Are you looking to create more value for your internal team, clients, and talent pool? In this episode of The Staffing Show, Adam Sprecher of Salo shares how his team builds and nurtures relationships that create a strong company culture, cultivate meaningful work experiences, and provide a stellar candidate experience.
David Folwell: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Super excited to have you all here and very excited to have a new guest, Adam Sprecher with Salo. Adam, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Salo?
Adam Sprecher: Well, thanks, David. Excited to be here as well. Excited to talk about some things that are going on in the industry, but Adam Sprecher, I’m currently the Vice President of Strategy and Development at Salo. We are a talent organization focused in the finance and HR space, and we’ve been around now coming up on 20 years. I’ve had a really great experience building the brand and putting people to work in the Minneapolis and Chicago markets, building some really great relationships. Recently, I’ve gone through some continued growth experiences and strategies that we’re looking to take this brand and the message and the work we do across the nation, but certainly excited to get into some more real-time relevant topics with you today.
Folwell: Awesome, man. Being in the finance and accounting side of the industry, what have you seen in terms of your growth — 2019, 2020, 2021? How have things panned out for you over the last few years?
Sprecher: Great question, because it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster as I’m sure many have experienced. 2019 was in our firm’s history, our best revenue year ever. We had an amazing year putting people to work, connecting talent and solving business problems for our clients. And it teed up what we were looking at and super excited for 2020 to be an even better year. And then I think like most, COVID hits and we were put in a position of saying, “All right, how do we keep it all together?” And went through some tough transitions as the market just did what it did, but super excited that the way that our teams came together, leaned in with each other as we came through the summer months and started to turn the corner into fourth quarter, we really started to see the ability for us to do some work differently, to continue to find really meaningful work for our consultants.
And certainly, everyone had problems they were trying to address and solve last year, but to connect them, put it together, and that really continued to snowball into 2021 here. But as we sit here a couple months into the year, having another phenomenal start of the year. But again, that all comes back down to and signals the strength of our team, but also the talents that we continue to be able to identify and put in front of our clients to solve their problems. So from a revenue standpoint, again, looking at, hopefully knocking on wood here, another year where we’re setting some records for the organization, but the thing that matters most for us in that is that’s an output.
The thing that matters inside of that is that means we’re putting a whole bunch of people back to work and that is just a really fun story to talk about.
Folwell: Awesome, man. And then if you’re open to it, would share what is your growth rate? 2020 is a little bit unique, but maybe from 2019, are you guys expecting to go beyond that now or what’s your growth rate look like?
Sprecher: Yeah, absolutely. I can say right now, we’re about from where we ended 2019 and where we think we’ll end 2021, probably somewhere at 20 plus percent growth at a minimum. So being able to sit here today, 12 months ago, we were singing a different tune for sure. So to be back in a position now 12 months later, and what that brings with it, those bring so much opportunity and that gets us really excited.
Folwell: Absolutely. And how big is your team size or how many contractors do you have in place at any given day?
Sprecher: Right now from both on the finance and accounting and HR standpoint, roughly about 550 consultants are actually doing work, and ebbs and flows a little bit, but that’s a lot of people working that many of them weren’t working six, 12 months ago. So to be able to talk about that and the impacts that they’re all making across the numerous organizations and different initiatives and things that they’re supporting and leading, it just means that the world in general, we’re getting back to it, things are coming around.
Folwell: It really does. It feels like things are normal or are getting back to normal, getting very close to it anyways. One of the things that you mentioned there and seeing 20% over 2019, that growth is pretty strong. What is Salo doing differently? What is your approach that you think is making it so you guys are seeing that growth?
Sprecher: Well, there’s two key things. So it’s one thing that we’re doing the same, but then the one key area that is a little bit different. The one key thing that has stayed the same is we are an organization that from the foundation, our two owners and co-founders, Amy Langer and John Folkestad, they really believed in that whole notion of the relationship over the transaction. And that can be really cliché in our industry. I get that, but I’ve been with the organization for almost 14 years now, and what drew me to the organization and what’s kept me here, what I know got us through last year and what is propelling our growth is that focus on those relationships for the long-term, not just transactionally today, hey, can we get someone to work? Can we make another buck?
That when you think long-term, when you think more in depth, that causes you to stop and really evaluate what are you doing? So that focus of focusing on relationships hasn’t changed. What has changed and what will continue to change is how we engage in those relationships. We’ve moved from the days of that really meant sitting down face-to-face and doing work together that way versus now, we’re looking at, how do you leverage Zoom or Microsoft Teams to get more work done? How do you look at different tools in your tech stack to create automation? And when that automation creates a really good experience yet, and it adds value to relationship, how much farther can you actually take it, and how much of a broader reach can you go? Because individual humans still can only do so much.
When you start to combine those two things together, that creates a really powerful growth opportunity.
Folwell: I love that. Man, we’ll dig into both fronts, the tech stack and the relationship side. The one thing I always think is, and you’ve mentioned this, it’s almost cliché to say is believing in the relationship, it’s a people business. How do you actually operationalize that? How do you get your team to take and focus on the relationship in a different way than another staffing firm? Is it training? What does that process look like?
Sprecher: Well, for us, it does start with training, but just even before training, as we build our internal teams, and it doesn’t matter what the role is, whether you’re in business development, whether you’re in internal operations, or you’re in leadership, our core six values that have remained the same since day one, that’s how we hire and fire. We really lean into those things, and those values are then what drive and show up and how we do the work. And so from a training standpoint, there’s a little bit of training, but when you’re focused on hiring the right people that are aligned to the culture and those values, you don’t have to train on those things. The how that happened and what you specifically do to move things forward in a business process, that you do train on.
