2023: The New Normal in Executive Search and What to Do About It
Executive search has significantly changed in a very short period of time and the industry has yet to digest the impact. Top talent is scarce and all indicators seem to be showing us that this is not a temporary shortage.
Rather, this is the new normal.
Over 2022, my team in Europe and I served around 100 clients, large and small, industry and services leaders. We encountered this new normal everywhere and we, together with our clients, had to find new ways to deal with this critical challenge.
Most large corporations have leadership vacancies that they have been unable to fill for months. Only the top quartile of competitors in each industry are now able to attract and keep the qualified talent they need to lead all of their divisions. In most global corporations, the bottom line is suffering for a simple reason; lack of qualified leaders in key roles.
How did this happen?
There is no need to speculate on the causes of this seemingly sudden drought; I hear the same story from both clients and candidates. The research also supports what they say. We have entered an enduring buyer’s market. Here is what my team and I have learned:
- Small and medium sized corporations are more effectively competing with the big guys. Generally speaking, they are more aggressive and bring more exciting stories to the table This has the effect of adding more high quality openings into the landscape overall.
- Turnover is greater. For a variety of reasons, the days of a single company career are long over. The average number of companies an executive will serve is currently five, and that number is continuing to grow.
- Demographic causes. The influx of female leadership has stabilized. Top talent immigration has stabilized. And there are simply fewer adults in the age bracket of 30 to 44 relative to the larger population than there has ever been in our lifetimes.
- Leadership has become more difficult. It is no longer sufficient to simply know how to market and sell products (was it ever?). Corporate culture is more humanistic than it has ever been. This is a wonderful trend, and it has lengthened the required skill set for top leadership. Add to this that managers now must manage teams with geographically diverse membership, a more technological modus operandi, and a more rapidly shifting global landscape.
The implications for hiring managers are serious. That may be why so many have been slow to respond. The good news is that there are some very concrete things that can be done to recruit and retain top leadership talent. The rub is that none of these things are easy to accomplish. Is anything worthwhile ever easy?
Below, some best practices and recommendations which we collected over 2022 from our most efficient clients.
What hiring managers can do to respond
- The current generation of leaders is seeking meaning in their work. Do not scoff at this. Unless your story – which you must have – includes how you are making a positive social or environmental impact or both, then you have work to do.
- It is still about the money, but our new leaders have other priorities too. They want flexibility to live where they have connection, and they want creative autonomy to solve problems in new ways. For me, this is particularly true at Executive Leadership levels.
- Align your team internally before you start searching for candidates. It is damaging when you must re-write a job description in the middle of a search because another stakeholder steps in with different objectives or priorities.
- Be prepared to act quickly. I have recently had clients lose out on excellent hiring opportunities because inconvenience delayed inking a final contract.
- Mindset shift. Recognize that the landscape has shifted. Get geared up to seriously compete for your hires. Lead the rest of your organization in understanding the tectonic shift that has happened across industries, and how hiring must change.
This being said for hiring managers, candidates would do well not to assume that the world is their oyster. Yes, it is a buyer’s market, but I have seen some carelessness among candidates come back to bite them.
Advice for my esteemed candidates!
- Align your online properties. If your LinkedIn still features your first marketing director position while your CV goes into detail about your more recent head of global logistics role, you have some work to do before we get started. We see such inconsistencies way too often. For me and my clients, this immediately creates a bad feeling about you.
- Get clarity about your desire to move on, and act accordingly. A soft start to a search relationship is acceptable, but once you decide to pursue a position, act as if you want the position. Playing hard to get by not returning emails in a timely fashion or pulling out of an interview at the last minute is not just poor practice, it can be a reputation risk for you. I will not forget, nor will my clients…and it is a small world out there.
- Get help. You are busy. That’s why you are thinking about talking to an executive placement agency in the first place. Consider using Robertson and Associates’ Career Acceleration Program. We can ensure that you make a transition at the right time, for the right reasons, in the right way.
Organizational change is both exciting and painful. The psychological challenges of hiring and seeking new leadership roles can blind you to the risks as well as the full extent of the opportunities available.
At Robertson and Associates, we not only help you find what you are looking for, we help you understand how to do it in a way that builds your brand in the process. When it is time for a change, and it is always time for a change these days, let us know.
Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates.