Am I operating in the last industry to be disrupted?

To date, the executive search industry has been wasteful and antiquated. It’s time for the sector to change and wake up to disruption

Am I operating in the last industry to be disrupted?

During the 20 years I’ve been in the executive search industry, traditional working methods have barely changed. The structure of the existing business model has proved pretty comfortable for senior leaders in the industry, resulting in little impetus for disruption. For the majority of stakeholders in executive search, there is little incentive to change.

But change is afoot and leaders in the industry have a responsibility not only to respond but to drive this response. As the next generation of candidates and clients come through, they will find it very odd to come into an industry with antiquated working practices. Technology has a major role to play in how this new talent will expect to be represented by search firms. Not only that but as technology comes more to the fore of the industry, clients will, and should, expect to see more value from their search fees.

In recent years we have seen a shift in what clients want from executive search, with an increasing interest in a more flexible model. What clients want now, in 2018, is a full suite of services that allow them to cherry-pick what is appropriate for a particular search. They want a bespoke approach, suitable for their unique business needs.

As well as having options, clients want to understand the data behind each hiring decision. They don’t just want a personal opinion from a search expert, they want to know the search has been thorough and data-driven and that it has resulted in the best possible list of potential candidates.

To date, the executive search industry has been wasteful. Searches have been conducted in siloes, with few lessons carried over from the last. To me, this is lost opportunity. It’s reminiscent of an old jewellery workshop, where the scraps of gold would get thrown in the bin at the end of the day. But if you collected that gold dust together, you could turn it into gold bars. As an industry, we have been throwing our data away. A single search can produce multiple data points and the industry has a responsibility to clients and to candidates, to use these far more effectively.

We must start now – offering clients the services they expect to see and providing candidates the career support they should receive each step of the way. The relationship between executive search firm and client or candidate shouldn’t end when the search does. In some cases, that’s just the beginning. Digitalisation allows us to engage with people in more meaningful ways, it helps us shift from tactical, transactional interactions to strategic, long-term relationships. 

Do we risk cannibalising our own industry by embracing technology? No, because there is so much opportunity to be explored. Instead of commoditising we should be focused on adding more value to the client and candidate experiences. 20 years ago, HR was mostly about payroll and disciplinaries and now CEOs of leading organisations understand that a good talent acquisition strategy and leader can be their best assets.

But a strategy is just a concept unless you have the right people to deliver it. The role of executive search going forward lies in using technology to empower talent acquisition professionals. It lies in allowing consultants to be much more than personal opinion advisers and in offering a full suite of services including organisational analysis, leadership advisory, training, data insights and bespoke research to help clients achieve their business goals. 

The time has come for this industry to embrace these new opportunities. Digital disruption is not going to kill executive search but rather, it will save and strengthen it. Those little nuggets of gold, used correctly, will deepen relationships and help create new ones.

We have a responsibility to drive change through technology and, in doing so, we will ensure that executive search thrives in a new talent landscape.   

This article comes courtesy of David Holloway, CEO of The Marlin Hawk Group, which has today acquired Winter Circle, the invitation-only digital network for senior executives 

David Holloway
David Holloway

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