I love telling this story, and it’s not my story, it’s the Salo’s story. But when John and Amy launched the firm, their first month of being in business, and they were already industry veterans previously, but their first month into Salo, the local paper here in Minneapolis had a headline, “200 CFOs out of work.” And so when you’re starting a finance and accounting contract business-
Folwell: Not the ideal time.
Sprecher: Yeah. That would not be the ideal time to see that, because like, well, why does a company need you? They can go down the street and get somebody. And instead of seeing that as a challenge of saying like, “Boy, how do we overcome this?” They actually embraced it and they embraced it by saying, “We’re going to go out and we’re going to do everything we can to connect with all of those out of work CFOs and we’re going to build relationships with them. We’re going to help them either yeah, we’d love to put them to work, but we’re going to leverage our network. We’re going to leverage our relationships to get them reconnected into the marketplace, to help them go find work.” And they did that.
They built some relationships that 20 years later, we still have some individuals working for us that came from some of that activity. We still have clients that when they have needs to solve any financial HR problems, they call us. But that focus on talent, that’s really, really what comes into. And that’s part of the Salo’s story, lead with focusing on talent.
Folwell: That’s super interesting because the one thing that I personally just anecdotally working with a lot of different staffing firms, talking with staffing agencies, hear about is like, “Have the database marketing, keep in touch with all these people.” But what I see over and over again is more of a transactional focus. I see people, every new job, they’re going out and posting it everywhere instead of going back and saying, “Hey, I’ve already got 50 people ready to go. I’ve already got this relationship, we’re ready to go today.” How do you do that? How do you make sure that… I think that’s part of what I’m hearing from you.
Sprecher: Well, for sure. Well, we continue to grow and expand. It’s fun to get in conversations like this because oftentimes, I’ll make the statement and I’m going to make people go like, “You’re kidding, right?” But we don’t post jobs. So, when we build relationships with client-
David: Which is insane. I think on average, staffing firms are spending, it’s over like 10K on job boards in some shape.
Sprecher: Now again, here comes the asterisk and caveat, we do have a direct hire search business and when they’re working in exclusive retain deal, well, they’ll put that out there, but I’m going to set that aside. Our core business is on the contract side of the house, we don’t post those jobs. So as we’ve built a relationship with an organization or a certain leader, and they’ve got that need, our first reaction is, great, give me all the intake and the details of what business problem you’re trying to solve and who do you need and then I’m going to go regurgitate that and throw that out on a job board somewhere.
No, I’m going to turn internally and I’m going to use our database, use our team’s knowledge to say, of the people we already have relationships with, of the all of the consultants we already have working for us, who’s the answer? And that is one of our key differentiators that when you talk about speed to market and ability to time to fill, ours is really strong because we continuously are building that database. We’re continuously investing in those relationships that allow us to turn things around. But it’s the focus on building those relationships for the long haul, not just for, “Oh, I have this thing on the board I want to close today.”
Folwell: So you’re shifting more to talent management. The challenge that I continually hear, at least a lot of other agencies again, and that sounds like you guys have solved this. It’s like, all right, well, we tell the recruiters, “Go to the database. Look in the database.” But then they don’t have all the skillsets laid out in the database, they don’t know off the top of their head who to go to, is yours is just like, “All right, our recruiters, they have these 50 people they know intricately.” Is it that you have technology that helps you solve it in a more meaningful way? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Sprecher: Well, I think it’s a combination of things. One of the things maybe to set the context of us as an organization, our business model directors, they’re that hybrid role. So there’s sales and recruiting. We don’t have separate sales and recruiting teams. That does give, in our opinion, a unique advantage that our sales teams do more intimately, know our talent. And so their ability to build that relationship and know those people that are having that conversation with a potential client that has a need, their ability to turn around and say like, “I already know those people. I know who could be a fit,” those gears are going mid-conversation.
So, that does play a factor in being able to make those matches speed to market. But the other side to it is, again, looking at building those relationships, our ability to retain talent and continuously redeploy talent. I would love to put our redeployment stats up against almost anybody in the industry. And when you take a look at our tenure rates and durations of people staying continuously working with Salo, I’d go to toe-to-toe with anyone else. And so when you have that pool to constantly be drawing from and redeploying, that’s also a significant competitive advantage, which is as much as for our clients, it’s for our talent, for our consultants. When they know that they’re going to have continuous opportunities, sure, they’ll take calls from other places.
Sure, they’re going to explore the things that could advance their career, but they know that they’ve got that trust and relationship with us and saying like, “Salo has got me.”
Folwell: Awesome. And are you able to share your redeployment rate? Is that public info or?
Sprecher: Well, I’ll share a couple of things. Of those 500 plus consultants working with us today, again, like I mentioned, we’re coming up on being almost 20 years old, we’ve got 15 consultants that have exceeded their 15 year anniversary with Salo. And these were individuals that had a 10, 15, 20 year career in finance and accounting before coming into this. So they’ve definitely had a second career in consulting doing this work. We have the number, I think right now, still north of 75 consultants that have been with us for more than 10 years. And I think it’s 120 or 125 that have been with us more than three years. And that’s even through all of last year.
Again, our ability to build that relationship and say, “This is the way you want to engage work. This is where you’re going to find meaningful work for you to continue to advance your career, have new experiences.” You can do it continuously, the shift, the pivot from what was the stigma of the contracting industry not that long ago, I was like, “Well, that’s a place that job hoppers go. That’s where people that can’t find full-time work go.” We’re helping change that. And there’s a lot of other firms that are doing the same thing. And the industry is pivoting to say like, “No, no, no, you want to find really awesome work? You want to find really cool projects that sink your teeth into? You do it through doing project-based work. You do it through consulting and contracting. You don’t do it by going into a regular full-time role.”
