What I Learned in Bangkok (Part 1)

11/26/2012 10.19 EST

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  A few weeks ago, my partner Sally Stetson and I spent a week in Bangkok, Thailand attending the annual meeting of IIC Partners.  Our firm is a member of this global network of independently owned retained search firms and this meeting is devoted to sharing best practices, developing relationships with each other and generally working together to strengthen our businesses.  We also do things like elect new board members and select board leadership.   Attending the meeting with us were about 70 colleagues, all of whom own and operate retained executive search firms.  They come from virtually every part of the globe: Europe, the UK, Asia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia – you name it.   For those who couldn’t join Sally and me in Bangkok, the following are 18 takeaways from our international trip.  What have you experienced in your overseas travels – in Bangkok or elsewhere?   It is a bad idea to eat a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese after getting off a 15-hour flight over the North Pole. Pepto-Bismol is the staff of life but is unavailable anywhere in Asia. (It is very good to have experienced traveling companions with you who pack lots of Pepto.) The airports I travelled through in Hong Kong and Thailand were huge, spotless, beautiful, new and comfortable. If I lived in Hong Kong, I would go to the airport on Friday nights for fun. JFK International Airport in New York is cramped, dirty, ugly, old and inconvenient....

Don’t Call Me a Headhunter

11/02/2012 04.13 EST

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Headhunter. The definition of a “headhunter” is someone who seeks, collects and preserves the heads of enemies as trophies or ceremonial objects. This is not what I do and I certainly hope it’s not something my competitors do.   Whenever I attend an event and meet people for the first time, most ask me what I do for a living. They are confused when I respond that I am an “executive search consultant.” Most of the time, I receive glazed looks in response to this term and almost always need to follow it with a more detailed description: “I am hired or retained by corporations to help them recruit for specific executive-level positions.” This is typically followed by more confusion until I give in and say I am a headhunter. Then the vacant stare shifts into clear recognition – “Oh, now I understand what you do!” – followed by a description of their job-seeking friend “Joe” and why he’d be perfect for my client. Now I am just frustrated. That is not what I do either.   While referrals are welcome, I wish people would understand the core differences between executive search and headhunting:   We work with clients on very specific assignments. Even though “Joe” may be a great guy, if I don’t have a search assignment that matches his background, it doesn’t matter. We are not a placement agency. We are a consulting firm that partners with companies to identify talented executives who have the...

In Praise of Non-Profit CEOs

10/10/2012 03.35 EST

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A while back, I was contacted by a journalist who was upset about CEO compensation for non-profit executives.  He thought many of them made too much money, which he found especially galling since he thought they had cushy jobs.   Specifically, he said things like:   “It’s not like they have shareholders!” “They don’t have to worry about competition!” “They shouldn’t expect to be paid well for their work – they are in a non-profit.”   I’ve written before about non-profit organizations and I serve on the boards of several right now.  I also spent the first few years of my career in non-profits, first in the mental health sector and later in a social services agency as a fundraiser.  But it’s really my board experience, including serving on or chairing several search committees for non-profit leaders, that has formed my views on the issue of compensation for non-profit executives.   First things first – I fully support the notion that non-profit CEO compensation should be transparent and should not create an undue burden on the budget.  However, I think we also have to be realistic about the unusual, complex skill set required for success in this sector.  In fact, I contend that it is probably a much more difficult job to run a $50 million non-profit than it is to run a $50 million private company.  Here’s why:   The non-profit has many more stakeholders; clients, foundations, board members, politicians, donors, customers, regulators – the list...

The One That Got Away: Why Some Companies Just Can’t Land Superstars

09/20/2012 09.33 EST

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“We need to win the war for talent!”; “People are our most important assets!”; “The only capital we have is human capital!” blah blah blah   Insert CEO’s name here and these statements could come from the leader of any Fortune 500 company.  Ask one of these leaders what their top five priorities are and invariably a talent related issue will be in that group.  So, if talent is so important, why are so many companies so bad at recruiting the cream of the crop to their companies?  Mostly, they can’t get out of their own way.  Their recruitment processes aren’t designed to differentiate themselves from the crowd and often end up frustrating high performing, high potential candidates who could be difference makers in their organizations.   Listed below are some of the major stumbling blocks:   You can’t recruit a 100 mph candidate with a 55 mph recruiting process. Great talent is always in demand and, more importantly, always in play.  If it takes you two weeks to get a candidate on the interview calendar, another week to get that candidate feedback on her interviews and three more weeks to schedule second round interviews, don’t be surprised if she calls you up in week five of this marathon to tell you she has taken another position.  Many companies, particularly large companies, just can’t make the wheels turn fast enough for a superstar candidate, even when they really want to bring her on board.   Stars are...

How’s the Job Market?

08/08/2012 03.51 EST

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Being an executive search consultant brings with it a variety of occupational hazards.  When people discover my profession, they immediately work the word “headhunter” into the conversation and then apologize to me in case I’m insulted by it (I’m not, but I don’t embrace it).  Or they send me copies of resumes from friends and family members who are out of work so I can find them jobs (not what we do).  Or they tell me they have been thinking about “making a move” and ask if I will meet with them to help.   But the biggest occupational hazard in my profession is having a snappy, relevant, current answer to a question I get many times each week:   “How’s the job market?”   People ask this question with the expectation that there is one discrete answer.  It turns out there is one answer, but it isn’t the answer people want to hear.  Because the real answer is this – “It depends.”   First of all, it depends on where you want to live and how much money you want to make.  Secondly, it depends on your skills and the demand for those skills.  It also depends on how up-to-date those skills are.  Could you write an article for a business publication about where your profession is going in the next five years – or would you be more likely to write about how your profession has lost its way and will never be as good...

The Hiring Manager Has No Clothes

07/12/2012 09.19 EST

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When swapping stories with fellow talent acquisition professionals on assignments that yielded less-than-satisfactory outcomes, the question usually comes up as to when the search went awry.  The answer almost invariably is that it went wrong from the start.  Whether it was the position not being filled or the placed candidate ultimately failing in his or her new role, if you trace back through the steps in the process, there was something that happened early on in the search that spawned a problem.  Often it’s the Hiring Manager to blame, with a view of the position – or himself – that is divorced from reality and no other stakeholder can muster the managerial courage to confront and correct the problem.   It is not unusual for a Hiring Manager to have a different view of a role’s ideal candidate profile than might a peer, partner or subordinate.  When a healthy debate is facilitated among these stakeholders, most often a clear and accurate view of the requirements for success in the open position are identified and incorporated into the search strategy.  However, as you move higher up in the organization, occasionally you will encounter a few archetypical hiring managers whose orientations can reduce the likelihood of a successful outcome.  Here are a few “types” I’ve encountered during my career and some suggestions on how to deal with them.   The “This Is My Hire” Hiring Manager This Hiring Manager doesn’t want you to talk to anyone but her about...

What to Assess When You’re Assessing

05/29/2012 09.35 EST

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The use of some type of assessment methodology has been on the increase in the executive selection process over the past several years. While executive assessment is nothing new in Corporate America and tools such as Assessment Centers have been in use for well over 30 years, the proliferation of the use of assessment tools in the selection of external leaders is a relatively new phenomenon. In my experience, assessment tools for external candidates have become fashionable over the past decade and can be tied to the increasing focus that many corporations place on talent management.   Traditionally, and in my opinion incorrectly, corporations have held the recruitment and selection of external leaders as separate and distinct from such company pillars as its culture, leadership development and succession planning process. The attributes by which an external candidate wins a leadership position in a new company are often at odds with the process by which an internal executive would receive a promotion in that same company.   Take the Julie Roehm/Wal-Mart debacle as an example. If Ms. Roehm had been subjected to an assessment process that included a review of how she would fit within the Wal-Mart corporate culture, would the company have hired her in the first place? Not just to Wal-Mart’s benefit either, as Ms. Roehm herself told Fast Company in 2009 for an article titled “Behind the Rebranding Campaign of Wal-Mart’s Scarlet Woman”: “She now ranks cultural fit — geographic and corporate — at the...

The Biggest Misconceptions about Executive Search

05/10/2012 01.26 EST

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I’m starting to think I am in a profession that almost no one understands.   Sixteen years ago, my partner, Sally Stetson, and I started a retained executive search firm. The field existed long before our entry into it and the essential service offering has changed very little. Employers retain us to find the best talent available to fill critical roles in their companies.   That’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed. Most of our clients now have substantial internal recruitment functions so that they can fill as many jobs as possible without outside help. As a result, we tend to be tapped for more senior level assignments or to fill positions that are particularly vexing for some reason or another.   Another big change is the internet of course. In 1996, when we opened our doors, we did research using various directories and reference books. We still have a few of them lying around, but I can’t find one dated after 2004.   How about email? When we started, the phone was everything. Of course, it was sometimes tough to get past the secretary who answered it – but that person has gone away, as well, by and large. With email, we can contact people directly and discreetly – and they can respond when and if they wish to.   In 1996, air travel was a lot easier and videoconferencing was just gaining traction. People tended to work in their offices and not their homes....

Random Thoughts

04/09/2012 02.04 EST

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One of the problems in writing a blog is that on periodic occasions, you actually have to write one. After several entries, I’ve found—at least over the short-term—that I’ve run out of insights that merit 500 words or more on a regular basis. I’ve also come to the conclusion that those who are able to consistently churn out content are either a lot smarter than me or are hopelessly deluded narcissists. Given my own narcissistic tendencies, I choose to believe they are more delusional than brilliant.   Regardless, I am still faced with the task of either writing this entry or facing the wrath of the Senior Partner in the firm. So, rather than bore you with a well-thought-out analysis of a critical business challenge, I’ll settle for a more flow-of-consciousness series of info bytes on issues that have come up recently in our business. This approach also has the added bonus of one of these nuggets being picked up more broadly in the 140-character world in which we live.   So, what’s going on in the world of executive employment?   Relocation is becoming more challenging as the market heats up. In virtually every national search I’ve conducted in the past year, we’ve had to overcome some obstacle around relocation. It simply is the nature of the real estate market that mortgages are underwater and companies refuse to significantly alter their existing relo policies. For candidates, this means understanding the fact that very, very few companies...

What Companies Are Looking for in their HR Leaders

11/28/2011 02.45 EST

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In the executive search world, I often hear several “ideal profiles” when companies are looking for new human resources leaders; however, most companies have one thing in common: they want a solid human resources generalist who “knows their stuff” across a variety of functional areas.   In addition to broad-based human resources skills, talent management, leadership development and sometimes executive compensation expertise are critical.  While the most frequently discussed traits in the ideal description include business-oriented, passionate, trusted advisor, emotionally intelligent and high-energy, the importance of these competencies vary based on the business – is the company global or domestic?  Growth-oriented or contracting?  Publicly or privately-held?   Some questions you may want to ask to help clarify the ideal human resources profile for your company may include:   Do we need an executive who will be a confidante and advisor to the CEO and senior team? Will the leader need experience in evaluating potential mergers and acquisitions as well as being engaged in integrating new businesses? How involved will the leader be in increasing the level of engagement with the workforce to ensure the company retains its talent? Will this person inherit a seasoned team or will they need to develop employees and identify new team members? How much building or reshaping of the organizational structure will be needed? Will benefits need to be scrutinized to ensure there is a balance between quality of offerings and cost efficiencies? How much time will this individual spend on major...