Let me be very clear upfront that this is not meant to be a complaint against our cherished clients…. it’s more of a gentle lament, or maybe whining just a little.
Over the past six months we have had an unusually high number of executive searches go astray. We have had finalist candidates go long into selection processes only to withdraw and accept other roles within or outside their current organizations. We have had candidates accept positions, sign their offer letters, agree to start dates and then get ‘convinced’ to remain with the same firms with which they felt misaligned just the week before. And then we have had a number of candidates inexplicably withdraw at unusual points in the process.
These setbacks are unusual in part because we genuinely work hard to build trusting, open and transparent relationships with both our search clients and the candidates we recruit. We do this so that we can guide both parties towards informed, prudent decisions, and if the truth be told, to mitigate the risks of last-minute surprises. And yet, surprised we increasingly are.
We are not so naïve as to miss the fact that a ‘hot’ market contributes to the phenomenon at hand. As the number of organizations seeking high-end talent skyrockets, pressure is placed on the supply side of the equation providing A-players with an abundance of choices and leverage. Multiple offer scenarios arise, counter-offers re-surface as companies cling to their talent, and gamesmanship sours the occasional interaction.
Our clients are themselves spinning in the same hot-market whirlwind. They are growing, or aspire to grow, and seek executives to help them navigate the road ahead. In most cases everyone is insanely busy and pulled in multiple directions. And this is where the problems start. Companies launch executive searches with the best intentions to complete them as expeditiously as possible. However, demands of the business itself, travel, and other factors intervene, resulting in repeated scheduling delays. The initial sense of urgency becomes but a memory as their searches are extended by weeks, and more often months. And while the firms believe that they are moving as quickly as possible, the delays and unevenness of their hiring process prevents any momentum from building with the candidates. Recruitment is in its essence a form of courtship and requires attention, communication, affection and a certain cadence. Without these, passion has no fuel and the parties lose interest. Some candidates draw negative conclusions about the slow-moving organization in question, and given myriad other options, they drop this one from consideration.
While it may be a truism that in matters of love absence makes the heart grow fonder, in executive search, absence makes the heart go cold.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.