Getting it right from the start...

Posted on 13th September 2018 | Thought Leadership

Like most things in life, achieving success in executive search is largely about how much thought, care and attention you invest at the beginning. It's about taking the time to really learn about your client's individual aspirations for the search, understanding what is their current reality and moreover what is their desired outcome. Only then can you begin to develop a relevant and tailored strategy for delivering value and achieving a successful outcome. In simple terms, you put good work in at the beginning and you get a good result at the end of the process.

With this in mind, a recent retained search project to recruit a senior director for a well regarded housing trust came to be a shining example of the importance that a thorough briefing process comes to play in achieving tangible value for your client through the search.

We recruit senior leaders for clients across multiple sectors which is another reasons why it's always important to spend time up-front getting the brief right. Some clients need a candidate with specific experience from within their own sector, whereas others can really benefit from bringing in a candidate with fresh perspective with a different sector background. In this particular instance, despite having supported many other housing clients in the past where the briefs were very exacting and relied on our ability to engage senior candidates from other 'competitor' housing employers, this time we were encouraged to learn through our initial consultation that the client was unusually progressive for the sector and actively wanted to compare candidates from the housing sector with those from other adjacent spaces to compare and correlate where different areas of value might support the trust's overarching strategic objectives.

After consulting with both various members of the board including both the hiring manager and HR, we presented back our interpretation of the client's requirements so that all stakeholders could agree we'd understood the brief accurately. It's usually at this point that you learn whether or not more time is needed with the client, but given the depth of questioning and prior research into the organisation we'd undertaken, this time we were right first time and the client signed off the recruitment pack. 

What followed was an exhaustive search into both the immediate candidate market within the housing sector as well as a complimentary search into several other areas where we believed these candidates could be found based on years of delivering cross-sector executive search campaigns and making successful lateral appointments for clients. The search was as thorough as the initial briefing and no stone was left unturned in the immediate housing sector. What was interesting though, was where historically other search partners engaged by the client had stopped at the easy option (in other words they'd found enough candidates in the housing sector to present a shortlist and hadn't bothered to test the waters in other areas) Sherrington managed to identify several 'out-of-sector' candidates to compliment the 'in-sector' candidates and create a really creative and compelling shortlist for presentation to the client.

The client commented that their own prior experience of achieving success in their organisations by appointing 'out-of-sector' leadership talent, gave them enough confidence not to succumb to interview bias towards favouring the 'in-sector' candidates, meaning every candidate was put on a level playing field when it came to selection.

Following a robust selection process, an offer was finally made to a candidate with probably the least linear CV you could have chosen in terms of sector trajectory, but whose values matched those of the client better than anyone else on paper. Arguably, other clients may well have rejected such a candidate just by looking at the CV. Equally it's highly likely that a more sector-specialist search partner may well never have even identified the candidate in the first place.

Four months on following their appointment, I caught up with the CXO for lunch and asked how the newly appointed candidate was getting on. "Absolutely fantastic" was the response, going on to explain how because of his lack of prior industry experience he was tackling the role with a real 'blinkers-off' approach, engaging internal and external stakeholders really well and making an impact in such a unique way that she doubted whether any of the 'in-sector' candidates could have done as well. "We're delighted with his appointment and it was all down to your ability to understand us as an organisation at the start" she went on to comment.

Rob McKay - Managing Director, Sherrington Associates

Education comes from within. You get it through effort and thought.

Napoleon Hill