Executive search, a fundamental & confidential process

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In an internet world of LinkedIn, online job posting boards, emails, digital media exchanges, research sourcing tools, websites and the like, there is – at times – a dangerous trend toward impersonalizing and fast tracking the hiring of senior and mid-level executives and avoiding the delicate process of their recruitment. No question, the advent of public media access is having its impact.

As Stanton Chase reaches its 25th anniversary as a global retained executive search firm, we are seeing that while expanding digital communications are important – and necessary – there are no replacements for face-to-face meetings, a robust mutual assessment process to confirm the match, both ways, and an examination of family and relocation considerations as well. Emails exchanges, data sourcing tools, and a glance at a LinkedIn page will give insight into a candidate’s background and potential. However, they will never substitute for the “personal touch” of mutual evaluation and the knowledge gained through a face-to-face interview.

So, fundamentally – other than new candidate generation and background research tools, social media, and the speed and access of information exchange – in my opinion, the basics of the search consulting business during the last 25 years remain the same – determine the match hypothesis – candidate/client and vice versa. And companies making the critical decisions of hiring key leadership should realize this.

Making the wrong decision can be devastating. Taking time to evaluate candidates, through experienced and objective search professionals, is well worth the effort/cost/investment.

While there is more “hard and soft” information available today on candidates, here are some pointers regarding the process of using retained search professionals and how to benefit most from this consulting relationship:

• First and foremost, what is the background of the search professionals? They must have the academic and professional experience to guide clients through the process. They, also, must know the client’s business, markets, customers, trends, and competition. Consultants should also have held senior-level leadership positions before entering the search consulting profession and have experience in identifying and evaluating candidates for clients in their specific specialization sector. Moreover, the age of the “search professional generalist” has evolved.

• Through a consultative approach, search professionals will be able to understand a given corporate culture and match it with appropriate leadership qualities of recommended candidates. For example, does the organization have an informal vs. formal structure? Will a micro-manager fit into the culture? Does the candidate have experience dealing with global issues? What is the candidate’s communication style? What are the required leadership attributes and outcomes considering collaboration/team work, learning agility, communication, and decision-making judgement?

• Client blockages: This is an important issue. Client companies should make sure that the search firm does not represent too many companies in the same industry that prevent them from recruiting from those organizations. In short, it is important not to be “blocked” from approaching the most qualified candidates.

• Consider looking at the candidate “in reverse.” Have they developed and implemented successful strategic plans? Are they effective communicators, public speakers? Have organizations they have served experienced significant growth? Have they achieved their KPIs? What are their best performance attributes, including leadership?

• Sensitivity to the “trailing spouse.” Search consultants must be able to convey the value of the “move” to the spouse of the candidate. This can involve answering questions about schools, cost of living, cultural activities, sports programs, housing prices, lifestyles, job opportunities, and general geographic adaptability. While much of this information may be accessed online, the search professional must be able to discuss these considerations in the context of the client’s relocation assistance policy.

• Search professionals bring objectivity to the process and will understand that the realities of the marketplace drive recruiting regarding credentials and compensation. In short, they are not in the “corporate cocoon” and should not necessarily base salary offers on “internal” normative criteria if the organization is attracting someone from the outside. Keep in mind that most top candidates are fully engaged and working, and not necessarily looking to change jobs and move. Consequently, the new position must be enticing for many reasons – compensation, growth opportunity and challenges, lifestyle, family consideration, promoteability and related factors.

• Someone once said that leadership performance is 20% academic training, 30% experience and 50% communication skills. Clearly the ability to exercise teamwork, charity of thought, the ability to motivate collaboration and listening skills are together key elements of performance excellence. These are attributes that can be better determined by experienced consultants who have observed and evaluated senior executive performance over many years in different industries and sectors.

• The global economy and rapid access to information has resulted in a “crucible of change.” Most countries today are impacted by global markets and perhaps political unrest. Consequently, leaders in the current geopolitical market environment must be able to make quick decisions and respond in a timely and knowledgeable manner. Are they able to lead cross-cultural organizations that have locations in many countries? Do they understand the workplace cultures in other countries? Can they be effective in a global grid environment?

• Finding the best leaders is critical to an organization’s future. We have found that “A-graded leadership with a C-graded company platform will out-perform C-graded leadership with an Agraded company platform.”

These are among the many factors which search professionals understand and consider when they provide clients with candidates capable of leading them into the future. The process can also utilize performance predictors involving leadership attribute and psychological testing. But it also requires consultants who understand the marketplace and have the sensitivity to analyze corporate and family cultures in the search for high performance candidates who will significantly improve a client’s performance and market effectiveness. Again, it’s back to the basics of expectation matching to insure the high profitability of fit, from both a client’s and candidate’s perspective.

As Lee Iacocca in effect once said, start with hiring top (management), lay out the rules (expectations), motivate and reward them, and if you do all these things effectively, you can’t miss. Moreover, the insurance for predicting future management performance in an organization rests with the judgment of experienced search consultants and we at Stanton Chase do our very best to provide this value pledge to our clients.

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