Folwell: I love that. That’s great. And one of the things that you also touched on there as well, and the fact that you were saying automation is the other arm of what you guys are doing. And I know that you guys are heavily focused clearly on the candidate experience, you wouldn’t have people with you for 10 plus years if you didn’t care about the candidate experience, how are you using your tech stack strategically to improve the candidate experience?
Sprecher: Well, this has been a fun journey, specifically the last three years, we’ve made some pretty intentional organizational decisions around investments and spend, but also business process, all focused on that candidate experience. So we’re a Bullhorn shop, have been, coming up on 10 years now. So we are absolutely at every opportunity taking a look and saying, “Okay, what can Bullhorn do for us to make that a better experience, but also drive the business?” So that has been, I think for us a key thing to say, “Let’s make sure we’re getting the most out of the systems.” And that’s a never-ending journey. You’re always going to be learning, getting more, but we’ve surrounded ourselves with some of the other, in my opinion, industry’s up and coming best of other tools.
So we’ve been with Sense now for almost two years, both from a texting platform, but also an engagement platform. So automations and surveys and those pieces, we’ve recently introduced the organization, again because of the wealth of the debates we have in Bullhorn wanting to use that more, introduced SourceBreaker, which is an up and coming marketplace partner for Bullhorn. We’ve done that piece to it as well. And also I think like a lot of organizations had to rethink, “Hey, if we’re not going to be in the offices all day everyday together — ” which nobody has really for the past 15 months, “– how are we going to replicate those in-office experiences and how we got the work done in a completely virtual and remote way?”
And so we’re a Microsoft Shop, but there are just again, countless number of apps within the Microsoft product world, especially for those that have migrated from a data analytics standpoint using Power BI, we have got so many different dashboards and automated reports that our teams can at a fingertip, whether it’s on their cell phone mobile device, or obviously in front of their laptop, get insights to, where am I spending my time? Am I doing enough of the right activity? Am I able to achieve the things that I want to achieve? But also then connect that back into our other tools and have end-to-end fully integrated tech stack.
I think that that’s some of the challenges that I hear in other organizations, it’s like, “We’ve got all these tools, but they’re not talking to each other. They don’t feed each other. I have to go here to do this, and then I have to go over here to do this.” And that time and lack of efficiency is a train.
Folwell: Yeah. I completely agree. I hear from again, from a lot of agencies that the Bullhorn Marketplace was one of the benefits with Bullhorn is you get the full thing out there. Anything else that you’ve gone, I guess, in terms of how you guys are operating with Bullhorn, anything else you guys are doing unique within your tech stack or how you guys are using technology to approach candidates or improve recruiter efficiency?
Sprecher: I don’t know if it’s unique to other industries, but I think just the consistency, that has been one thing for us that over the last three years of understanding the value of when we do something the same way over and over again, the value that creates that from a candidate standpoint, I know what to expect. I know when I get this interaction, I know when I get this communication, I know when I get this call, I know what to expect. And whether that’s Sally in Chicago or Billy in Minneapolis, or now Cody in Denver, it doesn’t matter. They know what that Salo experience is. And the consistency of using that tech stack the same way across teams, across verticals, that really makes a difference, because again, you hear those stories…
I started my career at Salo actually in the business development role, so I did the job for five years. And I remember the stories of people saying like, “Yeah, they called me on a job and then they never called me back. I have no idea what happened.” Well, we’ve put business processes in place to say, “No, we don’t stand for that. David, I’m going to call you on a job. Whether you interview, get it, don’t get it, you’re going to know what happened.” And yeah, sometimes that’s a hard message to say, “Hey David, I’m sorry, this time the client went a different direction. They went with a consultant that had a little bit more of this, it’s not you.”
But that doesn’t mean you’re dead to me. That means like, “Okay, now I work harder to find what is for you? How do we get you back into doing a meaningful engagement? That’s really what that’s about. So that’s where the consistency comes into play on the candidate side. But the consultant side, like, “Well, if that’s the experience I’m going to get every time from Salo, and I don’t get that elsewhere, I’m more willing to stick around. I’m more willing to say, hey, I’m willing to wait for that next thing.”
Folwell: That sounds like you’re putting a good name out there for the industry because I know a lot of the transactional model of staffing and recruiting is well known. I don’t remember what the callback rate is on, if you don’t get a job and the odds of actually getting a response about that, it’s really low. I wish I’d remember the stat off the top of my head.
Sprecher: It’s extremely low. And to be completely fair, that is something I think again, is from an industry standpoint, we obviously have to own, that is the experience that some people have, but we also can completely control changing that. And as people come in to saying like, “Okay, I’m coming out of a corporate role, I’ve never done this thing with a contracting firm or never done a consulting gig, what should I expect?” You got to set expectations, you have to help them understand what can they do to help influence getting into the right client project situation. What are you doing as an organization? So whatever you do, just own it, lay out those expectations.
And what we have found over time and time again is when you do that and then you deliver against it, it’s that whole say/do ratio, when you do more than what you say, that’s how you build strong relationships. That’s how you build trust, and that trust and those strong relationships, that’s when really great things happen. And when that say/do relationship, when you’re saying a lot more than what you’re doing and it’s inverted, that’s… Unfortunately, what creates some of the experiences people have working with organizations, our industry, it’s tough when you hear that, because it doesn’t have to be that way. It isn’t that hard to, my personal opinion, do the right thing and call someone back.
Folwell: And I was actually introduced to the concept of the say/do ratio, Jaime Irick, when I was at GE Lighting. When I heard that, that was his whole thing. It was like, “Say/do ratio is got to be good. And if you say it to me, it better get done.” And I’ve held that, actually at one point in my career, I was using that as a weekly check where all of the leaders would rate each other on their say/do ratio to try to get that. We did a little weekly survey to everybody on the team, say we’re against everybody. So in those public, so it was like, “All right, we’re all going to get held to our say/do ratio every week so no slacking.” But I love hearing that concept. It’s been awhile.
I’m going to shift gears here a little bit on the questions, and I want to know a little bit about how you got into staffing. And then I also would love for you touch on, I saw that you were a part of Ameriprise and UnitedHealth Group. So you actually come from the other side of the industry. So I just like to know a little bit about your background and how you got into this industry.
Sprecher: It’s a fun story because I think like most are in the industry or have gotten to a point in their career where they’re involved somewhere, it wasn’t where they intended to start. But I love the fact that I am here doing what I’m doing today, but I started early in career, straight out of college recruiting. At the time, it was formerly known as Lutheran Brotherhood. Now, it’s Thrivent, recruiting financial advisors. And for anyone that’s been in the financial services space, insurance space, recruiting reps in that world, that’s not easy. There’s a lot of other more challenging things to recruit for, but trying to convince someone to come sell insurance, to sell mutual funds, that’s not an easy sell.
Folwell: I think I was approached by Ameriprise once I think in college, I might’ve had some conversations with them.
Sprecher: And especially when you’re trying to sell someone who’s established themselves in a career to come do it completely on commission, that’s not an easy pitch to sell to someone. So had some amazing experiences though with some great mentors and leaders. And a lot of things of how I look and approach how you build relationships, but also just from a business standpoint, I had the very fortunate opportunity early in my career to be surrounded from some leaders that were able to help me learn some things through my experiences, both things that didn’t go well, but things I did to say, “Hey, how do you look at that and say, what do I do different next time?” Versus just like, “Well, that was a fail. You just move on from it.”
So this whole concept of reflection that out of the gate, as much as you want to be perfect day one, you’re not going to be, so how do you just be okay with that? So just some really great lessons there. Did that for a handful of years, and actually it was then introduced to an RPO and was part of an RPO. And that was where I got my real first in the industry, talent acquisition space, working both supporting Ameriprise and UnitedHealth group. And those were in some of the heydays of those organizations and the mid-2000s where we were doing 15, 20,000 hires a year. And you were just a machine cranking things out.
And that was where I first got an appreciation for the value and the importance of good strong business processes, because you don’t attract and hire and impact that many lives if you don’t have that in place. So I did that for a number of years, got to a point in my career where I said, “Okay, what do I really want? Or what do I want to take these early career lessons and do next?” And just very fortunately again got connected to Salo and I got connected to a leader who said, “Hey, I see something in you where what you do and what you’re energized by is what we do, but you just do it a little differently.” And took that leap to say, “All right, let’s give this thing a whirl.”
At that point in time, Salo was five years old. It had put its stamp in the Minneapolis market and the finance and accounting world. We were just getting our HR business going. We were just getting that side of the house built up, and said, “Come, help us build it.” And took that leap. And I’m so happy that I did, last 14 years has been nothing short of an amazing ride with some really awesome experiences. And as we’ve continued to grow here in Minneapolis, but expanding to Chicago over the past couple of years, expanding into other markets and really taking what we do and saying, there is a different way for us to help influence how people find meaningful work, how people engage.
And I do it differently in my role now today, but no less excited about the fact that, hey, there’s a huge opportunity for us to make some really positive impacts.
Folwell: I love that. That was a great story. It sounds like solid experience to help you lead and move things forward at Salo. One thing that you touched on there that I would just love to know is the reflection component of learning and growing in your career. Do you have any specific habits or processes that you’ve put in place to make sure that you’re doing that or anything?
Sprecher: Yeah, absolutely. The one thing for me, just personally, but I think in business is extremely critical, it was those early lessons really started the focus for me of always starting with why. You have to understand the why, and really connect with the why behind something to make anything work. So I am a big Simon Sinek fan. I love his message. And I know not everyone is, but at the end of the day, just the core of what he has introduced and put into the marketplace, that is critical. So for me, as we are thinking about doing different things or introducing new technology or processes, it’s always going to come back to the why, and both an organizational why, but a personal why.
And that for me, shows up in a lot of my life experiences and whether that’s with my family, the things that we do, the places we go, or other organizations that I’m involved with, or I spend my time, and then certainly with Salo, I’m known as the why guy, which also brings with the… I’m always the guy that asks 10 more questions. I’m always the one who says, “I thought we already decided this, but did we really get to here? Did we really answer this?” And on some instance like, “Yeah, we did, we’re good.” “Okay, great. We can say we did our piece.” But then there’s other instances, it’s like, “You know what, you’re right, we haven’t connected that back yet. Or we really haven’t made sure we’ve covered those bases.”
And oftentimes when you ask that next question, and one more question, you can see some things differently and get to different outcomes. And again, I take a look across our industry, that I think is sometimes because of the pace, everyone’s moving a mile an hour, I’ve got to fill the job. The client has a need, I got to get someone to start tomorrow. It doesn’t allow space to ask one more question, to really do some work to confirm this makes sense, versus like I’m moving fast, I’m moving fast, I’m moving fast. And so there’s a tug and pull there on that in the business that we do day in, day out. But for me personally, and I think part of what makes us different at Salo is we’re willing to take the time to pause and ask that question.
We’re willing to take the time to say, “Why didn’t that work? And say, “How do we do it better, different next time?”
Folwell: That actually leads pretty perfectly into the next question, which is, I noticed you guys have done a rebranding recently and you’re talking about making work more meaningful, why?
Sprecher: That’s a great question. We believe that everyone should be able to be in a position where the work they do, where they show up is something that really connects with them. And they really are able to unleash their potential right in the world and not just on the job, but then just anything else that they’re doing. And you can pick your study. There are hundreds of studies out there, and the past trend is two to three years in anywhere from as low as I’ve seen 10% to 40-50% of the workforce is not engaged in their work. And the number we’ve locked in on is it’s about 25% of the employment workforce that is actually engaged. And it’s just ridiculous. Even if it’s 40%, that means there’s 60% of the workforce that’s not engaged with their work, that doesn’t find meaning, that doesn’t connect with it, but they’re getting up every day doing a job.
And that to us, just isn’t right. It doesn’t need to be that way. And when we were having these conversations and saying, “What do we believe as possible? How can we help change this?” We looked around ourselves internally and said, “Holy cow, could you imagine if we only had 25% of our team engaged or 40%, this place would be so different. I don’t know that many of us would stick around.” But we have identified a way to create a very engaged, a high level of meaningful work existing all in one place. And not just for us internally, but the work that our consultants are doing. We get feedback all the time. I love telling the story, back when I was in the business development role myself, I had a client who came with a problem, and they had some challenges going on in their business.
And she just said, “Look, I’ve had some really rough experiences with consultants in the past. They come in and they do their thing and they leave. And at the end of the day, I’m left holding like a playbook to say, ‘Figure out what to do next.’ I don’t have time and I don’t have a team. I need someone that can come on up rolling their sleeves and do this.” And we were able to make the right match with the right fit with someone who came in. And not only that person solved those needs, but they put that client on a different trajectory. I had lunch with that same client probably about two years ago and as we were catching up, they shared such an appreciation for how that consultant showed up every day and their focus of how to make the right things happen, drive the change, and not only get the work done, but make the experience of getting the work done better.
And she has said ever since then, every place she’s been, every team she’s led, that has been something that’s been top priority for her. It’s not about just getting work done, it’s about how we get it done together, it’s about the experience of the other day. It’s about having smiles and laughs along the way and enjoying it. And so just as an organization, we said, “Okay, if we all get behind this and we all drive this, we think we can create something, but also set something in motion that others can pick up on as well, and just snowball itself.”
Folwell: That’s fantastic. And as you’re talking about the engagement and work, I saw, I think this was on the SIA in the last week, or so, there was an article about how only 30% of US adults plan to stay in the current jobs post-pandemic, which is just mind boggling to me. It was like 70% of people are planning on leaving their current job. And I feel like from what I hear and I think experience as well is the pandemic, everybody feels overworked, a lot of people don’t feel like they were treated fairly, and they’re looking for something new, something different. What type of internally with your recruiting team, with your leadership, what type of things do you guys do to make sure that the engagement is there, focus on the why, intentional, the experience, but do you have any specific tactics, anything that you do internally that you think keeps people more engaged with work?
Sprecher: I think there’s a couple of things. And again, we didn’t create these, but we’ve made sure they stay consistent and show up. One of them is we have this culture, I think like many in this have something like this, we love celebrating. We love having fun. And we do that in a variety of unique ways. And certainly through COVID, virtually, had to get creative of how we replicate that, but taking time to laugh and just connect as a community, that’s one of them. So if you’re not in some way, shape or form building intentional time into a week, a month, some regular occurrence to just have connecting time, not working on a project, not trying to fill a role, but just bringing people together to connect. And that connecting time for us and focusing on those relationships internally and strengthening those across teams, across departments is critical. That’s one thing.
The second thing is we’ve always had different versions, and today we refer to it as our culture team. We have a dedicated team of cross-functional team members that get together on a regular basis, say, “Okay, what are the things that we can do, and what are the things that we’ve done that we want to continue to do that really reinforce engagement and creating opportunities?” And one of the things that we all value and hold super high, and we were able to figure out how to do it during COVID even was, we have an annual Halloween costume call rally. And so everyone probably does their versions of whether you do it weekly, a monthly call rallies or they call blitzes, whatever it is.
But we have had a long-standing tradition and it’s evolved over time, but now it’s got competitive, where teams or groups of people will say, “We’re going to come and show up and do it better than anybody else.” And I’ll tell you, probably three years ago, I don’t know how, and when this one will ever get topped, with a team that came to the table, they came fully gold body painted out, and they mimicked being sports trophies. So we had six team members that were head to toe painted in gold. And I think we had a volleyball player, we had a tennis player, we had a baseball player, some playing golf. I think we had maybe a dancer. And they stood on these little boxes, this little trophy bottom. And it was amazing.
And other teams that worked really hard, and had some really creative ideas, and had some really cool costumes, all showed up and were like, “Ah, they win.” So things like that and a few other things that now are part of just a culture and the experience of working at Salo, that we value that so much. And it’s those connecting times, it’s those relationships, it’s those experiences that when you do get into the crux of, “We got to get this done, we got to push a little bit more. This isn’t easy, this is hard, but we can rally around each other and we can lean on each other to get through it,” it’s all of that comes together and creates that.
And then when you do get through it, when you do have those wins, you just repeat, go back to celebrating, you go back to acknowledging what you just accomplished, but then you look ahead. So for us, those are some things that just, again, I personally value, I know across the organization, everyone that’s here, they lean into those things. They have a lot of fun.
Folwell: That’s great. That’s a great story as well. I think you might have to share some of those pictures. I would like to see.
Sprecher: If anybody wants to go back in time in the Salo Facebook page, feel free. I’m sure they will come up.
Folwell: Circling back on the rebranding, which I love the tagline you guys have put in place, I know a lot of the listeners are thinking about rebranding. People are thinking about their digital marketing in a different way, and in the last year than they have been historically, what was like the process that you went through and the outcome that you’re seeing? I know you’re only a couple of weeks into it, but things look pretty sharp and I want to learn a little bit more about that.
Sprecher: I appreciate that. It’s been fun putting that out into marketplace, but this has been probably in total 12 to 18 month journey for us because it started pre-COVID. We were already done this notion of saying we have such a really strong brand equity, but we believe we can elevate it and enhance it a little bit more. When COVID came around, we took a pause and just said, “Okay, we’ve got to focus on keeping people working and finding more work for them. So we’ll get back to this whole brand refresh thing.” So when we were able to pick it up last October timeframe, the conversations that we came back to was saying, “The world’s changed.”
We had just all came through what we all experienced with the previous six months of COVID and said, “Things that we thought were possible, in some instances, we’ve already realized. And then there’s some other doors that have now been unlocked for us to figure out.” And so that really set the stage of saying, “What’s possible?” And so when you take a look at the brand right now, there’s a whole lot of possible and possibility language because that’s our belief of saying anything’s possible. Now, how you get there, what it’s going to take, those are the harder conversations, but saying, “No, we can’t do that,” or, “No, we shouldn’t do that.” Or, “That won’t happen.”
We just have a fundamental belief as an organization, it’s like, “No, have the conversation, lean into that.” And there is a way to make it possible. There’s a way that as you’re doing it, the whole #makeitmeaningful, you can also enjoy it. Work is work, but you can have fun along the way. And you can really lean into that and make it something that ultimately that experience, it’s the journey, not the destination, it’s both. It is the journey and it’s the destination. And I think that that’s a big part of our brand is we want people along the way to have truly meaningful experiences, but we also want to get them to a better spot. We also want them to get to that next level. We want them to experience this thing so they can get to the next thing.
So yeah, enjoy it along the way and celebrate when you’re there. So that’s a lot of what we believe is possible with that brand. And the way the world works, just virtually, the whole conversation on hybrid, but also people moving into the contract space, people moving into doing, I’m not going to spend necessarily 10, 15, 20 years with one organization doing the same stuff, I want different experiences on different variety. Yeah. Great. How do you create a structure? But that is what it is. And that allows people to move through the course of their career, to have those different experiences.
So, that was some of that conversation and the essence of what we’ve believed is who we are, and also a little bit more of where we want to continue to aspire to be and set that out to the world to say, “Come be a part of it with us.”
Folwell: And throughout that process, digging into who you are, man, just the full rebrand. What are some of the lessons that you learned or things that you wish you had known going into that effort and exercise?
Sprecher: Again, that whole reflective tone here, which is super important. But I think one of the important things that we learned and probably a lot of organizations, there’s a lot of things we thought our consultants and our talent thought about us, and a lot of things we thought our clients thought about us, that when we did that voice of a customer, we learned some things. It would have been really easy to ignore or not recognize and set us down and set a certain path, by engaging in and seeking a ton of insights and giving them opportunity to give feedback in a different constructive way about the brand, not about where we were going, we learned a few things of saying like, “Hey, yeah, our how we value the relationship or the transaction and how that is a differentiator for us, yeah, that’s true.”
We heard from our consultant, we heard from our clients that, “We can tell a difference between you and ABC firm.” What we learned that we maybe didn’t know, or maybe we had a different thought process around is saying, “There’s more opportunity for us to get better.” And so it’s like, “Oh, we thought we were doing a really good job.” “Well, we were, but we have to get better at some things.” So that feedback that came through that, that helped propel some different things that we’re doing now today to improve the business. So that definitely was what we learned.
Your question about what I have wished we’d have known going into that, I think we were super ambitious initially on our timeframes. This is one of those things that because it is-
Folwell: Knock it out in three months.
Sprecher: Exactly. You’ve got to give yourself some space to let things percolate a little bit. And we’re like a lot of other I’m sure organization which is just like, “Okay, drive, drive, drive. Get it done. Performance, results. Let’s do it by this date.” It’s like yeah, that’s not how this work really works because there’s so much emotion that plays into this. And when you’re asking people to contribute in an emotional way, you have to create more space and time. And that would be a lesson for me, for anyone else that’s looking at going through some of this work.
If you think you’re going to act this out in three months, I would encourage you to think about, where inside of those three months, have you built in intentional reflection time or time for as you hit certain milestones or really critical parts of doing the work, but then you can take time and say, “All right, is this really what we want? Does this really capture all the things that we need to capture?” And if you can do it in three months, God bless you, go for it. But we found out quickly, this is going to take a little bit longer, and that’s okay.
Folwell: Yeah. Again, I second that completely. And the one thing that was interesting is you talked about the voice of the customer and coming up with new insights from that. I was just talking to a friend the other day about how valuable it is to get on a support call and listen to a customer, or actually go through the canvas experience of what your customers are, what your candidates are, and actually understand that whole process and how quickly you can learn things that you did not think were realities about your brand. And with that, do you have, I’m always intrigued and the marketing side of the process for going in and digging into the voice of the customer.
Are there any things that you can share about how that process, how you went through that or what you used to get the results back?
Sprecher: I think one thing we did, our marketing team did a fantastic job through this entire process, but if you only look to those that know you well, you’re missing a whole lot of really productive insights. So as we went through that process, it was, “Yes, let’s talk to those that have been here forever and that love us and that want to stay with us both on the client side and on the talent side, but let’s make sure we go talk to those that maybe didn’t have a great experience with us.” Because believe it or not, that’s happened. So we need to learn from them of like, why didn’t it go well? What could we do better?
And then there’s a whole segment of the market of, by no means we have the market penetrated and captured, we got to go talk to the people that don’t know us or have chosen to not work with us and we’ve never done business, whether again, talent side or client side. And so by creating a more holistic view of the marketplace of who is Salo and why do people work with us or choose to not work with us, that was so valuable to us. And we could see themes emerge in all the different segments and we could start to begin to find ways to connect those together to say, “Okay, well, this is how we’re going to work to be stronger here. Here’s where we’re going to work to create better connecting messaging here. And here’s what we can’t lose sight of that we need to continue.” And so that full holistic picture was extremely valuable for us.
Folwell: That’s great. I feel like so many businesses when they’ll do a Net Promoter Score survey, they’ll do one of two things. They’ll either come get it back and only focus on the positive, ignore everything else, or what I think is almost more frequent is they’ll only focus on the negative and it’s like, “All right, well, we got to fix all the bad things.” It’s like, “Well, you should also figure out how to replicate the good things.” I saw that you went out with a really smart, strategic, holistic approach. I love that.
Sprecher: It’s interesting you bring up the NPS thing really quick because there’s a ton of value for it. But NPS should be a data point. It should not be the holy grail. And I think oftentimes it gets positioned as the thing that when your NPS is at an above industry average or it’s such a high level like, “All right, you’re doing good.” It’s like, “Well, that’s a data point.” Don’t dismiss it, but there’s a whole lot of other things that as you look at, how are you doing as a business? How are you perceived in the marketplace that you need to be taking into account.
Folwell: Absolutely agree on that as well. We’re going to jump here from the branding side of things. And you mentioned we’re coming out of the pandemic right now, or it feels like that anyways. So I don’t know if it will be around for a bit, but the returning to the office is a thing for some, and the geographical approach for a lot of staffing firms has changed quite a bit with the ability to hire, recruit anywhere. There’s so much remote work going on. What’s Salo’s approach, are you guys going to be back in the office? How has this impacted how you’re recruiting, where you’re recruiting, your geographical range, I guess, for recruiting?
Sprecher: This is real, real time. We’re sitting here today first week of June. We just, this week, both… We have two physical offices, one in Minneapolis and one in Chicago. We just reopened those offices for all of our team members on a voluntary basis, through the course of the summer. We want to give our team members an opportunity to be back and leverage the office. So I think like for most, it’s been 15 months since we’ve really been in our offices and used those. And so there’s a lot we need to learn and say, “With how the world has changed and with how we have changed, how are we going to bring people back together to connect? How are we going to leverage those two physical spaces to enhance the culture and the experience of working at Salo?”
And some of the ways we did it before they won’t show up anymore, and there’ll be new things that we need to account for. So we’re super excited though to at least have that opportunity and do that again, but beyond the two physical spaces, to your question about looking broader than that, we’re more super excited saying, boy, with how individuals have said like, “Well, I can work from home and that means I can work for any company in the world.” Or from a leader standpoint of saying like, “Boy, I can have someone who is super talented, get a lot of work done for me. And they don’t need to sit next to me in an office. They could be 1,000 miles away.”
And so those doors that have been unleashed for all of us not just in the industry, but for all organizations has put a notice on place of saying, “Well, you better think differently about how you attract talent. You better think differently about that experience.” And we’re having those live real conversations right now of saying, even things down to when we put communications together, we need to be very mindful of who are we communicating to, because if we reference only one market or another market, there’s a whole bunch of team members that aren’t in those markets, and they’re going to look at it and go like, “What about me? You’re not talking to me.”
And so from little things like that, they can really create maybe a negative experience to the bigger thing of saying like, “How do you put strategy and focus still and it’s not a complete shotgun approach?” There’s a lot that we’re evaluating and making some decisions around saying, “Well, let’s experiment with this. Let’s try this. Let’s not put too big of bets into anything yet.” And we’re going to let all of those experiences and those small bets help guide in making other bigger decisions ultimately about space and where people work. And do we open up another office in another market or not at some point? I don’t know. Are we totally okay with having people work from home full time? I don’t know. But those are all things we’re going to learn and we’re going to get some really good experiences.
Folwell: Yeah. It’s an interesting time for sure. I’m hearing more and more of like, “Oh, well, we’re not renewing our lease on the corporate office. We might have an office, but it’s going to be more flex work, more of the shared workspace type mentality.” But it’s definitely interesting times on that front.
Folwell: Rounding out the serious business questions, now I’m checking the rapid fire or the fun questions I always have. First one was actually, I pulled this from your bio and I’m just curious about this, but what does it mean to be the best dance dad?
Sprecher: Oh. Well, this I’m so proud and passionate about. So I’ve got three children. My son is the oldest, but I’ve got two daughters and they’re in competitive dance, and I’m a 41-year-old, I don’t dance, but what I can do is have a lot of fun with my daughters on the dance stage. There’s a program within their dance studio where they do an Annual Dad’s Dolls Dance. And so I’ve been doing that now. I’ve been blessed for almost eight years, and I’ve always said every year, “As long as my daughters aren’t so embarrassed by me that they’ll continue to dance with me, I’m going to do it and I don’t care what kind of a fool I make of myself.”
But two years ago I was introduced to the world of tap dance, and so I have my own pair of tap dance shoes. My oldest daughter and I, along with 14 other dads, we had a ton of fun. And so I like to think of myself as a more athletic person, but I did not get that skill, but it’s an amazing bonding time with my daughters. It’s a way I can connect with them even if it is atmy expense, but it’s a ton of fun.
Folwell: I love that. That’s fantastic. I read that and I was like, “I need to know.” In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Sprecher: I think many that maybe have come through the past year, but some feedback that I was given was to be more empathetic. And so the last five years, I’ve really tried to push myself to win in a conversation, really just stop and listen, and learn that you can’t solve everyone’s problems. And to be okay with just saying, “I hear you.” And being in a position of being more empathetic through doing that, of understanding who people are, where they’re at. And I think again, given the variety of life experiences people have, all the things from a social impact we’ve gone through, and certainly here in the City of Minneapolis, what we’ve gone through in the last 15 months has really challenged people in a lot of ways.
And so for me, that value of empathy now, again, I’m not going to proclaim to say I’m the most empathetic person because I still have my moments, but am I embracing it more and trying to lead with that more? Absolutely.
Folwell: I absolutely love that. I’m personally trying to, I’m a solver as well, and I’m learning daily in my personal relationships that sometimes you just need to listen, listen and let it be and move on. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? It could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.
Sprecher: Listening to some other podcasts. I anticipated this question, just being completely honest, so I was like, “What am I going to say?” Hopefully isn’t a complicated answer, but I think for me, it’s a collection of life experiences. My wife and I, we have really put an emphasis on life moves so fast. And our kids are at an age where they’re going to be gone here in the next few years, hopefully. We’ll see what happens I guess, but as long as we’re still together, we want to have some amazing life experiences. And so whether that means traveling, whether that means more game nights at home, we’ve put such a value and emphasis on life experiences over other things.
And so for us, from an investment, it’s taking some financial resources on times, it’s certainly taken a lot of time, but the investment into life experiences and having those memories and those bonding moments because you truly, you don’t get that time back. And that would be other valuable feedback and learnings from others that have gone through those transitions in life have given time and time again of saying, make the most of it. And so we’ve tried to do that, and that is a mantra that I’m trying now to carry forward to others that are maybe at a different point in life with themselves or their families is saying, “You don’t get that second chance often if ever, and certain life experiences you can’t recreate, take advantage of them, make the most of them.”
And so opportunities to be the best dancer that I can, dance that I can, yeah, absolutely. As long as I can continue to do those things and be involved, I’m going to be there, because those are memories and those are life experiences you can’t recreate or get back. And so that is super important for me.
Folwell: That’s great. What is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Sprecher: Essentialism is a book that I just absolutely love. Again, oftentimes, I can or be involved in situations where it can get really complex super fast and super easy. But if you can take some steps and try to break it down and make it a little bit more simple, but not only just do that in your daily business life, but look at the rest of your life, the concepts of what do you really need, versus what all you have, and what are the things that are the foundational elements to creating a really meaningful life? And I think Greg does a fantastic job in his book of laying out some tips and certain strategies, if you will, and recommendations for all of us that are simple things.
And then yeah, there are some more challenging things that really will lead to focusing on the heart of what really matters most.
Folwell: Great answer as well. Last question here. What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?
Sprecher: Well, that’s a good one. So I don’t know if it’s absurd or not, but I’ve really tried to break myself from consumption of soda or pop, in what part of the country you live in. And so trying to get better at water or other more healthy options. And so just trying to push myself to do those things where like, “Yup. I have to take a break because I got to fill up my water, or I got to fill myself this way.” So it’s just trying to be much better about myself of letting some of those older habits that aren’t so great go, but the new ones and embrace them, but I’ve set timers on my phone to remind myself of like, “Hey, make sure you’re drinking the water. Hey, make sure you’re filling it back up.”
So I’m sure my wife has heard that timer go off enough over the last 15 months working from home where she said, “God, here, here. Let me just bring it to you in advance, turn that thing off.” And so for her probably is a verge on the absurd side of hearing that alarm all too often.
Folwell: That’s funny. I like that you’ve taken it that far. I haven’t heard of the water alarm. I might need to do the same. I’ll be honest. It’s not a strength on my side. So with that, any closing thoughts, comments you’d like to share with our audience.
Sprecher: If I could leave with one thing, I think the message of if you’re in a situation that isn’t meaningful, but you’ve got opportunities, you’ve got choices, And so lean into your network, lean into the people that connect with you most and that you are closely with and have some conversations. I think all too often people feel alone, maybe isolated, or just unsure of how to begin to say, “I’m not happy. I’m not enjoying what I’m doing.” And you don’t have to go at it alone. You really don’t. There are people that are going to be willing to go out of the way to help. They’re going to open doors, they’re going to make connections and introductions. And so just make that first step, make that first call, send that first text, do something to help yourself move away and out of the situation that you’re in.
And the doors that will be unlocked, the possibility that may come, you’re going to be surprised by it. And so just take that step. That I think is something that we encourage people all the time to say, just take that first step, make a move, and step by step, it’ll grow and go the direction you need it to.
Folwell: That’s a great end point and a great message. And Adam, thanks so much for joining us today. Really enjoyed the conversation.
Sprecher: Yeah. Appreciate it, David. It’s been a pleasure. And wish you and the team all the best.
Folwell: Thanks, Adam.