Executive search firms have been helping their corporate clients embrace ‘digital’ for more than a decade. How? By finding and recruiting the leadership and skillsets businesses need to better understand the impact of digital as they implement their digital change programmes. Now it is time for executive search firms to do the same for themselves.
There is sometimes a reluctance from search firms to embrace digital, based on the concern that it will replace relationship-based recruitment. In fact, the reverse is true, with digital having the potential to strengthen and enhance relationships.
We see four key factors driving the executive search profession embracement of digital:
1. Relationship engagement
In a world of customer relationship management, executive search firms have two stakeholders to consider equally: the clients who are engaging them to do the work; and the candidates themselves. Those relationships have always been at the centre of search because they provide intimacy and insight into clients’ needs and an understanding of candidates’ capabilities.
While pace is important when it comes to fulfilling assignments, getting the best outcome is paramount. This is achieved by having an effective engagement between the client hiring executives and the team conducting the search. There’s no doubt search firms have always been good at ensuring a tight level of engagement at the start of the process, but keeping that momentum and engagement during the process can become a struggle when the hiring executives become busy with other priorities. Having an ‘always-on’ digital relationship enables more immediate feedback and responsiveness to candidates being put forward.
Furthermore, when there are multiple hiring executives - and therefore numerous relationships to maintain – traditional engagement methods can take weeks. Individuals take longer to give their feedback and then, when they finally do, it can change the direction of the search, wasting a lot of time and effort. Therefore, bringing everyone into a collaborative digital environment from the outset produces not only a better outcome, but a more efficient one.
2. Digital expectancy
Clients and candidates have moved from a mind-set of ‘digital acceptance’ to that of ‘digital expectancy’. However, the level of expectation will vary across different geographies. For example, on the USA’s West Coast there is a very strong adoption of digital engagement. This has already transitioned to the East Coast and is now becoming vital across Europe and the Asia Pacific regions.
The different vertical sectors a search firm’s clients work in is also a factor to consider. Naturally the Technology sector will have a higher level of expectancy, so it is important for search firms to be able to interact with those people in the digital language and culture that they speak.
However, because of the varying levels of expectancy there is no 'one size fits all’ approach. While search firms must be able to cater to those with the greatest expectations, they also need to avoid alienating those in less digitally-savvy sectors and geographies. Therefore, it is about transitioning at a pace both clients and candidates are comfortable with.
3. Data access
At the heart of a firm’s engagement with clients and candidates in the digital world is the provision of data. The flow of information and building up of insight and intelligence are pivotal to what a search firm does. And so, once that data is flowing digitally, opportunities present themselves around capturing it, using it and protecting it.
Communication is all about informing everyone and putting the best information at the fingertips of anyone who needs it. That is really important. Often, there’s a massive amount of data that’s been prepared, yet executives or candidates come to a meeting without the information they need because they haven’t been able to access it at a time that suits them.
One thing to consider around data capture is compliance and explicit consent. It is going to become harder and harder to circumvent those regulations and so dealing with the compliance aspects of candidate digitisation is essential. It should form part of the data strategies guiding current and future digital engagement.
4. Business development
There are two primary activities all search firm undertake. Naturally, the first is delivering search assignments. The second is undertaking business development. While, as we have seen above, the former is helped by digital in terms of relationship building, satisfying expectations and providing real-time access to data, the latter is also helped by firms embracing digital. That’s because it can act as part of a search firm’s pitch – allowing them to set themselves apart from those competitors failing to embrace digital.
However, even if every search firm moves to digital, the true differentiator of a search firm will be the knowledge they hold and the ability of digital platforms to enable this knowledge to be shown in the best light. Typically held in the minds of the consultants themselves, the unique knowledge value of a particular firm is now demonstrable through digital collaboration with the market – something that was very difficult to do in the past.
Business development is also improved through a more sophisticated use of branding. Historically firms would spend money just to have their logo on a report, now they can go as far as having a personal digital brand on the home screen of a client or candidate’s mobile phone through the use of apps. Digital branding on a website is one thing, but the real opportunity for marketing is when the search firm is actually delivering the assignment at the point of engagement.
Seizing the initiative
The outcomes and benefits of digital transformation are clear to see, yet executive search is in danger of being left behind in the digital race. Now is the time to seize the digital initiative both to enhance client-candidate engagement and to stake a differentiating position in the market place.