial or rude or anything like that. But people value authenticity, they value a point of view. That's the first thing. The second story is about having that same conversation that you raised about. Do you have the balls to do it, etc. With a young recruiter, well she's an experienced woman with a couple of years experience as a recruiter and I was talking to her about her brand and she said, Greg, I've got nothing to say, who would want to listen to me? And I say, well tell me this, what's the biggest frustration you've got with your clients right now and she said, they're taking too long to make decisions.
Greg: The short version was that she believed she had nothing to say. And I asked her what her biggest bugbear was with a client she said was taking too slow to make decisions and I said, that is an insult. That's the story, just write two paragraphs, it was a LinkedIn post she wanted to write. She wrote a couple of paragraphs about how while she encourages her clients to be fairer, we've got to move the process, otherwise, we lose the best candidates which is true. And it got traction and people commented and I said that's what we did, you do have insights, and my message to a lot of recruiters is you think you don't, but actually you're in the market 365 days of the year, you're talking to candidates, every day. You've got a view. You've got a narrative, you've got a point of view that's valuable. And that's what I comment about. I think too many people on social media are trying to be funny, trying to be provocative. I don't think that's the way to go. I think you've got to be adding value, which reflects on your expertise so that I think is how we got to build a brand in a professional field.
Max: There is something about a great family name Mr. Savage and you wrote that one for a long time. I'm just reading the Elton John biography right now. He came up with that name because he thought he had a name that didn't work well to be a rock star. But I guess, for me, that's your brand, your brand is savage, your blog is the savage truth, and it just is very punchy, it's very direct.
Greg: I didn't create my name like Elton John. My name was Reggie Duag, my name was Greg Savage from the very beginning. And I don't think my personality was formed around my name. I think it's just good. If you've got a name like that people are going to ask questions about it and make jokes about it. As I've encouraged my children to do is to embrace it because it's memorable. And in the case of the blog it just seems like the obvious thing right to the savage Andrews I like to speak directly and that's what people like so.
Max: I was thinking about what you said for these recruiters who tried to be funny, and instead of trying to be truthful sometimes or direct. I suppose the industry would tend to attract people who are pleasers, who want to be popular, who don't want to make enemies, as opposed to, maybe truth-tellers or people who embrace a more ideological kind of debate, who are willing to take one side of the debate that naturally the industry we kind of attract people who are matchmakers, if you will. So maybe that's why the industry sometimes lacks a little bit of honesty because people are just too afraid to accept their clients.
Greg: Well I think it's a good point and I don't believe that we want recruiters as I mentioned, to try and be provocative, or try and be controversial, or to be profane, or to push the boundaries in that way I don't think that's what I'm saying and I don't even advise. I started blogging when I was running my recruitment company. I was actually working for Quint at the time, which was American digital marketing as an international CEO, and then out of that we started, we did a management buyout and I was running my own company fiber and we had to build that brand, this was in about 2010. We had to build that brand without any money because it was a startup and we went to eight countries. So we didn't use what was at that stage the beginnings of social media almost and was very successful and at that point, I was much more careful about the things that I would say because I was trying to build a recruitment business. I am still very careful about the things that I say, but I'm not that concerned if someone doesn't agree with it. I think that a recruiter doesn't have to be provocative. What that secret is that most people go on social media Max, with the mindset, what can I get from it, which I understand, what can I get jobs, fame. You actually want to go on with the mindset, what can I give. Generosity is the fundamental plank upon which a social media brand is built. And I spent hours preparing once every week, hours with videos, hours answering questions. And yes, there is something in it for me, as I've explained, but you give to get and give insights, connecting people, sharing information with people. That's how you build a brand, and I don't think you are in fact still being a people pleaser by doing that is the avenue you want to look at it from. I'm really referring to people posting pictures of cats and trying to compare them to a recruiter’s license. I mean, for Christ’s sake I am not interested in it. This is bullshit.
