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Holistic approach to successful executive search outcomes

Terry Veitch, Managing Partner - NGS Global - Africa.

Companies currently face an unprecedented number of change challenges and opportunities. At the same time, more companies than ever are now drawing from the same executive talent pool, which in itself has evolved and has fundamentally changing needs. The priorities and consequently the profiles of today’s executives have changed, and it is key that businesses recognize and acknowledge these changes in order to attract and retain the best available executive talent.

It is therefore essential for companies to revisit the basics of hiring executive talent. Below are five pragmatic steps that give organizations the best chance of success.

1. Develop a Targeted Search Strategy
Plan the work and work the plan! The devil always lies in the detail, and this is particularly applicable to the executive search process. Focus the recruitment process by knowing clearly what is the desired outcome, who you are looking for and which specific skills are critical to be successful in the given role.

Hire for now and the future. Define what success looks like early on. Perhaps most importantly, include all hiring executives in this planning stage upfront, and ensure that all internal and external stakeholders are informed of the search strategy, timelines, milestones and the desired outcome.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, allow adequate time for the overall recruitment process. Bake in additional leeway to allow for unforeseen changes that present themselves throughout the process.  It is also important to ensure, however that the search process does not stagnate or flounder  with too many decision makers involved – I’ve seen exceptional candidates pull out because clients took too long or did not have sound and consistent processes.

2. Interview Preparation is Key, but don’t Over-structure
The more natural the interview process the greater the benefit for all parties. Get the balance between focus and structure. Interviews should be conversational by nature, with all parties being able to extract meaningful information upon which to make informed decisions.

Clearly define the areas to which you need answers and, once provided by the candidates, make sure they are understood by the executives making the hiring decision. Conduct panel interviews or have 2-3 interviewers conduct each session to reduce the overall number of interviews any one candidate needs to go through. Ensure interviewers do not repeat questions covered in previous interviews; this is unprofessional and off-putting to candidates.

To that end, let the Key Selection Criteria (KSC) guide the interview process. Share the KSC with candidates before interviews, and get them to give examples of relevant and related experience to the KSC. This gets the candidates into the process via real-world examples and in turn focusses the process whilst providing valuable and relevant information to hiring executives.

3. Provide Clear and Open Lines of Communication for all Stakeholders
To ensure a seamless candidate experience, communicate openly, clearly and respectfully with all candidates about the process, timelines and manage their expectations throughout the search. Provide meaningful commercial information (both positive and negative) about the company and the role to prospective candidates so that they can prepare and make informed decisions. Tightly define and communicate your corporate culture, as this is an essential deterministic factor in the search process. Cultural fit should be placed at the heart of the search project.

As part of this seamlessness, it is extremely important to preserve the utmost candidate confidentiality. It is pivotal in all searches and is an aspect that needs to be prioritized by both hiring companies and search firms. Most candidates are passive in that they are approached directly about the role and are not specifically looking to move. Candidates have everything to lose if confidentiality is breached and therefore all involved need to be highly aware of any areas in which candidates can be exposed throughout the entire search process.

4. Choose your Search Partner Wisely
A good executive search partner can clarify, streamline and amplify your search project. If you are working with one, ensure they are conducting deep-dive original research and are not reliant on their database of known candidates, who are often recycled when their process becomes overly formulaic. This is particularly critical if you are interested in triggering interest in the role from passive executives (potential candidates that are not actively looking to change positions).

The hard-to-find hybrid skills required in executive roles today are found via the professional art of deep-dive research, well-developed personal networks in the given market as well as global databases. This three-pronged approach to identifying suitable executive talent will ensure both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the search process, and will provide better access to exceptional executive talent.

Just as important is the extent to which your search firm has companies or individuals that are ‘off-limits’ (these are companies or individuals they cannot pitch the opportunity to because they have pre-existing relationships/agreements with them). The off-limits of the search firm you use becomes your off-limits for any particular search, so select a vendor that enables you the best access to the targeted talent. Specifically ask the search firm about their off-limits so you understand where the search firm cannot search.

5. Use the Search Process Effectively
Retention is often neglected but goes hand in hand with hiring. It is important to gear retention tools towards the needs of the talent you are looking to hire….and hopefully retain. These are not always monetary in nature but are increasingly linked to the values, lifestyle preferences and working modalities of a wider demographic of employees, particularly new and younger executives.

 The search process can also be a valuable source of highly confidential information and market intelligence. The search process enables hiring executives the rare opportunity of confidentially engaging with other key players and competitors. Consider the suitability of talent identified in one search for other key company requirements, particularly with regard to succession planning, and make a note of and track talent that is highlighted in the search process. This may be an opportunity to create a bench of ‘backup’ or ‘go to’ talent, or develop a list of executives who are able to move across business functions, or who are more generalist executives and therefore more mobile.

Conclusion
Facing an unprecedented number of changes, organizations are increasingly looking to executive teams and functions to navigate a productive, robust and socially responsible path forward: commercially, technologically and operationally.

Taking a ‘back to basics’ approach by sanity-checking your executive recruitment outreach and process is very likely to yield significant positive outcomes and gives you the best chance of attracting the very best talent available.

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