Article: How executive search practices in India are different

Strategic HR

How executive search practices in India are different

Hastha Krishnan, President - Executive Search, Ma Foi Randstad talks about how executive search practices in India differ from those in the rest of APAC countries

Energy and infrastructure companies are hiring senior professionals aggressively to manage their growth and diversification efforts


CEOs and Boards need to ensure a strong harmony of values and beliefs of an individual with that of the Board while hiring leaders


Hastha Krishnan, President - Executive Search, Ma Foi Randstad talks about how executive search practices in India differ from those in the rest of APAC countries

What are the trends in the executive search space in India?

Traditionally, companies in India thought that executive search is just another form of recruitment. As globalization has deepened, senior executives have been exposed to multiple opportunities and employer organizations have found it challenging to attract the ‘right person’ for a top management position. Either they starved of ‘right talent’ or they landed up with someone who did not create the desired impact.
Globally, executive search is a crucial piece discussed in the boardrooms and considered a common practice while hiring a top executive. The stakes are high and the Board understands that specialists need to be consulted while filling such a position. In India, more and more companies have started distinguishing between executive search and normal recruitment processes. Moreover, they realize that cost of failing on this front could take the organization backwards and cause tremendous amount of setbacks.
Secondly, as the economy is bouncing back, organizations have been demonstrating agility to fill up senior positions, which have remained unfilled for a while. The hiring cycle is coming down to the range of 3-4 months compared to 2009 when it was much longer, at times even a year!
Thirdly, many organizations while trying to exploit the market opportunities, realize that senior roles at strategic levels for business enabling functions are critical to manage these moments of growth. Hence, we see some of these functions are getting priority now as opposed to what we saw happen in 2009.
Another interesting development is observed in the way Indian MNCs are filling senior positions overseas. They have been hiring locals for those markets unlike the earlier times when they used to send someone from India.

How would you compare the trends in different industry verticals in terms of executive search?

We see interesting trends in different industry sectors. Energy and infrastructure companies are hiring senior professionals aggressively to manage their growth and diversification efforts. This sector has been benefiting from the pent-up demands and stimulus provided.
Outsourcing industry sector has been witnessing growth of niche areas such as Engineering, Design, Legal, Healthcare et al. Organizations are hiring senior professionals to head such operations. We see movements across industry sectors into this segment. BPO and IT services firms are trying to climb the value chain to protect their margins and are looking for senior professionals to head such new initiatives.
Higher activities of FIIs in India and persisting gloom in many leading economies in the world have led to higher activities in Financial Services sector in India. There have been quite a bit of movement of senior executives within the sector to support many such new initiatives that companies have undertaken.
Across sectors, we see new business models or improvization of existing business models to respond to changes in the economic environment. Each of these initiatives need professionals who bring a fresh perspective with them and are looking for amalgamating their experience with something new and test out their mettle in new or uncharted territories. Such initiatives look for entrepreneurial thinking and professional rigour. We see this as an important trend as executive search partners of many enterprises across the six sectors that we work in.

How is India different from other APAC countries in the space of executive search?

India Inc. is different from APAC region in many ways in this space. Cultural norms and management practices in those markets are significantly different from those in India. Best practices followed by multi-national companies in carrying out executive search methods in APAC market do not work successfully in India. Hence, successful executive search firms in India deploy many original ideas at work rather than replicating blindly what works elsewhere.
Interim management is quite popular and common-place in APAC market. But, in India, it is still in its infancy in spite of the high growth of the economy and the wealth of opportunities in emerging markets.
Also, the awareness levels in India about the need of specialist executive search firms to handle CXO recruitment is comparatively lower and thus, executive search market in India offers many opportunities for growth.

How can companies build a strong leadership pipeline by acquiring the right talent?

This has always been a significant aspect for organization’s sustainability. Of late, there has been huge amount of discussions in the media and amongst CEOs about succession planning and the logic behind them. We see two important factors here - Culture-fit and Vision-match.
The senior leaders need to work in alignment with one another so that the organization is driven in harmony and grown with the highest efficiency. Leadership pipeline and succession planning plays a very important role in ensuring the organization carries on its journey without any hiccups and doubts. In such scenarios, organizations are able to respond quickly and in the best possible way, to changes in external environment. They continuously develop themselves by focused efforts in people capability, process efficiency and system design. For long term success, legendary organizations have always invested upon themselves by recruiting people for senior roles consciously using external talent pool as well as internal pool. These organizations use specialists to evaluate and develop people capability on an ongoing basis. Accordingly, they plan induction of external talent and work towards building leadership pipeline in a clinical way.
We have experienced some of these organizations using the downturn as an opportunity to engage and develop their talent pool better. They have used them to develop new models and new ideas. They have also used the opportunity to induct senior level people into this top team, though on a very selective basis.
While acquiring talent to build leadership pipeline, CEOs and Boards need to ensure a strong harmony of values and beliefs of an individual with that of the Board. This is easier said than done. At times, appointment of known people from within the family or from known circles has gone wrong for the organization! Executive search firms bring in their expertise and tools to check such compatibility.
Secondly, they need to ensure that the personal vision and professional aspiration of the individual augurs well with the growth and/or diversification plans of the company. This vision-match is another important aspect that gets overlooked or side-stepped while acquiring top talent for an organization. A third-eye view of the process helps avoid this trouble.

In the pre-2008, companies were hiring in excess trying to cater to future demand; after the downturn, what do you think companies have learnt and how are those learnings being incorporated in the manpower planning strategies?

Pre-2008, speed was of paramount importance and at times, companies did not shy away from making the compensation and benefit package to be overtly attractive for the person to jump the ship. However, the learning in the downturn have made them cautious. These days, we experience our clients evaluating a person deeply from different dimensions. Moreover, we also see them offer compensation that is more tightly linked with performance results rather than a hefty base salary.
We also see organizations taking a closer look at the details of the profile and examining the accomplishments that one claims. Companies want to know how the applicants have dealt with the bad times and challenges in their lives rather than merely focusing on their good periods. This calls for the executive search partner to bring to the table knowledge of the industry sector, ability to examine details and proficiency to assess culture-fit and vision-match.
We see large Indian enterprises scouting for good talent who are likely to add depth to their management team. They believe that they would have been better-off if they would have managed some of their excellence strategies better. Hence, their manpower strategies are now anchored not only on the present but significantly on the future. This is a welcome trend that will see our economy getting stronger by the day!

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Topics: Strategic HR

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