Creating a New Paradigm for the Work World

Veteran executive recruiter and consultant Smooch Repovich Rosenberg, of SmoochUnplugged, says that for all the pandemic’s hardships, it also provided the opportunity for great change in terms of inclusivity and workplace culture. “Take advantage of this moment in time,” she implores senior leaders.

April 6, 2023 – Smooch Repovich Rosenberg believes that we are at a pivotal point in which leaders at organizations everywhere can help change the world when it comes to inclusivity and corporate culture. These late-to post-pandemic days hold a rare opportunity, she says, for senior-most executives to effect change on a grand scale, and what’s more, improve their companies in the process.

In a recent interview, Ms. Repovich Rosenberg, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based SmoochUnplugged LLC, spoke of how much the pandemic changed the world, but that along with its hardships the crisis brought a chance to build better organizations. She implored chief executive officers, chief human resources officers, and boards of directors to seize the moment: “You have the greatest opportunity of your careers to be a pioneer of positively moving the needle on inclusivity by creating modern corporate cultures that influence the health of your organizations in a deep manner, and that also dispel the harsh realities we have all just endured in our society,” she said. “Be the first generation of leadership that initiates the process of change and serve as a role model for future leaders shifting mindsets to a new paradigm. Take advantage of this moment in time.”

Ms. Repovich Rosenberg conducts searches for investor relations officers and chief communication officers for private equity firms and their portfolio companies and corporate clients, and provides strategic advisory services as well. A veteran of decades in investor relations and communications executive search, she believes that inclusivity reveals a management team’s open mindedness toward what is possible for companies to achieve. “When I’m working with management teams, I always advise leaders to think differently about talent and to be open to the many ways that a potential candidate can contribute to the organization and evolve their careers beyond the role to which they were recruited,” she said. “That said, taking risk is harder for some than others. And I’d like to believe that as management teams invest intellect and innovative thinking into architecting their companies for the future, they’ll start with a clean slate and focus on the authentic and core values that leaders believe should embody the ethos of the organization and its mission and lay the foundation for the future.”

A Zero-Sum Game

Those leaders who only pay lip service to diversity, equity, and inclusion do so at great risk for their organizations. “Ultimately in the next five to 10 years, they will lose out because they’re not going to be able to recruit high octane contemporary thinking talent that’s coming up in these subsequent younger generations that are needed in these companies. And I think that they will ultimately fail because of it,” she said. “The world has pivoted hugely. You’re either on the train, or you’re on the platform, but when you straddle the tracks, it’s a zero-sum game.”

Ms. Repovich Rosenberg says that a company’s future of recruiting exceptional talent will ultimately come down to its culture, ethos, and values. “As for culture, leaders should ask, is there a level of inclusiveness and fairness across the enterprise? When it comes to ethos, does the intangible spirit of the organization speak for itself? And is it intuitively understood and felt by all employees? And third, is there a clear set of values embedded in decision making across all topics? This is what upcoming generations are seeking, and what senior leaders who have survived the pandemic want as well. CEOs need to get a team within their organizations who can help them understand these concepts, define them, and then help them as leaders embody them and set examples for the entire organization. The companies who don’t get it and don’t want to invest in it are going to weaken their market positioning and become discounted and possibly marginalized.”

Spotlight: Redefining the Search Sector for PE Leaders
Smooch Repovich Rosenberg is the founder and CEO of Smooch Unplugged. She brings strategic investor relations officer search consulting focus to the PE arena as a means to helping firms realize their portfolio company valuations as these entities contemplate entering the public markets. Her 30-plus year collaborating with pre-IPO companies across industry sectors is one of the most unique search consulting strategies in the marketplace. Working with PE firms’ portfolio companies and other pre-IPO companies across North America, Europe, and Asia has been a brand enhancer for her as an expert in the capital markets and the deep and broad investor relations officer search work she and her team conduct.

One of the coronavirus crisis’ most significant impacts on workplace culture has come in the rise of remote work. “Without question, the pandemic decimated corporate cultures, and management teams were thrust into having to figure out in an entirely new paradigm of work structure, fuel a reset of employee expectations, and ultimately redefined culture during a very tumultuous time,” said Ms. Repovich Rosenberg. “Let’s face it, remote work is here to stay. And it may very well come in different definitions and formats for every company. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all solution like there was in the past. Each company is going to have to carefully define and architect their cultures from a structural standpoint that suits the specific business’ needs and management’s needs.”

A Change in Thinking

All cultural change, especially when it is thrust upon an organization suddenly and without planning, has positives and negatives. Remote work, in particular, is still a work in process, with some leaders demanding that workers return to the office, while others have been more open to work-from-home or a hybrid model. “I think it’s going to truly test people’s ability to be self managed and self directed,” said Ms. Repovich Rosenberg. “But at the same time, there are certain positions and levels within an organization that can easily be done on a remote basis that will also mean tremendous cost savings for companies. Just to pick out some arbitrary numbers, if you have 100 administrative staff who support executives, it’s a lot less expensive for a company to pay for a laptop, a cell phone, and internet capabilities having that person work from home than it is to pay for the hard real estate of  having to be in a major office setting. And so I think that companies need to take a critical eye to their employment forces and make some tangible decisions about which job categories realistically can be done remotely and which ones require people to be in an office, and what are the cost benefits relative to culture.”

Related: Redefining the Search Sector for PE Leaders

Ms. Repovich Rosenberg likens the pandemic to the aftermath of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. “That changed people’s thinking about the balance between work and home life; it changed their thinking about the direction of their careers,” she said. “A lot of people stepped out of long-term careers and said, ‘You know what? Mortality has hit me square in the face. I think that I want to go do volunteer work, or I want to be in a non-profit, or I want to do something other than being on a corporate hamster wheel.’ The impact of this pandemic has had a similar effect. People have had to make tremendous adjustments to their lives. And there’s been a reality of what do I want going forward and what does balance mean to me? Management teams need to listen to that. I know that there are some CEOs that are stomping their foot on the floor, demanding their people to go back to their offices at all levels. That’s going to be a turnoff for a lot of people, especially when you think about how do you cultivate Gen X, Gen Y, and the generation or two that’s coming up behind them. They’re cut from a different mindset cloth. There is a lot of plan-fulness that needs to happen in the next couple of years for companies to get this right, because the ethos of every company has changed.”

The way we work, Ms. Repovich Rosenberg says, has changed forever, a truth that she regards in a mostly positive light. “If companies allow a certain percentage of their workforce to continue working from home, in a generation we’re going to see a positive impact on how people are raised,” she said. “Whether you’re a woman or a man, if you are the primary caregiver of your kids, and you’re working from home, when you close your laptop, at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., you have a 15 minute, if you will, commute to the family scene, not an hour and a half on a train, or a couple of hours in a car. It’s going to give a certain percentage of the workforce time back in their lives, which means they can have dinner with their family, they can play a board game, they can watch movies with their kids. The family unit has the potential going forward to be reinvigorated. And we desperately need it in the United States. It’s different in other countries, it’s healthier. But here in the United States, we have completely undermined the family unit.”

The Human Touch

Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, is also having a big impact on workplace culture, freeing up time from more mundane tasks for many employees and helping to create happier work environments, according to recent reports. Yet it has its limits. “AI is affecting many aspects of business,” said Ms. Repovich Rosenberg. But I personally do not feel that it can account for or accommodate all things human. Psychologically and emotionally people need to feel they’re heard and that they fit in. And those are human factors I don’t believe AI technology can replace.”

Beyond AI, the same goes for a platform like LinkedIn, which has in many ways changed how searches are conducted and yet falls short, especially when it comes to recruiting for the more senior roles. “I do think it has changed search at the mid level and below,” said Ms. Repovich Rosenberg. “But at the end of the day, if you’re hiring a senior VP of any sort into any function or a VP and above, the human element has to be assessed, aligned, and digested, in a way that with confidence a search consultant can say to a CEO or anyone else in the management team, here’s how this person’s DNA, their values, their intangible leadership attributes align with yours and your management team and your company culture.”

Related: Private Equity Firms Invest in Raising Their Talent Game

It is that human element that serves executive recruiters like Ms. Repovich Rosenberg well when they go into a client’s firm and begin what can be the formidable job of assessing culture.

“As a human capital consultant, when I work with management teams I have to have a very keen ear to listen for a variety of factors, or clues, about executives’ mindsets across many topics, not just about expectations they have of an executive going into a specific job,” she said. “For example, I’m always trying to calibrate how open-minded an executive is for looking and examining talent through a non-traditional lens. And the goal I’m aiming for is to get inside their minds to assess both psychologically and emotionally where their thinking is across multiple subjects that affect smart hiring decisions. I call it the psychology of search.”

Exploring the Impact of Culture & Diversity Initiatives on the Search Process
In this episode of Talent Talks, Hunt Scanlon Media host Rob Adams is joined by Smooch Repovich Rosenberg, Founder and CEO at SmoochUnplugged, LLC. After more than 25 years as a globally recognized executive search consultant, Smooch has her finger on the pulse of global Investor Relations and Corporate Communications functions, and has had tremendous success leveraging human capital strategies to create high-octane, superior performing functions. She has the unique ability to see around corners and readily identify solutions to human capital challenges that advance company valuation. In this podcast, Smooch examines the impact of culture & diversity initiatives on the search process, how remote and hybrid workforce initiatives have impacted establishing company culture and much more. Listen now!

A Private Eye of Sorts

One dimension of search is assessing the technical competencies of an individual to perform a particular job – Ms. Repovich Rosenberg calls it table stakes … the fundamentals required to do the job. “Where I invest my time is in the psychology of search, because the alignment of a candidate’s intangible leadership attributes with the management team of a company and their intangible leadership attributes is definitely where I believe the art of search should intersect,” said Ms. Repovich Rosenberg. “So I’m constantly calibrating in every video conversation, every phone call. It’s kind of like being a private eye of a different sort.”

It’s difficult with some clients. Call it human nature. Some people more easily reveal who they are than others, says Ms. Repovich Rosenberg. Some people are more politicians than they are authentic. “One of the reasons why I do not do group due diligence meetings with an executive team is because politics ends up steering the conversation in a direction that doesn’t allow people to feel comfortable revealing themselves,” she said. “And when you meet one on one, or do a one on one video with someone, you can have what I describe as a clean conversation. They can open the kimono, and they can share the personality traits of others in the management team that they believe are important for us to know. And they can share their own concerns and fears and the positives of what they think they bring and where their own gaps are, which is an area that we need to supplement maybe with the hiring of the executive we’re bringing in to work for them. So, it’s human nature. And there’s a broad spectrum of souls, if you will, across mankind.”

Related: Private Equity Recruiting and What it Takes to Find the Right Candidates

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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