Mark Oppenheimer Explores the Evolving Relationship Between CHROs and Executive Recruiters

August 14, 2015 – Mark Oppenheimer is managing partner for the Americas at Marlin Hawk, a leadership advisory and executive search firm with offices in London, New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong. Since joining the firm in 2005, he has been the driving force behind the expansion of Marlin Hawk in the U.S. In the following interview, Mr. Oppenheimer takes an up-close and personal look at the evolving relationship between chief human resources officers (CHROs) and executive recruiters.

Mark, what are CHROs thinking most about today?

Today’s CHROs face an enormous challenge. As catalysts for change, their goal is to evolve companies away from hierarchical command & control models toward more collaborative models that drive innovation, engagement and customer service. People – and particularly new blood – are critical to their game plan, yet many CHROs are disenchanted with the outdated practices of their executive search partners. The business world is changing fast, but the business of recruiting leaders is lagging.

So what do they want from executive recruiters?

CHROs want a sophisticated partner that can deliver strategic insight and competitive advantage. That demands fresh thinking, sharp market intelligence and an open minded approach to where the next generation of leaders is coming from. It is no longer enough to pitch in with fragmented examples of what is going on within a client’s industry – CHROs want the full jigsaw. The best executive recruiters do not limit their scope of research to the client’s sector. They dig deep into other sectors, often with parallel functional disciplines, and bring to the table the best athletes, the rising stars, and the unexpected discoveries that can make a radical difference for an organization.

How might recruiters alter their approach then?

Executive recruiters need to be more like strategic consultants, providing research in breadth & depth and shedding light on the client’s peer group in terms of organizational design, benchmarks, compensation and talent awareness. This market intelligence can then be used to shape pipelining, succession planning, leadership assessment and coaching programs.

What do CHROs expect from their senior level search partners?

There is a feeling among CHROs that executive search firms and their recruiting partners rarely do their full due diligence when it comes to candidate selection. Search partners must invest time to understand the brief, especially with regard to corporate culture, and provide clear alignment between brand and talent attraction. Then they need to head hunt, not just trawl databases and regurgitate predictable candidate lists. CHROs switch off when the same candidates crop up time and time again – they don’t want to see a shortlist of five candidates who can do the job, they want the best five candidates. When suitable candidates have been identified, their experience is only a fraction of what is important. Aptitude and attitude need to be scrupulously tested. CHROs do not expect search partners to rely on intuition, but to put candidates through their paces, push them against the core competencies of the role, assess their fit with the organization and reveal the true nature of the person behind the CV.

Mark, at the end of the day, do CHROs need executive search partners or have we come to a point in time where CHROs feel they can just go it alone?  

CHROs need great search partners. Period. End stop. Increasingly, CHROs have concerns around the values, principles and ethics of the executive search industry. They want a truly consultative, long-term approach, yet search firms and recruiters are all too often transactional in nature. Worse, some are quick to move on to a client’s competitors when search work dips or to poach a client’s staff soon after invoices have been paid. CHROs want deep rooted recruiting partnerships, not vendor relationships. That means a holistic, intelligent approach to executive search, one that helps shape the environment for new hires to maximize successful outcomes. Active involvement in the on-boarding process is vital to promote positive assimilation and search partners should play an ongoing role in after care, ensuring that the successful candidate’s performance matches expectations. They should take a pro-active interest in the client even when there is no search work going through the books and they absolutely must honor off-limits agreements at all times. Many CHROs are in the throes of revolutionizing organizational design and talent management. They can’t do it alone. Some are losing faith in traditional search firms and turning to those that are consultative, entrepreneurial and disruptive. According to one of your own Hunt Scanlon reports, it is the boutique firms that are ‘truly redefining a field once dominated by a handful of large, generalist search firms.’ Being a small firm is not a prerequisite for providing the level of service demanded by today’s CHRO. But being relevant is mandatory and those who do not give CHROs what they really want will be superseded by those who do.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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