Max: Yeah gimmicky stuff. On LinkedIn, if anytime I see something with more than 5000 likes. You know, alarm bells go off. This is clickbait stuff and it pisses me off personally. There's a lot of that going on. Great. Well, I hope it's not like that. There are a lot of thought leaders quote-unquote thought leaders in the industry, and we don't want to encourage every single recruiter out there to do that either. Of course, you can be a listener you don't all have to grab a mic, like I did, but for me I get great joy out of talking to people like you Greg and everybody else who comes on my show, and it's an opportunity for me to travel without traveling in a year when I've been locked in. This year has been a transition in the recruitment industry, which used to be a lot of in person meetings and a lot of building relationships, whether you're doing executive level hiring or you're talking to your customers, most of that is gone now. So, I've read an article in the Harvard Business Review and then said that the new leaders of the post COVID world are more introspective are more introverts are better at writing and more analytical. So, kind of, not the traditional qualities we would imagine from your prototypical recruiter. Would you agree with that assessment and what do you think are some of the qualities that are necessary in 2021 for recruits to thrive?
Greg: I think there's a natural tendency to view leadership through the prism of where we are right now. And you got to understand that we all have to understand that we're on a journey when COVID started. People were saying to me after a month or two, how far are we through it, and well a blog on it actually and I'd say like I don't know but I reckon we're on a marathon and a marathon is 42 kilometers and if you want me to tell you my feeling is we're on a kilometer five, everyone was shocked. In this country, we have a state New South Wales 10 million people, we've had zero cases of COVID for 23 days straight, there is no one in the state with COVID but one human being. There might be one locked in quarantine when coming from overseas. So we're having meetings I'm in my client's office today. I've had a meeting all morning where we can go see people.
Greg: So, my point is precisely that Harvard Business Review that said that no I don't agree with that. I actually think that a good leader right now in my city, for example, is actually coaching and mentoring people to get back out in front of people. Here's the irony. The differentiated recruitment down now is those people who do go and engage, because it can be on zoom, can be on the telephone, can hardly be by email but it's better face to face, not everybody but we can do that. And so leadership, to my mind, is, if you want me to sum it up, leadership coming out of post-COVID is a cocktail, a blend of empathy mixed with accountability. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about in the middle of COVID one of my clients said to his staff. They're all at home, they're all working from home was difficult. He just said my message to you all is to do your best. And I took him to the task, I said what kind of leadership is that it's like saying to someone who's about to run out in the Rugby World Cup final a plan, they might bite you and do your best. I mean, for god sake he's gonna do his best, we are all doing their best. What we needed was greater clarity around what in this environment, what does this look like, what should I achieve by tonight. And that may mean different things from pre COVID where we'd like you to make two placements now we just like you to be engaged in candidates of conversation with 10 clients or whatever was right, empathy for the situation, definitely and we need more of that. But outcomes, leaderships about outcomes. So people actually the irony is instead of saying just do your best, you actually need more measurements now, helping people to understand what a good day week or month looks like, and giving them the nurturing mentoring and understanding that they're going through different stages of stress to do that. So I think that's what leadership looks like and I think it will evolve.
You know the big thing and I'm conscious of is that we've had to use the word good and COVID in the same sentence Max, but if anything good came out of COVID is the opportunity for us to reinvent our business. I'm encouraging my clients to look at every step in their business and I think I said this to you on the intro 'let's slow these sacred cows'. People are scared of the word, the word to reinvent the business so to disrupt the word that's overused. What disruption means to me is small steps of incremental change. So let's look at why do we pry to COVID before we filled one job out of four. Why is that, what could we do differently? What changes can we make to improve the outcome?
So that's what leadership is about to reinvent and some recruitment companies will thrive post COVID with flounder. And it's all about reinvention and changing the way we operate on, that's leadership. Let's take the insight, just empathy and introspection and being analytical trust me, those are good skills but that's not leadership completely. I may have misunderstood this. And who am I to disagree with the Harvard review? I'm sure they're very well but on the other hand, I doubt they've read very many recruitment companies and I've done a lot.
Max: Now, they were talking about a style of management, I would say, rather than specific to what recruiters need but it was a style of management that worked best when you're in the office and you've got a team of people listening to you to have a loud voice and a big presence can help, but those attributes are no longer as powerful in a world where people don't need face to face.
Max: New attributes come to the fore. That's all it says, just as slightly tilting towards a different type of communication style seems like.
Greg: You asked me my opinion Max, that was it? Actually looking at leadership to me is action, what you do that counts. And that has to change because you can't be in the same room and we have to understand. Of Course, introspection is important, of course, analytics, we need data we need to understand. But does that impact the guy sitting at home with no clients and no candidate? Leadership is how I impact that person, the conversations I have, the guidance I give, the goals, and the feedback, that is where the value is. And it might stem from introspection. It might stem from analytics, but to that individual, it's how I impact him or her that will decide whether I'm going to get value from the leadership. So I think a lot of leaders, sort of focus on themselves like, how am I behaving. We really got to focus on the impact on the other person because that after all is leadership is how it impacts the other person for the greater good. As we should think more about that.
