When hope is just not good enough

by David Aikins, Director - EMA Partners South Africa, Durban office

The in-depth research techniques that professional search firms use today are vital to ensure the right motivational, organizational and cultural fit of candidates, says David.
As service providers of Retained Executive Search, our business model is sometimes challenged by clients who are either new to the concept of Retained Executive Search or are comparing it to traditional recruitment agency offerings.
To complicate the matter further, there are many recruitment agencies who openly advertise their claim that they offer search services, when, in fact, they are not professionally equipped to operate in that market space.
To help clarify and inform clients' understanding on this issue effectively, it is useful to focus on a single key distinguisher between Retained Executive Search and traditional recruitment activities. In essence, it boils down to the difference between 'hope' versus 'professional research'.

With traditional general recruitment approaches, a client organization can only 'hope' that an agency has the ideal profile fit from candidates already on their existing database. This 'hope' approach often forces them to engage with several agencies in an attempt to spread the risk (hope) that they will be successful. In turn, that makes it very difficult to adequately equip each agency with a full profile understanding of the candidate requirements. This results in the briefing exercise amounting to little more than a circulation of the Technical Fit requirements.
As anyone involved with high level recruitment will be acutely aware, the Technical Fit is, in fact, the relatively easy part of the exercise. Of much more critical relevance to ensure a sustainable alignment of candidate to client's vacancy is the in-depth research of the complementary behavioral fit elements of Motivational Fit, Organizational Fit and Cultural Fit.

Let us just explore these in a little more detail. In terms of Motivational Fit, it makes little sense to explore a candidate who possesses all the qualifications and experience required, if he or she exhibits little motivational alignment to ensure the delivery of their inherent capabilities to the benefit of the host employer. While this statement is simplistic in the extreme, it is nevertheless an area that is often overlooked by the more general recruitment level operatives in their rush to beat the other agencies in the race to put CVs in front of the client and therefore lay claim to the fee on offer. This process often results in the 'spray and pray' approach in the hope that one of the agencies' CVs will 'stick' with the client and be finally accepted. This approach is not only highly disrespectful to the candidate and the integrity of the recruitment process, but it is also not really serving the best interests of the client organization.
By the very nature of Retained Executive Search, the omission of evaluating Motivational Fit cannot occur. This is by deliberate design rather than by good fortune, as an aspect of Retained Executive Search includes a guarantee of tenure by any appointed candidate. It would be foolish in the extreme to offer such a guarantee without an in-depth review and analysis of the full behavioral competency profile which reveals the particular motivational fit alignment between candidate and client.
But aligning the Motivational Fit in terms of behavioral competencies is not enough. The alignment of additional clusters of behavioral competencies, namely Organizational Fit and Cultural Fit will also play a pivotal role in ensuring that the best match of logic exists between what a candidate has to offer and what a client is looking for.
With Organizational Fit, the individual is assessed in terms of comfort and preference regarding issues such as organizational design structures, autonomy of decision making, market sector and issues relating to size and ownership of the entity.
Likewise, Cultural Fit also has an important role to play as it reflects the candidate's ability to perform effectively and make a meaningful contribution in different working environments. Some candidates perform best in conservative type organizations whereas others thrive in a more creative, lateral thinking, innovative and pioneering environment where it is actively encouraged to challenge the norm and status quo of the operations. We can all think of examples typifying well known organizations fitting into one or other of these descriptions. To overlook an appropriate level of comfort for a candidate in these areas is simply asking for trouble later in the working relationship between candidate and prospective employer.

Clearly, ignoring all these elements of alignment in preference to a singular focus on the Technical Fit components alone will never present the opportunity for a candidate to maximize their voluntary commitment and performance contribution to an employer. At the end of the day, we are all subject to the almost natural law of logic. Does it make logical sense for the candidate to be interested in the proposition that the employer is making? And equally importantly, does it make logical sense for the employer to be interested in what the candidate has to offer at that particular stage of their career progression? Without reviewing all of the above aspects, the hire or not-hire decision is not as straightforward a decision as it might appear at the outset of the recruitment exercise. Leaving these critical aspects aside, a further argument could be put forward by traditional recruitment agencies that they not only review their databases, but also advertise to attract the profile of candidates required to meet the needs of client companies. While this understandably can enhance the possibility of making a Technical profile fit to suit a client's requirements, it is nevertheless subject to the original contention in this article, that it is the underlying reliance on HOPE in traditional recruitment processes.

The placing of an advertisement, no matter how eye-catching and appropriate the media used, still relies on hope that an individual with the correct profile happens to see it in the first place, is attracted to react to it and considers it appropriate to initiate a response. In reality this narrows down the effective candidate pool enormously as it is a passive approach to recruitment and relies on (hopes) that several coincidences all come together at a particular point in time, to start a possible matching process. However, the vast majority of senior managers, at the executive level, do not respond to recruitment advertising and therefore an alternative method is required to source this special talent. The Retained Executive Search process is time honoured and internationally recognized as the most effective way to both identify and deliver the required executive director or manager to the client organization. It maximizes market coverage by applying primary research to identify the total body of potential candidates within determined geographies and industries; limits the risk of costly recruitment errors as the process identifies and attracts Best of Breed candidates
and saves client management time due to its thoroughness and custom-design. The Executive Search process is client-driven. It seeks maximum client understanding and involvement and achieves best results where relationships are forged with senior decision makers. In essence, it sells client opportunities to suitably researched individuals and does not sell individuals to clients.

The Executive Search process is founded on the use of research professionals. These highly trained specialists develop a unique strategy and methodology approach for each assignment. Equipped with deep industry knowledge, these professional researchers are able to focus on suitable individuals to approach and engage in initial discussions with them regarding a client's opportunity. Executive Search deals with candidates and not with applicants. It sells a particular career opportunity to suitable individuals whom it seeks out via extensive` research and who may, at first contact, have no knowledge of or interest in, the opportunity on offer. These individuals are generally successful and secure and not 'looking for jobs' and therefore extensive negotiations are required. They are difficult to find, but invariably represent the best available quality. Executive Search is all about thoroughness. The process covers an enormous amount of ground utilizing a funnel model with which to source suitable candidates from both a quantitative perspective (technical fit measures) as well as from a qualitative perspective (the so-called 'soft' behavioural fit alignment measures). This process is laborious and time-consuming, but is nonnegotiable.
Executive Search can only deliver the quality, the 'fit', because of its heavy reliance on fulltime and dedicated research. This, in turn, can only be funded by fees flowing from a formally contracted agreement between client organization and service provider. This client / service provider relationship is built on three pillars, which distinguish all search assignments the world over. These are: A formally signed agreement per assignment, a clause conferring exclusivity to the service provider and a phased billing arrangement, normally comprising a one-third payment upfront as a commencement fee, a further one-third payment as a progress payment upon presentation of a candidate shortlist and the final balancing one-third payment upon successful signed offer acceptance by a candidate.
Further characteristics of Executive Search assignments usually refer to aspects of placement guarantee and commitments to a stated time frame for process completion. A final comment is perhaps fitting with regard to the use of the expression 'Headhunting' as opposed to 'Executive Search'. Effectively they are one and the same, with the only difference implied by the more mercenary impression gained by the use of the term Headhunting as opposed to the more scientifically based research model implied in using the term Executive Search.

The net result, however, is the process whereby highly competent individuals with extensive track records of effective corporate delivery, move from one organization to another, where they feel they can make a more meaningful and rewarding contribution. Put another way, the process ensures a more appropriate alignment of candidate competence to client need.
It can be argued that this process approach ends up making a significant contribution to the overall effective human resources utilization in an economy.

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