What does coronavirus mean for executive search?


Finding the right leaders to navigate organisations through the pandemic and beyond has never been more important, but executive search practices must also evolve to meet new and fast-changing demands, says Craig Pointon.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed have effectively ripped up the executive search rulebook, but that might not be a bad thing.

While lower level recruitment is experiencing a dramatic slowdown – and a complete freeze in some industries – executive search has been largely unaffected in some areas. But the practice has never been more important, with many businesses looking to build a foundation to move forward and thrive.

Many businesses recognise the importance of having the right leadership team amid challenges and uncertainty like the pandemic and the global conversation about racial inequality.

Evolving needs

The leadership environment has changed considerably over the last three months. We are seeing a spike in demand for HR leaders who have rightsizing experience, particularly across multiple countries.

Companies are looking for infrastructure leaders across finance, audit and compliance who can help protect businesses over the coming months and procurement leaders with a track record of reducing spend without impacting quality of vendor provision. Redundancies are already happening at all levels, and there will be more as organisations seek these different skillsets as the economy contracts.

While businesses are looking to strengthen their leadership teams, it is a more difficult time to tempt new talent their way.

Executive-level candidates might be exercising caution when considering a career move in today’s climate, which compounds recruiting challenges. The skills and experience organisations are looking for in executives has also changed in the wake of the recent conditions.

Previous achievements and experience outlined on CVs were not achieved in today’s environment and so demonstrable successes during the period of pandemic-enforced remote leadership will become increasingly essential. Organisations will be looking for a different and diverse skillset that fits their new organisational landscape and their plans for the future.

For example, the growing need for senior leadership teams to be accomplished communicators, both internally and externally, has been accelerated by recent events. The nature of the crisis and the need for organisations to be quick, agile and authentic in how they are handling this has shone a light on the need for new skills and adaptability.

Reputation is everything

In a related trend, we see a growing need for organisations to focus on their reputation – both generally as an employer but also specifically to their target talent markets.

Right now, leadership needs to be especially clear as to what the company stands for. Increasingly, smart organisations are bundling the search for and development of the right leadership with a focus on their employer brand and reputation management.

By combining components of the two services, they can attract and engage the right leadership while also developing appropriate and sustainable reputations.

Unfortunately, while candidate expectations and technology advancements in the last decade have propelled the recruitment industry forward, executive search has generally not evolved.

Instead, executive search still largely depends on extensive personal networks, specialised industry knowledge and building relationships face to face. This year’s challenges have forced many organisations to question the slow, high-cost model run by traditional executive search firms, where clients too often lack control.

while candidate expectations and technology advancements in the last decade have propelled the recruitment industry forward, executive search has generally not evolved”

With businesses commonly spending as much or more on executive search as on the rest of recruitment, many are looking to reduce costs and cultivate a higher ROI. To achieve this, the HR or talent acquisition team should take full control of the process.

Getting the data

One area especially important for supporting internal teams in executive search is data. We see a trend towards organisations seeking research and insight services to gain visibility across the senior talent landscape and build robust talent pools ahead of making hiring decisions.

To reach the desired ROI, organisations need to make senior placements more quickly. Outsourcing the responsibility for data ultimately allows internal teams to focus on upfront research and insight to map talent, build diverse pipelines and inform business decisions.

The process should offer the same benefits of recruitment process outsourcing, including ownership with flexibility, control and greater efficiency.

Traditional search firms typically do not provide this type of research support without bundling it together with more services, like the shortlisting of candidates and hiring for an end-to-end service.

Meanwhile, the methodologies of ‘pure play’ research companies lack sophistication and often use outdated data. Organisations are increasingly seeking these types of services unbundled, which means search firms need to rethink their value proposition or become obsolete.

The outsourcing model is becoming a more attractive proposition for effectively navigating uncertainty. An executive search partner with RPO experience can offer the type of services and capabilities to deliver the results businesses need.

It’s more important than ever that businesses have the right leadership in place to carve out a strategy to get back on track.

Organisations should consider working with an executive search RPO partner at this time to incorporate the flex and scale that is unavailable within in-house teams, while also benefiting from the greater speed, agility, technology, data and efficiency they can offer.

Employers are managing an unprecedented amount of challenges this year. But the change to their executive search model is long overdue – and it should usher in a new and improved era.

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