Traditional Executive Search Faces Extinction

by Jonathan Hime on 18 February 2015

The world of executive search is big on talk but short on innovation. Many firms still cling to tired practices, mining databases to identify candidates and presenting clients with predictable short lists. Some command exorbitant fees for minimal work and a few bring the industry into disrepute with hidden charges, questionable ethics and complacent service. 

The days of ‘executive smirch’ are over

Clients are fed up with old fashioned methods that fail to deliver world class outcomes. In an ever changing commercial landscape, they want search partners that can help transform their business and ensure future success.  They want strategy, not tactics. They want transparency and accountability. And they want more for less.  The traditional executive search firm is becoming a relic of the past. Enter the leadership advisory firm, a new breed that throws out the ‘black book’ and redefines talent management.

Clients want bespoke advice and genuine market intelligence

Before embarking on a search for new talent, clients need context. They want to see the bigger picture. Where is the real talent in their business and where are the gaps? How does their organisational structure compare with their peer group? Does their senior team stack up? Are they doing enough to attract and retain top talent?  Above all, they want to know that they are equipped to sustain success, which requires a robust succession plan.

The new breed of leadership advisory firm embraces this broader scope, tailoring advice to each client’s sector and proffering a level of market insight normally associated with top tier management consultants.

Culture fit should be number 1 on the agenda

Matching the right talent requires a deep appreciation of company culture. But it also demands an acute insight into the characters behind the CVs to truly understand drivers, values and ambition.  A superficial approach can never cut it.

The bolder advisory firms even shape culture. That might result in a deliberate clash when a client company needs a shake-up to reinvigorate and transform.  These situations are challenging and the role of the advisor does not come to an abrupt end after an appointment has been made and the fee settled. The best search partners stay close to their client and appointed candidate, aiding the on-boarding and integration process and providing post-placement coaching to ensure the best chance of success.

Talent acquisition should be an ongoing process, just like employee engagement

Talent mapping is pivotal to success. Smart leadership advisors take a proactive approach to pipelining. They identify an external (as well as internal) bench of high calibre leaders who could help drive a company forward and develop a ‘magnetism’ strategy, reaching out, warming them up, holding their attention and converting interest to genuine attraction.

They play the longer game on behalf of their clients, fitting a carefully constructed external network into a 3-year succession plan and refreshing the plan every quarter.  This technique is at the opposite end of the spectrum from transactional search delivery - it is truly transformational.

Diversity is not about fulfilling quotas

Forward thinking leadership advisors shun the narrow approach to Diversity & Inclusion. They believe in leveraging the power of eclecticism, making unexpected talent discoveries that can redefine success. Sometimes, if there is a square hole to fill, an impressive round peg appears. Rather than discard it, the right solution could be to change the shape of the hole.

A ‘diversity’ candidate within a shortlist could be someone from a different sector with parallel expertise, or a rising star at a more junior level who could excel in the role with the help of coaching, mentoring and up-skilling.

The business world is changing and the business of recruiting leaders must change too.  Boards and HR Directors want committed, collaborative partners who are not shy on innovation. Some of the larger, less nimble executive search firms are out of touch and losing ground to smaller rivals.

The survivors will be those who really work for their money, offer added value and deliver competitive advantage. The thrivers will be those who keep their clients one step ahead of the curve.