Givers And Takers In The World Of Executive Search

September 8, 2020

Occasionally, as an equity Partner of Robertson Associates, I enter into strategic discussions with leaders from larger, corporate competitors, who are interested in acquiring the company. It is the way of business. Successful small fish with a great book of business that have carved out a healthy niche for themselves (that’s my sales pitch 🙂 are attractive bait for the large corporation that relies on growth for survival. 

Every time this happens, after a month of lost sleep and intense self-reflection, I emerge with greater insight into what it is that we really do at Robertson Associates. 

Recently, I completed one such cycle of temptation and recommitment to purpose. This time the lesson I learned is about a particular aspect of the identity of our small, boutique executive placement firm. A well-timed TED talk helped me to understand what it is that I am attached to when the discussions with my corporate friends arrive at an impasse. 

Givers and takers in executive search

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist and he studies corporate culture and productivity. In his model, Grant divides team members into three basic categories, givers, takers, and matchers. 

You can guess by the simple labels what characterizes each type of team member, but I will explain it anyway. Givers are those that put others above themselves – team is first. Takers are the opposite. They value others for what they can get from them. And matchers keep a score sheet; they seek to work in a quid pro quo world. 

It sounds like the latest organisational development hype, but Grant has some numbers to get you thinking. He saw that organizations that rely on the aggressive taker mentality rise and fall quickly. It is the givers who build a healthy, successful business in the long run

Givers mentor see opportunities to create efficiencies, and act to make everyone’s life better. In sales leadership for example, givers are at the bottom of their pack for quarterly quotas, and they are also at the top! Yes, there are sales givers that are ready to sacrifice revenue to build customer satisfaction, and there are givers who exceed sales targets because doing the right thing for the client also helps you do well in business. In other words, it is the givers on the team who both build the rocket and fly it to the moon. 


What boutique executive placement really means

How is this related to Roberston Associates’ decision to stay small and independent? I had never considered the character of our team of skilled, experienced executive placement professionals in this way before, but it is clear to me that we are all givers; and our firm itself rests in the ecosystem of executive placement as a giver in a world of big, corporate firms that – well – may have more complex priorities. 

I can say things like, our small firm is more flexible and agile, more responsive, but it is difficult for someone outside of the industry to understand what that means. So, let me break it down a bit more. 

Being a Giver at Robertson Associates, I believe that at boutiques such as ours, we are project-based. This means that when we get a search mandate, we are focused. The search does not enter into an algorithm nor an ERP process. LinkedIn should not be a solution ; it is a sanity check in an extensive process of discussions and investigation. Our client’s mandate enters a war room of career recruitment leaders with international connections and industry expertise. 

Being a Giver means that we have full understanding when clients need more time than expected to process a recruitment. Things often change from the time we start to the time final candidates talk to our client. And often, there are several decision makers, all having their own agenda in mind first. This is all fine to us. We can adapt, wait, and will never force a fast close because we have quarterly sales figures to reach. 

Being a Giver also means that we do not rest until our clients are satisfied with the right candidate. Sometimes that means we present a second round or even a third round, whatever our research costs may be at the end. And more than once, those costs have proven to be significant! We live and die by the health of our long-term relationships. And long-term relationships require investment; investment that we expect to continually make. 

Our clients choose us and choose other boutiques over the larger corporate placement firm because they become big fish in our small pond. We are all eye’s on them and in my view, it is this focus that creates the trust that is the foundation of our work. this creates a lot of trustworthiness in my view. 

Being a Giver means that we consciously make the choice to work with fewer clients in order to avoid off-limits lists. Off limits are groups of companies that you can not reach for their employees because you recently worked for them. And the larger the firm, the larger that list. It makes sense; you can’t rob last month’s client to present a candidate to next month’s client.


By giving, we help clients build rockets and, we get happy

Adam Grant’s model helps me to put all of this in context. As a small, executive placement firm, we are and want to remain a giver in the ecosystem of talent recruitment. 

We will sometimes make less money because of our satisfaction guarantee, and sometimes our reputation and reach allow us to provide a quick solution. We see this as a holistic approach to our business that allows us to always make the ethical business decision. 

Our team at Robertson Associates delights in nothing more than helping you build the rocket that takes your business to the moon! 

There may come a day when the right firm comes along at the right time with the right fit for our team. That day is not today, and I come out of this last round of consideration with even more fuel to power the business I am so proud to lead! 



Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates.