As a practicing corporate manager for over 3 decades and having worked in the area of global HR across all geographies, I thought it would be useful for me to positively disrupt the space of Executive Search with the emerging challenges and getting future-ready.
C level leaders have actively entered the social space through different doors
Executives are all visible now on social media and their capabilities (including their social quotient) are constantly on display, which makes it easy for the prospective recruiters. I have been lucky to try this out in one of my previous CHRO roles and did it with great success of hiring 25 C-level and C-minus 1 executives through social hiring channels. Senior leaders are absolutely open about talking on various topics today and it may not be a bad idea for companies to build their social inroads for prospects to directly engage with them. It may not necessarily start with looking for a role but could be built around community-based networks or social learning. It is an open talent market and we may as well recognise this formally even at the highest levels of leadership. The interfacing layer of search firms could be under this new technology pressure. C-level density increase into social media is as high as 12% on annual basis and is increasingly growing, which puts the search business under challenge as direct relationships over interest groups are getting established much faster than ever before.
Search is no more a relationship game
It has gone much beyond that. While most firms have invested well into diagnostics to enhance the quality of search and placement, the future will be ‘success assurance’ for the client. This would mean that focus would need to be adjusted to Analytics. Clients will intensely be demanding on this front. Everyone realises that this is not a product business anymore but is a consulting business. It’s not about knowing the ‘who is who’ of the industry, dropping names of successes of closed out mandates or even showing logos. One needs to display versatility of skills to engage into much beyond search conversations namely performance consulting, effectiveness, board advisory etc. While most of the top search firms have most or all of this but are verticalised under different partners, which they have built over some years, it is still secondary to search. I strongly feel it will turn out to be a holistic game that will need to be played. Search will be an outcome of the people consulting space that will develop in the Professional Services area.
Increased Fluidity in Expertise
The walls are diminishing between Strategy Consulting, Business Consulting, Process Consulting, Technology Services and People Advisory. There are many areas of confluences and the customer will strongly associate with those who bring confluences and not distinction. There will always be discrete space for each of the above but any integration of the above will add definitive business value for the customer.
The Search firms have built excellent research practice groups but most of the research practice groups have remained at the back end as support to front end consultants. The client-facing consultants will be advised to carry their industry back end research heads for client meetings for deeper conversations and meaningful ones rather than keeping it cursory at relationship level. I have not seen research guys taking front-end roles but I will imagine the markets are getting ready for this kind of disruption. So an understanding of new age domain will be key. How it will pan out is vague but customers are going to be demanding display of front-end depth.
The cultural fit will be more important than a capability fit. Most of them who are picked up would be success-based profiles anyway. With shelf life of C level market hire of around 3 years this factor will be the most important one from a success stand point both for the customer and the candidate.
Search firms will need to operate with customers as a leadership exchange evaluating all internal prospects plus external hires. It is absolutely essential this be done for the right yield and to get the best person for the role. Some search firms do strongly insist with their customers to put their candidates into the fray but the customers do it more out of validation and enabling smooth landing rather than a serious effort. A serious re-think of strategy will be needed here. I also think Leadership will have an industry status soon and the search firms will contribute to playing the small game with some product and service extensions. Some of them are seriously ready for a holistic positioning and re-defining leadership of the future. Clients will need all types of solutions, and the firms need will need to approach it as a bigger game—improving chances of a long-term association.
The International Space
It’s a complete global game and some of the big search firms have all it takes. However, I also have seen at times, that clients don’t get their full worth because of the way the search firm is organised in terms of their structure. There is serious disruption advised here for the search firms and an advice to quickly reorganise as needed by the customers. The early adapters of such a culture will be clear winners. They need an outside-in approach of organising themselves.
Career transitions are going to be crucial
Why look for proven tested stuff? The markets and the clients will bet on capabilities than proven abilities. Needless to say leadership analytics will be relevant if this has to work. So let’s get ready for non-vertical moves but horizontal and criss-cross moves as a leader works his way up to the top. Outplacements would also become a large industry offering as markets keep rattling and industries keep redefining themselves. Time to pause and think of the readiness in this space.
While Clients will insist on gender searches to get their compliances right, it is important for the search industry to drive a complete inclusive process all the time and educate the customers to broad basing the leadership and get the 2 axis of capability and diversity balanced. Well it will be a truly inclusive world and directionally all those investing right to get there will stay for long.
Search is technology intensive. It is not about relationships, databases, capabilities and fits alone. We will see Big Data, Social, and Mobile all coming together very strongly to derive value. Welcome to the new age world of Digital and all those investing in these will carve out a niche for themselves in the market.
Entrepreneurial pursuits will enhance and this will mean there will be a lot of traffic for the start-ups and vice versa. Both need different handling and solutions. The readiness to serve leaders and customers moving across spectrum has no precedence. Search firms are advised to walk this game early and learn quickly. The small today will be a giant tomorrow.
Quality will continue to be the prime focus
The quality and profile of consultants who spear head this new re-defined search will be specialists with at least 3 areas of expertise. Ideal will be a combination of domain, technology and people solutions together.
The stage is indeed ready for the search firms to reinvent themselves and quickly redefine along with the client’s redefinition.
The movement from Executive Search to Search ++ will be an exciting journey to watch. I am optimistic towards the innovators and the risk takers.