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Hiring during the pandemic.

October 7th 2020


So 2020 is drawing to a close and you're seeking to hire. As a seasoned executive search consultant and professional coach I am regularly asked by employers and executives what are the optimum events that could lead to career change. Typically executives that are in the greatest demand are highly respected within their organization and industry alike with their career paths on the ascendency, consistently overachieving relative to their KPI's.

Offered challenges that keep them thoroughly engaged and highly motivated, it takes a set of truly special circumstances for them to consider career change.

Typical questions asked of me include:

a) Tell me about the vision for this organization, at CEO and divisional level where I could be positioned?

b) How do I fit into this vision and how might I contribute to its actualization?

c) Tell me about the prevailing organizational culture and the associated challenges expected in this role?

d) Describe how their brand is perceived in the market?

e) Describe how I am likely to be managed by my next boss; how might I be frustrated by him/her?

f) What is the career progression plan from this position, and how will I be groomed to succeed?

g) I their remuneration competitive by industry standards?

h) Are you retained on an exclusive basis with your client? 

Question (h) is such an important question that is being asked with increasing frequency. From experience executives seek certainty with respect the selection process, and those sufficiently savvy tend to opt out of participation when uninformed contingency based recruiters make contact. 

Over many years we have learned that a significant number of executives that we have targeted invest the time to understand the multi-layered dynamics and organizational elements on offer. During normal times (remember those) said executives are prepared to take the considered risks associated with career change. So what's changed? 

Executives are far more risk-averse nowadays as the old proverb suggests "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush." How certain in the prevailing macro and micro conditions of the hiring organization can the targeted executive be? How does their leadership view the present economic climate and what cost cutting measures are being anticipated? What is the likelihood of some structural change due to the effects of all the disruptive forces in play, inclusive of Covid 19? How has their business strategy shifted over the past 12 months? Has their level of investment in R&D and digitalization altered since the beginning of the year? These are questions that require a response and unless the hiring organization is offering full transparency in addition to a highly attractive working environment, it will prove extremely difficult to attract the industry stars that they covet. 

So how are the better credentialed organizations dealing with this challenge? Firstly they are linking their strategic vision with that of their talent management function. With HR occupying a seat at the leadership table there exists greater probability that constructive dialogue will lead to an improved hiring strategy. The brand will be viewed more favourably by those possibly considering career change. Secondly management needs to seek out the incredible HR resources at their disposal; they need to tap into the organization's collective intelligence for an effective hiring strategy to emerge.

What's collective intelligence? "Collective intelligence is group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, efforts and engagement of diverse teams." In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki states that collective intelligence needs four conditions to flourish: (1) diversity of opinion to guard against groupthink; (2) independent thinking that frees each person to express their own opinions without judgement or pressure to conform; (3) decentralization, which means the closer a person is to the problem or the customer, the likelier they are to offer a meaningful contribution; and (4) a good method for aggregating results.    

With available talent becoming more scarce than before leadership needs to devote more resources to their brand and what makes it so attractive, relative to their key competitors. Hiring strategies need to be more creative and more personal, more challenging with virtual recruiting becoming the "new normal." HR leaders will need to start collaborating more with employees at every level, for the majority of the workforce consists of smart, trustworthy people that know their jobs better than their leaders do. Give them a voice in how to best attract talent. 

An interesting case study should reinforce the value of adopting a creative approach to hiring during times of uncertainty or when a paucity of talent is available. I engaged in an APAC HR conference with the theme "hiring for scarce key technology/engineering talent" being a major topic. Underpinning this module was the knowledge that there existed a 40% shortfall of available talent within the technology/engineering sectors across the region. A number of ideas were discussed including the use of social media coupled with the creative implementation of hackathons from which to build brand awareness whilst creating the sense of employer desirability. 

I have long advocated capitalizing on the incredible knowledge that is available within our client organizations in order to promote the positive qualities and benefits of joining. Several of our clients have produced corporate videos of key employees espousing the many fine qualities associated with their employment. 

In closing I draw the reader's attention to a search project (see Case Study MD Financial Services) undertaken in Hong Kong. This case involved a targeted executive that rebuffed my advances on five occasions, who ultimately met for an exploratory coffee. It was during this informal gathering that she revealed several of her key drivers, one of which was on offer by our client. Unanimously selected by our client's panel and ultimately placed, the moral here is that hiring success in large part involves fully understanding the needs of both clients and executives, and in today's challenging times all stakeholders need to consider the optimum circumstances that will lead to a favourable win/win outcome. Our experience tells us that those executives deemed highly beneficial to the hiring organization are going to be far more selective with their decision making in the future. 




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