Have You the Right People for a Turbulent World?

November 2017 Overture

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Access to the best and most innovative talent has become a lifeline for business in a world of radical change and disruption. Take the automotive industry – long regarded as mature, it now faces unprecedented turbulence from numerous arenas, as outlined in our Overture “Who Drives the Driverless Car?”

Similarly, the tobacco industry, under pressure from increasing regulation, is turning increasingly to technology to create next-generation products. In reality no sector is immune from disruption. Boards and management teams urgently need new skills – and mind-sets – to remain relevant and competitive.

In this fast-changing, complex and unpredictable environment, today’s established business model can easily become tomorrow’s recipe for failure. In this Overture we reflect on the implications of this turbulence, and the need to reboot leadership teams with fresh, diverse talent. 

The Diversity Benefit

The composition, skills, and strategic direction of the leadership team are vital to the success of any business. With the executive team working flat out to deliver today’s performance, it’s the role of the Chairman and the Board to look beyond the next 12 months. Increasingly, long-term memory and sustainable future lies with the Chair, and shaping the right team is critical to success.

The business case for diversity is clear. It’s intuitively obvious that, at Board and Executive level, teams with a range of skills and backgrounds will be more agile and resilient, and perform better under pressure – and there’s an increasing body of academic work underpinning this. Yet achieving diversity can be challenging – recruiting within one’s comfort zone feels safe for all corporate leaders; professional service firms with the partnership model can all too readily draw upon a narrow range of backgrounds – rationalised as the elusive “cultural fit”.

It is the role of the Chairman to champion the cause for diversity, ensuring its benefits are understood by the Board and senior team, and to encourage diverse hiring. We firmly believe that companies that move diversity beyond box-ticking and embed it in their strategy are not just politically correct, but are ensuring their own future.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.

Malcolm Forbes

Defining the Role, and What it Needs to Deliver

In our view the most important work in any Search is done at the outset, before a single candidate is identified. Proper role definition lays the groundwork for a successful hiring process. In brief, “what (skills/experience/attributes/approach) do we need” comes before “who do we know”.  We at Fidelio bring rigorous, independent perspective to clarify the purpose of the role, what it needs to deliver and how it supports the corporate strategy. This includes outlining performance objectives and KPIs, typically for at least the first 12 months. The benefits are twofold:

 1. The candidate is clear on what they will be expected to deliver, and the timelines for doing so

2. By moving the focus from past experience to competence and capability, we allow for a broader and more diverse pool of candidates

On this basis, we produce a Candidate Brief that strives to be engaging, to accurately represent expectations for the role, the client’s brand and values, and which markets the role to potential candidates in a compelling manner.  This is where the “onboarding” process starts.

Our clients recognise that investing the time and effort required for this initial work is valuable and results in a significantly better outcome. Where searches struggle, it’s usually because this vital step has been skipped or skimped on.

Working “Beyond the Grid”

The traditional search world is a triple-axis grid – “geography”, “sector” and “function”. This matrix has traditionally been the model for larger search firms who are frequently organized as geographical or industrial silos; however, its rigidity can fail to take account of the global careers enjoyed by many of today’s most talented people. Moreover, it hinders creativity in identifying the diverse candidate who may not fit into a particular ‘box’.

At Fidelio we are based in London, with a senior team that is internationally experienced; our network extends across corporates, professional services firms, financial services institutions and investors. We are able to access candidates across borders, sectors, functions, and exercise our creativity to source high-quality short-lists. We think across eco-systems not grids!

Project Managing the Process

Finding candidates has never been easier, yet the industry’s success rate in delivering search remains a constant. Why?

We have outlined some of the reasons. However, question yourself – do you apply the same rigor and discipline when investing in people as you do a capital project?  The size of the investment may be equal but the process is often very different.

The Fidelio approach is simply set up and we manage each search as a project, highlighting the key events and deliverables. Communication is critical. For the client we provide a weekly progress report, ensuring complete transparency as to where we are in the process. In most cases we are able to exceed our clients’ expectations with regard to the quality and speed of execution. For candidates we provide constant communication; importantly providing timely feedback at every stage.

The Hiring Committee 

The quality and alignment of the hiring committee are key to a successful search. Not only should the organisation agree those people who will constitute the hiring committee, but they should also be empowered to determine the requirements of the role and the selection criteria. This is easier said than done, and the process of obtaining alignment can be challenging. However, this forms the foundation of a successful search. Best to agree in advance what is required than in front of the candidate!

The interview process should be tightly managed.  Too often successive interviewers duplicate questions, and important areas are left unexamined. Interviewers should agree in advance the structure of their conversations, and who will cover which topics. Where specific technical skills are required these should be researched, tested and properly referenced.

The balance between “buying” and “selling” should also be carefully managed. Agreeing who amongst the hiring committee will perform which role is best agreed in advance – “who says what when”. Each candidate is an individual; the effective interviewer benefits from being empathetic.

Capturing Feedback and Acting on it

The search process is an excellent opportunity to capture feedback on your organisation, the hiring process and market intelligence. Candidates invest significant time and emotional energy when entering and engaging in a hiring process.  Respecting their investment can be easily rewarded by providing timely feedback as well asking for their feedback.  This has a major impact on your brand and reputation.

Act on the information gleaned from successful and, even more importantly, unsuccessful candidates throughout the hiring process. Combine this information with the feedback from the hiring committee to drive continuous improvement and to enhance your brand reputation.

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning…

Colin Powell

Adding Value to Search

In summary, the world of executive search is changing as rapidly as the business environment, becoming ever more demanding and multi-dimensional. Diversity cannot be treated as an optional extra, but embedded in the process from the start.

Time spent upfront defining the role is always an investment, as is work on ensuring the alignment of the hiring committee and a well-structured interview process. A strong network that transcends geographical, sectoral and functional borders will ensure a rich and diverse list of candidates, while effective project management is the bedrock of success.

The proof of the pudding is invariably in the eating. Our track record is considerably above industry average in terms of (i) successful appointments (ii) candidates in role two years after the search. Moreover over 50% of our recent searches have contributed to the increased diversity of the Board or leadership team. And over 50% of our assignments are international, demonstrating Fidelio’s ability to deliver search “cross-border, cross-sector, cross-function”.

This is where value lies – building leadership teams fit for the future.

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