by Howard Greenwood, 29th May 2024

Welcome to The Brutal Truth #27. In this edition, I will address what has helped me through personal hard times and how that has helped me navigate the numerous “hard” markets I have survived in recruitment since 1993. I don’t often write about myself, and I found this article especially hard to start and finish. I hope it helps anyone having a hard time take that next step.

Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

It’s a mantra we’ve all heard, one I have lived by all my life, whether that be work, personal, or sporting (I am an ex-semi-pro rugby player and 4th Dan Martial Artist). It is a phrase my inner self has whispered in my ears during moments of uncertainty and challenges.

In the world of recruitment, this saying often rings true. Every downturn, I have preached it to my employees and clients. I have embedded this mantra in my business and employers seeking individuals who can weather storms, tackle obstacles head-on, and emerge victorious. But, with all the talk of Gen Z’s and comments like, “they don’t make them like they used to,” I have come to realise that it’s not the tough that truly stands the test of time, but rather the disciplined.

In the realm of recruitment, toughness might seem like the ideal trait. After all, tough individuals are resilient, gritty, and determined. They push through adversity with sheer force of will. But herein lies the misconception. While toughness can help individuals navigate challenging situations, discipline ultimately leads to long-term success.

Think about it. Toughness is often associated with a brute force approach — powering through challenges, relying on sheer strength to overcome obstacles. But discipline? Discipline is the quiet force that propels individuals forward, guiding them with purpose and consistency. It’s about making deliberate choices, setting goals, and staying committed to them, even when the going gets tough.

When I visit recruitment agencies, I can spot the top billers because they do what it takes to be successful in good and hard times. They have the discipline to do the hard yards, day in and day out, without moaning or quitting. They have the discipline to survive where others cannot.

I don’t often write about myself; I want to demonstrate how my disciplined mind, over the numerous recruitment downturns and the personal hard times I have faced, shows that tough times don’t last, but disciplined people do.

In the context of recruitment, with a sprinkling of my personal life, disciplined individuals possess a set of qualities that are invaluable to employers when the going is easy but, more importantly, when the going gets tough:

1. Consistency: Disciplined individuals show up day in and day out, consistently delivering high-quality work. They don’t falter when faced with setbacks; instead, they remain focused on their objectives and persevere until they achieve them. They do daily requirement management, candidate acquisition, client acquisition, and management. They don’t moan. Consistency is a habit, a good habit. I remember getting up at 5.00 am each morning to train, do a 90-minute workout and get to work at 7.15 am (we started at 9.00 am). I met the postman each morning, and before anyone else arrived, I had stripped all of the CVs (they came in the post in those days) of all the leads in my niche so that when the others arrived, I was already rolling. You didn’t have to be tough to do that; you just had to be disciplined. I started to consistently achieve target.

2. Time Management: Discipline breeds efficiency. Disciplined individuals are masters of time management, prioritising tasks, and maximising productivity. In a fast-paced work environment, this skill is indispensable. If anyone knows me, I hate being late. I preach that if the meeting starts at 9:00 am, it begins at 9:00 am, not 8.59 am or 9.01 am. Discipline creates habits.

3. Self-Motivation: While toughness may rely on external factors to drive action, discipline stems from within. Disciplined individuals are self-motivated, driven by a sense of purpose and a desire to excel. They don’t need constant supervision or external rewards to stay on track. People in recruitment often talk about self-starters, those that get on with it. Think about physical training, whether it be rugby or martial arts or just going to the gym or out for a run. You don’t have to be tough, but you must have discipline when no one is watching. It is too easy to quit, not complete that last rep, slow down when you should be speeding up, and give up because no one is watching. Disciplined people don’t cut corners; they do the basics and the numbers required, come what may. I have seen too many tough people quit (recruitment and sports). Quiet quitting comes to mind. In 2003, I ran the London Marathon; I was as super fit; I had trained for six months and was on for a sub 3.30 time. On the day it was boiling (+22 degrees, and I was a 16 stone northern; most of my training had been done in the winter, at sub-zero degrees) by mile seven (The Cutty Shark), I was in a world of trouble; my heart rate was off the scale, and I was sweating like a cartoon character. I told myself, one step at a time, discipline, one foot in front of the other. I started to count, one two, one two. I don’t remember London Bridge, the banking area, the Tower of London, the Embankment, or Birds Cage Walk, but I do remember the Mall and crossing the line. Mental discipline from the muscle memory from those hours of pounding the streets and not cutting them short got me to the finish line, one foot in front of the other (4.06 if I remember correctly). The dicipline not to quit what you have started, no matter the hardship. For those who have run the London marathon, in the tunnels after the Tower of London, I so wanted to quit; no one would see me except myself. My discipline said NO. I lead my team to thier biggest year.

4. Adaptability: Discipline is not rigid adherence to a single path; it’s the ability to adapt and adjust course when necessary. Disciplined individuals embrace change, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to be overcome. Recruitment is constantly changing; it takes discipline to change and stick it out until whatever you are implementing is successful. BD produces results over time, not instantly. I was 29, and I snapped my Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my right knee. Two days after having a complete reconstruction, I was in rehab (I had to learn to walk and run again), in the gym, doing anything to get myself back on track. The operation was in November. I was told I would be lucky to play rugby until the following season (September). I didn’t miss a physio session, I didn’t miss a training session at the club, and I worked on my knee whenever I could. I played 7’s in the April. I was disciplined enough to follow the plan and do extra because it was hard physically and mentally, but I had a goal, and I knew adapting each day would get me closer and closer. I wanted to give up and stay in the warmth of my own home rather than hobbling around a wet winter’s rugby field, but celebrating those little wins, those gains, no matter how small, kept me disciplined to adapt and prosper.  I smashed that year’s recruitment target.

5. Longevity: Finally, discipline leads to longevity. While toughness may wane over time, discipline endures. The steady hand guides individuals through the ups and downs of their careers, ensuring they remain relevant and resilient in an ever-evolving job market. Recruitment has changed since 1993, when I started, but I have adapted to each change and gone beyond to remain relevant. In the last 18 months, my body has told me that physically, at 57, you need to slow down. Last year, I slipped two discs, I could not feel my left foot for three months, my leg was constantly on fire and sitting down was torture. I attended every client meeting, no matter how far away it was. I adapted to the downs and turned them into ups. I felt like giving in, so toughness was part of the cure, but it was the discipline to stick with the doctor’s and physio’s plan. I have built new training plans to ensure I can perform to my best inside and outside of work. I am almost back to full training. I am almost there and will adapt to maintain my physical and mental well-being and longevity. I am still here after over 30 years in recruitment.

So, the next time you evaluate the market and call it “hard”, consider looking beyond toughness to survive. Have the discipline to do what most will not today, so tomorrow you can do what others cannot (Jerry Rice). Seek out individuals who embody discipline — those who possess the quiet strength to weather any storm and emerge stronger (physically and mentally) on the other side because they have the discipline to do what is required to survive and thrive consistently, day in and day out. Ultimately, it’s not the tough times that define us but our ability to stay disciplined in the face of adversity. Do you know what recruitment activities you must consistently apply to succeed? Do you have the discipline to “just do it”?

Feel free to leave a comment or add your own story. In these market conditions, to thrive, you need to learn how to survive; I would love to hear your survival tips.

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