Max: I cannot disagree with you on this 100%. Very easier said than done. But yeah, absolutely. What are some of the other sacred cows we want to slaughter in 2021?
Greg: By the way, it is easier said than done, but if it was easy Max, all the older stupid and lazy people would be rich, wouldn't that? It's fucking hard running a recruitment business, it's very hard being a leader, and responding by saying it's difficult is not really. I had a conversation with people the other day. They say in this country we've gone from a job market to a candidate for market we've got shortages of candidates. Recruiters are complaining. I'm saying that is Nevada, having a shortage of candidates, should be dancing in the streets because that is where we can show our value. It's not complaining about having a shortage of candidates. What you gotta do is become the world champion in finding candidates because that's what clients will pay for. A shortage of jobs is the beginning of the end, it will starve and die but a shortage of candidates if you're good you'll thrive. But you asked about disruption. I think we should be looking at the way we pay recruiters bonuses. I think we should be looking at measurements and KPIs. KPIs and micromanaging have got these awful connotations to them, mostly because they're badly delivered; it's a leadership issue. The concept of measuring, there is no one who's good at anything they do doesn't measure their performance, do you think footballers and all the other top performers around the world don't measure what they do and then try to improve those things. We should have that in recruitment but the problem is old-style delivery by management is everyone has the same KPI, the KPIs haven't changed that often not reflecting the market needs. So that's a leadership issue, we should be reinventing the way we market our businesses, we should be much stronger social branding and talk about it for years but people don't do it, you should be looking at reviews, and how do we manage those reviews, we should be looking at connecting with people and creating opportunities, the whole point of marketing is sales, sometimes you just slap people figuratively Max and say.
Marketing isn't about a nice brand or a pretty logo, marketing is about whether it opens doors for recruiters to engineer sales and so we need to think of it from that point of view. Excuse me. Other areas that we could look at disrupting is how we train and coach people to work from home needs examination and so does what structure should have consultants doing a 360, everything or should I have sales and delivery or should I have candidates and clients. We should reinvent how we tackle the temporary contract as it is. Yes, it is massive. I've just done a five and a half an hour webinar on this which is actually a commercial enterprise and that later watch a series of it, and that's on this topic.
Max: So, I think people who don't know you by now, have a good idea of the depth of your expertise in the recruiting industry and if they want to get more they can go to Gregsavage.com.au and is there another place for them to connect with you?
Greg: Thanks, gregsavage.com.au is a good start, and of course I'm on Twitter and LinkedIn. I always accept invites from recruiters. And so thanks for mentioning that but I'm not really trying to sell any of our products or anything at all. I kind of actually prefer not to do so much work. I just would love to see us grab this opportunity to make the recruitment agency more functional, it's deeply dysfunctional in many ways, people working in recruitment companies where they fill one job out of five. You think about that Max, they fill one job out of five that means, they are not filling four out of five which means they're failing 80% of the time. Who wants to work in a profession, imagine if I went to a brain surgeon and he told me, 80% of his operations were a failure or an accountant, said 80% of his tax returns were wrong, they wouldn't last in business but we seem to, and the negative is bad service, speed over quality, candidates getting the road end of the deal, so many dysfunction. I mean I love recruitment being in it for 40 years thank you to you all. Don't get me wrong, but I hope we can use this COVID, I said this in the board meeting this very morning. If we go back as the markets pick up, and we go back and do everything they've ever done before the same way, it'll be such a wasted opportunity, now is the time.
Max: Yeah and we can all learn from the power of building a brand in this day and age. I think it's amplified compared to two or three years ago, and it can deliver a lot more business value for an agency, for an individual recruiter. Before we part ways, Greg. One question I love to ask people is to take us back to a time when you hired somebody who you thought was gonna be a total rainmaker and broke your heart. And you don't have to give us names, but tell us the origin of your hiring mistake.
