There are few leaders in executive search with as formidable and celebrated a reputation as Robin Toft. Upon engaging in a conversation with her it’s immediately evident as to why.
Toft has a presence that is simultaneously warm, confident, and eminently capable, and her laser focus on her company’s priorities are equal only to her presence as an industry thought leader. Below is a mildly edited transcript of a conversation between Invenias by Bullhorn and Robin. To see the full interview with Robin, please click here.
What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in the executive search sector over the past couple of years?
Searches are faster and far more challenging given the talent crisis that's going on in the world and specifically in our industry, biotech, and health care high tech. But it is kind of universal, and it’s a function of there being not enough qualified candidates out there. I believe the answer is women and Millennials, so a huge and heightened forecast on diversity hiring is really on. We've had, in California, legislation [mandating] women on boards. That has kind of been an offshoot of the diversity movement as well.”
The need for diversity and inclusion and the focus on that assumes that there are challenges that the executive search industry must currently address. What would you say some of those key critical challenges are?
“I spend a lot of time educating companies how to attract and retain the skill sets that they want in the context of the talent crisis. A lot of companies don’t know that they’re competing really aggressively for talent and that each individual they're trying to recruit probably has four or five opportunities to consider. That’s point one, is companies need to worry about making themselves attractive and sticky to the talent pools they want.
“The second one is, they need to develop and train people like never before. Historically in the industry, when there were plenty of people to go around, no one needed to really invest in these talent development programs. I harken this back to the Industrial Revolution, where they actually had to train a lot of people to really come up to speed quickly. I think that’s happening again.
“The number one reason people leave their employers is they don’t see any career progression. You can see that with limited talent pool and people looking for career progression, and you're not having it or a commitment to it, is a big limitation.”
What’s the answer there? What would you say is the most effective way to go about reskilling?
“Right, so I think if companies aren’t going to develop their own internal development programs, they can partner with companies like ours, WE CAN Inside Out and other organizations that are actually developing the talent pool of the future for them and actually helping people get there more quickly. There is a variety of leadership and development programs, both insourced and outsourced, that you could leverage, but I think that employers should be looking for that right now.”
What do you think the number one issue will be for your clients in 2019?
“They will all have to adjust their old-school expectations for the perfect candidate, the one with high potential and the ability to grow into the role. There’s never been a perfect candidate, but particularly today. We’re looking for high-potential candidates that grow, less of the technical match, more of the future potential.”
Where do you see single-handedly the greatest value for the search firm of the future?
“I think matching qualified candidates with employers most efficiently and effectively, which means very fast. Again, it's happening more quickly than I think any of us are accustomed to moving. We have always been a firm that was centered around being fast and efficient. That's turned into a really important parameter of the search firm.”
How would you describe your approach to leadership?
“I believe in hiring amazing people, teaching, training, trusting, and empowering them. I'm very proud to serve as a mentor, coach, and advisor to both my internal and external customers. I would say from a business standpoint, facing the outside world, super high integrity in the context of assignments. We would prefer not to collect the full fee if people are unsatisfied with our work, just building a reputation of really high quality and integrity. That’s every person who works here. They all believe in the same values.”