Lately I’ve been researching and talking to various leaders in a number of global executive search companies. It’s no small industry either, being estimated at close to $10 billion. And at some point almost all large companies utilize executive search, whether to find non-executive board members or chairmen, to bring in a new CEO or key senior executives, or to evaluate and benchmark internal executive and management talent.
My overall take is that it’s pretty much a me-too industry, with executive search consultants being able to easily job-hop from one firm to another, of course taking their “little black book” of contacts with them. And filling a position for a client is pretty much a task of searching a database of those with the right characteristics of experience, industry expertise, and in a few cases, “cultural fit”. Most have even added the extra service of having potential candidates fill out psychological profiles in an attempt to weed out those who might have difficult personalities or just not right for the pace, pressure or preferences of the company.
And since the internet has made potential candidates easily “findable” and the process more open, companies like LinkedIn and other social networks have begun to seriously compete with the traditional retained search business model. Now there are many more channels available to both the job seeker and the company looking for new hires.
So what really differentiates one global search firm from another? (I think the same question could be asked of the large global accounting firms as well).
Most of the large global search firms are looking to add value and differentiate through the addition of ancillary services, such as leadership development coaching and training, culture change, team building, career planning, and even diversity and inclusion programmes. The most diverse of those on the differentiation trail is Korn Ferry International, where a large percentage of their revenue comes from ancillary, non-search services. Most others are playing catch up.
But is this really what CEOs and internal recruiters are looking for? I wonder if real value and differentiation could come from a new approach to candidate evaluation and selection?
For example, most evaluation processes focus on the candidates capabilities for the role or position. Search consultants review the work history of the candidate and the positions they have held as well as the technical and management skills they have acquired to see if they match the open position.
They also look for commitment. Will this person stay around and get “stuck in” or are they a serial job hopper always looking for advancement?
Then come the psychometric tests to get a glimpse into the personality and character of the individual. Most of these tests are pretty weak in determining real leadership and executive talent, but they are, according to the psychologists, statistically valid! My feeling is, so what if a person is an introvert or an extrovert. I’ve seen great executives with both characteristics. So what if they are “difficult” or “different”? So was Steve Jobs and hundreds of others who help move companies forward.
Courage and Compassion: Active Caring
So maybe we need to look at a couple of other indicators of leadership capability. I suggest that beyond Competence and Commitment, recruiters find a way to also evaluate Courage and Compassion.
Courage is the willingness to speak up when its unpopular or politically incorrect, but the right thing to do. Courage is the action of stepping in when there is a missed schedule and helping out, even if it’s not your department or function but you know you can add value. Courage is tell the customer the truth about his or her shipment. Courage is speaking up when meetings go off track and everyone is avoiding the real issues.
And there is no real leadership without Compassion. We are not dealing with just objectives, a P&L or a set of numbers as leaders. Leaders also must be understanding and aware of the needs of employees, customers, communities, the environment, all of which are a part of the company’s ecosystem and impact performance and sustainability. Compassion for teammates having a difficult time at home or who have had their confidence shaken by a setback. Compassion for suppliers who are struggling. Compassion is not sympathy, but “active caring”. Getting engaged with the issue and the person to help make things better.
By only looking at Competence and Commitment, many “perfect” candidates wind up being part of the problem instead of the solution.
Think about Competence, Commitment, Courage and Compassion the next time you are looking to recruit for a leadership or executive position. You just might be surprised at how your selection improves.
John R Childress
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.
John also writes thriller novels: novels.johnrchildress.com