What CHROs Really Want From Executive Search

by Mark Oppenheimer on 19 June 2015

Today’s Chief HR Officers face an enormous challenge. As catalysts for change, their goal is to evolve companies away from hierarchical command & control models towards collaborative models that drive innovation, engagement and customer service. People – and particularly new blood – are critical to the game plan, yet many CHROs are disenchanted with the outdated practices of their executive search partners. The business world is changing fast, but the business of recruiting leaders is lagging.

CHROs want strategic advice and quality research

CHROs want a sophisticated partner that can deliver strategic insight and competitive advantage. That demands fresh thinking, sharp market intelligence and an open minded approach to where the next generation of leaders is coming from.

It is no longer enough to pitch in with fragmented examples of what is going on within a client’s industry - CHROs want the full jigsaw. The best executive search firms do not limit their scope of research to the client’s sector. They also dig deep into other sectors, often with parallel functional disciplines, and bring to the table the best athletes, the rising stars, the unexpected discoveries that can make a radical difference.

Executive search firms need to be more like strategic consultancies, providing research in breadth & depth and shedding light on the client’s peer group in terms of organisational design, benchmarks, compensation and talent awareness. This market intelligence can then be used to shape pipelining, succession planning, leadership assessment and coaching programmes.

CHROs want rigorous selection methods

There is a feeling among CHROs that executive search firms rarely do their due diligence when it comes to candidate selection. Search partners must invest time to understand the brief, especially with regard to corporate culture, and provide clear alignment between brand and talent attraction.

Then they need to head hunt, not just trawl databases and regurgitate predictable candidate lists. CHROs switch off when the same candidates crop up time and time again – they don’t want to see a shortlist of five candidates who can do the job, they want the best five candidates.

When suitable candidates have been identified, their experience is only a fraction of what is important. Aptitude and attitude need to be scrupulously tested. CHROs do not expect search partners to rely on intuition, but to put candidates through their paces, push them against the core competencies of the role, assess their fit with the organization and reveal the true nature of the person behind the CV. 

CHROs want genuine partnerships built on trust

Increasingly, CHROs have concerns around the values, principles and ethics of the executive search industry. They want a truly consultative, long-term approach, yet search firms are all too often transactional in nature. Worse, some are quick to move on to a client’s competitors when search work dips or to poach their staff soon after invoices have been paid.

CHROs want deep rooted partnerships, not vendor relationships. That means a holistic, intelligent approach to executive search, one that helps shape the environment for new hires to maximise successful outcomes. Active involvement in the on-boarding process is vital to promote positive assimilation and search partners should play an ongoing role in after care, ensuring that the successful candidate’s performance matches expectations. They should take a pro-active interest in the client even when there is no search work going through the books and must honor off-limits agreements at all times.

 Many CHROs are in the throes of revolutionizing organizational design and talent management. They can’t do it alone. Some are losing faith in traditional search firms and turning to those that are consultative, entrepreneurial and disruptive. According to a recent Hunt Scanlon report – Executive Search: State of the Industry Study (US/Americas) – it is the boutique firms that are “truly redefining a field once dominated by a handful of large, generalist search firms”. Being a small firm is not a prerequisite for providing the level of service demanded by today’s CHRO. But being relevant is mandatory and those that do not give CHROs what they really want will be superseded.