The Perils of the Successful Matchmaker

June 14, 2010

What is a successful matchmaker?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Patti Stanger who runs The Millionaire’s Club, a Los Angeles-based “elite” matchmaking service and reality television program. In it she confides that the secret to her success is going beyond run-of-the-mill matchmaking to actively coaching clients on how to ‘win’ the dating game. As she clarifies, “Successful matchmaking is not really about just getting them on the date. It’s making sure they know what to do and say on the date. It’s asking ‘How was the date?’, ‘What did you wear?’, ‘What did you eat?’, ‘What did you do?’ and “How did you ask her out for the next time?’.

Matchmakers of both the love and headhunting varieties bring a range of philosophical approaches to their crafts. Some consider themselves objective third-parties who apply degrees of science, process, experience, and intuition to identify parties who will be well-suited to each other. With a focus on understanding requirements, context and the subtle chemistry of the match itself, they search, facilitate introductions and step-back to allow the natural gravitational forces to play out.

Other matchmakers more actively interact with those natural forces. They insert themselves into every step of the process, orchestrating, coaching and even cajoling the parties towards the coupling outcome they seek. While parties A and B may be suited to each other, they cannot be left to their own devices to ignite the flames of passion. The matchmaker produces the match, ignites it and then acts as active accelerant.

The ethical and moral question for all matchmakers is how far do you go? The answer to this depends on how you measure success. If simply getting the parties together is the goal, then presumably any step that aids in that effort is fair game. Thus, the love-guru cleans up the fat couch-potato, instructs him on dating and eating etiquette, and holds his hand onto the love boat until it leaves the dock. In a similar manner, the headhunter counsels candidates on the client, their requirements, and how to conduct themselves during interviews in order to win the job. Or perhaps the headhunter only selectively shares certain information about the client to candidates in order to make them as attractive as possible.

But what happens when prince charming turns back into Shrek? And how long will that carefully scripted new employee last once the organization figures out that he or she doesn’t really share its values or approach to people? Conversely, how long will that executive stay at the new firm when he finds out that what was described to him by the headhunter as a ‘passionate culture’ really means explosive and volatile?

By definition, matchmaking introduces parties for the purposes of marriage. And notwithstanding its many challenges, marriage continues to have long-term ‘happily ever-after’ ambitions. Many matchmakers, both of the corporate and personal varieties, stay clear of such lofty goals preferring instead to set the coupling bar much lower. They game the system in order to deliver short-term wins and leave tomorrow is for someone else to deal with.

About Author

Robert Hebert, PhD is Managing Partner of Toronto-based executive search firm StoneWood Group Inc. He can be reached @ rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or at 416.365.9494x777