Positive People Strategy - Interview with Howard Greenwood

POSITIVE PEOPLE STRATEGY – The future of recruitment

I had the pleasure of being introduced to  Howard Greenwood during an online conference held by REC last week. Howard is one of the leading voices on recruitment in the UK – Ex-Chair of APSCo and founder of LoveWorkLife Consulting Limited (Recruitment Advisory, mentoring and training company for recruitment market). He has over 30 years’ experience in the recruitment sector, which included working through the early 90’s recession, post 9/11 and the credit crunch. His presentation was excellent and full of messages that can have a positive impression on our business and for our clients. I was delighted when he accepted my request to be interviewed to provide some key messages for the Yorkshire recruitment market.

The full interview can be accessed on our YouTube channel, with some of the key messages summarised:


My colleagues and I are seeing recruitment companies in three clear categories at the moment.

  • Totally out of the market, with most staff furloughed, marketing and operations on hold. They will face a huge challenge in riding any sort of wave of recovery.
  • Those operating in markets that will be slow to recover such as tourism and catering. They are faced with key decisions around whether and how they diversify. Get it right and they could move into category 3, get it wrong and they could slip back to position
  • Those in key markets with strong leaders, people and a business strategy

Rishi Sunak has made it clear that he expects a deep recession with unemployment rising from a Q1 figure of 3.5 million to 10.5million by the end of Q2 (taking it beyond the levels seen in 1992). What is important is to consider the fact that this is a humanitarian recession and not a financial one. Looking back at the past humanitarian recessions in 1918, 2002 and 2012 (following Spanish flu, SARS and ebola), there was a sharp drop in output followed by a sharp bounce back. This gives us hope that we will hit our expectations of an unemployed figure back around 5.5m by the end of 2021.

The recovery may well be ‘bath-shaped’ with no idea if the bottom line is 3,6 or 9 months long. What is clear is that since Boris announced some relieving of the lockdown two weeks ago, many recruitment companies have told us that there has been a noticeable impact in their activity – it only takes a few adjustments to get things moving again. The next update from Downing Street will be very interesting to see.

I hope and expect that we will see a shift from technical recruitment strategies to behavioural recruitment strategies for many companies. I estimate 90% of recent hires have been made because of technical skills and 90% of recent fires have been made because of behavioural failures. Logic says that recruiting for the right behaviours and developing the skills is the right strategy.


Every Employer Value Proposition will need addressing to reflect the new normal. Employee expectations of their employer have changed during the crisis and there is increased focus needed on mental health and every other aspect of the people strategy.

Many employers will see headcount drop sharply and then plan for an increase over the next few months or years. If a business is hiring 100 staff in this time, this could be £500k worth of recruitment fees. Its sounds so much better to engage a recruiter you are close to on an exclusive basis and on a retained element for £350k. Better hires, better retention, better feedback on well-being strategies and lower cost. This could be the biggest change from PSLs engaging multiple agencies to using a single agency who knows the business and represents it to the deepest level of effectiveness.

Every piece of data shows the interim and contract market coming back first after a crisis;

            1. It appeals to employers who are tentatively confident
            2. It is the best remedy for those who have made redundancies and who have cut too deep

The smart agencies will have spent the lockdown keeping close to their temporary workers and will be ready to support their clients when they need some resource.

Generalist recruiters will be hit hard and the more niche operators will flourish. I use a car analogy – If I wanted to buy a Ford, why would I visit a huge dealer selling 50,000 cars when I could visit a Ford specialist – as long as they have their supply and pricing right, they will always get my business because of their expertise, aftercare and service.

Employers cannot be complacent if they are just “liked” by their people. Their competitors are aiming for their people to love them. In many industries, the manager level has been reduced due to austerity and general cost-saving, as we emerge form a crisis it is the managers who communicate the care, responsibility and importance of relationship from employer to employee. This will mean growing management tiers and/or up-skilling and updating training


There are some old-school lessons that will now become new-school! Back in the early 90s I used to go and meet my clients for every new job, meet every new candidate and have more meetings to discuss shortlists, prepare for interviews and deliver offers – it was the way to ensure my placement ratios remained high. The internet brought a big downside in making some activities lazy. The sprint-emergence of ZOOM and TEAMS means that face-to-face contact from recruiters is back at the top of the list of priorities. Those who eyeball their customers most, stand to generate more business and make more placements

The brand of many recruitment companies is influenced by their social media and personalities portraying a “hard-work, hard-party” culture. Most other disciplines have evolved beyond this and now is the time for recruitment to do the same. Clients will value the thought leadership, constructive advice and pioneering service their recruiter can provide and not how they celebrated their latest record


Many employers are underestimating the volume of employees who have disengaged with their employers during the crisis. I spoke with employees who were made redundant after lockdown was announced and then furloughed when the measure was revealed. They have no intention of going back to that employer – the trust has gone and cannot easily return. Even more employees have had low contact with work since lockdown. This will see an increase in the number of jobseekers

Candidates will be more attracted by a strong EVP that includes care, wellbeing and homeworking (with money and promotion slipping lower down the list of priorities.

This creates a great opportunity for employers to use the opportunity to take the best people from their competition. For recruiters, the focus shifts to understanding and communicating the EVP of their clients even more.


“Recessions are all about people”. Everything comes down to mindset – how do leaders, managers and team-members overcome adversity and create positivity?

Recessions move recruitment consultancies back to focussing on their relationships and not just the transactions of each appointment. Recruiters with the strongest personal relationships will see their client base flourish over those who have grown some distance

Recruitment companies and employers have digitalised at the fastest rate in years. There is an obvious list of benefits in time, cost and efficiency planning but it also increases the focus for recruiters to improve their digital strategy further to maintain some differentiation to their service.“Service, service and service” are the top three focuses for every recruitment company now to hold their ground and to grow again. That is service to clients and to candidates, delivered through strong consultants and a strong digital platform. This is good news for all employers as standards, products and results provided by recruiters will have to improve in quality.

“Recession” is perceived is a very negative word – retraction, redundancy, fear…As soon as you start thinking about repositioning yourself in the market & repurposing your people, it becomes an opportunity and a more positive subject.

Please have a watch on our youtube channel for the full interview.

Hope you find it an informative and interesting listen


Gillian McBride