Greg: Well, you're talking about a guy who's made more hiring mistakes than anyone that you know. Here is almost 40 years of hiring people and I still get involved in hiring decisions and it's a very difficult thing to do, there are hundreds of those cases but fortunately. I will tell you a story. They're pushing their cases the other way around as well but I've got a story about a woman called, I will mention her name and her name is Julia Ross.
Max: Oh no! Julia.
Greg: Yeah so Julia Ross. I started recruitment solutions in the early 80s-mid 80s-late 80s, and was three years in, we were flying with the $13 million with a revenue of five offices and we're doing accounting recruitment. And Julia Ross lost her job wherever she was, I think it was Upward Mark, this is going to be over 20 to know any of these names anyway, over 20 years in the industry. So she came to see me and she said, I am looking for a job, and I will build a business support clerical, secretarial we call it those days. Secretarial business support recruitment business, leveraging off your clients. I'm good at it and I got well with it, and I thought she was impressive and then I got my two colleagues to see her, my two partners started the business with me and they said, 'Greg, she's good' we should hire. And I wisely said no.
I don't think Julia Ross can build a business support recruitment company. And I didn't tell her that but I turned it down and she went out and started her own business and built the company about 10 times bigger than mine and listed it on the stock, and became a zillionaire. So, good old Greg and what an expert he is. You get those situations, but plenty of times I remember hiring somebody to run up and go to carefully because I want to identify anyone who's running one of my overseas offices when I had offices around the world and I was convinced it was the right guy, I've got on with him well.
He was a rugby player and a rugby fan and that just endeared him to me because I love the game. And when I look back I was more stuck on that than anything else, and it was a disaster. It wasn't any good and I hadn't done my due diligence and I'd ignored the warning signs that were niggling at me every time Max I've hired someone with something niggling in my belly about it being wrong it's turned out to be wrong. And in this industry we often say, let's give it a go. He'll be right.
Max: What are the odds you would have made that mistake if this person was not a rugby player?
Greg: I think I would not have made the mistake. I would have been, you know, this is a long time ago, and I can look back at it as charity but I think I would have seen the flaws. I convinced myself he was the right guy, we got all well, so he is a nice guy.
Max: Of Course.
Greg: He had done some good things but he couldn't do that size of that job. I convinced myself that he was what, you know and I think it actually leads on to a much more serious topic and leads on to the topic about diversity hiring and I had a conversation with my brother, 10 or 15 years ago which changed my view. He said we were talking about promoting women into jobs. And I said at that time, I have never discriminated against a woman for a promotion in my life and I was convinced that was right, he said well maybe that's true but Greg, how many times have you and other men did about a young man that he's a good lad let's give him a chance, he's not ready but let's give him a chance you've said that right, I said yeah. Tell how many times you've said that about a woman and this was 10 or 15 years ago and since then, I've consciously said yeah she's not ready but she's got potential and with help, she'll do it, and I put them in those roles and I've actually back three recruitment companies run by women like that that have all gone on to be greatly successful I can tell you who they are, consult recruitment in New Zealand. We just sold it to a Japanese company, both from three people to 50 women owners.
People to People in Melbourne we started with Aaron Devlin and she put it, and they were women in exactly that state. I wasn't hiring them or did hire them. I was backing them, investing in them, or hiring them, and it was consciously saying, hold on, if this was a guy, you'd say he is a good person with potential let's back him. And that is getting on the dangerous garbage. That's what I think men can play a huge role in getting this thing equalized. You've got to not only say I don't discriminate. You've actually happily weirdly almost, amongst I won't say reverse discriminate but you've got to look for opportunities to promote people who otherwise wouldn't get them and I think that is where we can make a difference, but it's also self-serving because you end up with the best people doing the best thing, that's what we want.
Max: You identify your own biases
Greg: work against them whether that's against
Max: Yeah you work against your biases, whether it's the love of rugby, or your faith in young male talent that you got to go look for the opposite of that and great opportunities will unfold, will arise for you. And maybe next time, a rugby player applies for a job, maybe Greg shouldn't be the one interviewing him at all.
Max: You said this work against our biases, make the next time Greg you're interviewing somebody who's a rugby player, maybe let your colleagues take the lead, of course, you've learned that lesson 15 years ago. And thanks for coming to the show sharing your insights and I'm sure you've won a few new followers, with this episode.
Greg: Thanks, Max. I want to end by just reminding you that if you've got two equal people, equal in every respect, go with the one who likes rugby, that will be the right one. I'm kidding.
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