Impact of uncertainty on search firms
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way……”
This opening paragraph from Charles Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities” might as well have been written to describe the impact of uncertainty on business today. In this period of extreme uncertainty for business, it is the best of times for those who can respond to the tremendous opportunities that such periods present. This has definitely been the case with select executive search firms. Unfortunately, it is only the smart few who are thriving leaving the vast majority striving.
With talent posing the biggest challenge in business today, executive search firms that have been able to up their game, have never had it so good. The continuous speed of change & market uncertainties has changed the entire complexity of talent required to run a business successfully creating tremendous opportunities for talent search firms.
Let’s look at things from organizational perspective. In today’s market, billion dollar companies can be built in a matter of years, not decades like before. This increase in speed has caused roles in companies to become a lot more demanding. Standard parameters of selection like past experience & performance, qualifications, age, background and education are no longer sufficient to guarantee future success. Employers are increasingly looking for specific attitudes, attributes, behaviors, personalities as well as motivation to learn, sheer grit and teamwork as the real factors for success. Additionally, aligning swiftly to a company’s vision & ideals is an extremely critical aspect of performance. Traditional resumes are no longer sufficient to understand people.
So how has this impacted the search firms? I strongly believe search for talent today is more about talent recognition than talent acquisition.
This shift in perspective requires specialized expertise and knowledge of specific industries and markets in relation to the changing social, economic and political factors. It also requires understanding candidate aspirational levels - especially the emerging generation & matching them to an organization’s vision. In light of the rising complexities in recognizing the right talent, search cannot be viewed as a cost anymore. Hiring talent in-house or off the shelf from online portals has proved disastrous in the past few years, giving rise to increasing attrition, wrongly attributed to irrelevant factors. While organizations battle with various cures for attrition, the answer lies in prevention—hiring right.
It is unfortunate that a majority of search firms, instead of trying to understand this and upping their game have continued with their transactional models of operation or sought refuge by trying to add other related HR services to executive search to create value for clients and ended up completely diluting their core search capabilities.
Search firms, which have been able to build their value proposition to meet these demands, can be assured of exciting times ahead. They need to remember that talent search is essentially people’s business. Even technology needs to be used with great care, when it comes to hiring. Recruiters should not get unnecessarily influenced by write-ups that try to promote technology purely for commercial reasons.
The coming years will present huge opportunities for executive search firms but only those who can continue to turn challenges into opportunities. The future of executive search lies in developing expertise in curating the right talent for each individual client in a market where the only certainty is uncertainty.