Finding the Right Leaders, Step by Step

Leadership Recruiting, a new book by Simon Mullins and David Lord of the Executive Search Information Exchange, takes readers inside the process of finding key talent. The authors examine virtually every aspect of the hiring journey and provide tools and templates to help manage the search.

December 14, 2020 – In business, recruiting the right leaders at the right time is a competitive advantage. A new book, ‘Leadership Recruiting’ is an authoritative guide to doing so, every step of the way, for rapidly growing small companies to global 100 conglomerates. The book is intended for all executives, from candidates for new positions to managers responsible for hiring senior executives, as well as executive recruiters charged with managing the hiring process.

Authors Simon Mullins and David Lord, CEO and founder, respectively, of Executive Search Information Exchange, focus on what works before and after a decision to find the right person to address a management need. ‘Leadership Recruiting’ takes the hiring organization’s view, independent of the interests of executive search and consulting firms but with a full appreciation of how and when to engage consultants and how to build an in-house capability, so central to any company’s future. It is essentially a business school course in 150 pages, for hiring managers and HR executives.

The book examines the history and development of executive recruiting, corporate initiatives aimed at improving search effectiveness, the search process, selecting and engaging search consultants, assessing candidates, managing clients and candidates, recruiting diverse executives, building direct (in-house) executive recruiting functions, plus tools and templates for managing the search process.

The Authors

Mr. Mullins has been a recruiter and recruiting leader for almost his entire career. He has lived and worked in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. (on both coasts), for start-ups and as a leader at a Fortune 50 company. In 2014, Mr. Mullins joined Executive Search Information Exchange and now leads and facilitates the group.

Mr. Lord is a career journalist, having worked as a daily newspaper writer and editor for 10 years and as editor at Kennedy Information from 1987 to 1995, where he covered the management consulting and executive search industries and became a widely quoted authority on executive recruiting. In 1995, Mr. Lord formed Executive Search Information Services.

The authors of ‘Leadership Recruiting’ recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss their new book and the current and future demands for executive search firms.

      Simon Mullins

What is the executive search industry up against today?

Mullins: Our perspective is from the corporate user side of the industry, where we see a growing level of sophistication in managing search firm relationships and engagement terms. This can be good for both sides. Better management of search projects leads to faster hires and higher-quality service and deliverables. Meanwhile, we can see that this year has been a tough one for search firms to create and build client relationships. But in the long run, the firms delivering high-quality services will be increasingly visible to clients and successful in serving them.

Lord: Executive recruiters – both external and corporate – face a similar challenge: helping hiring organizations avoid common pitfalls. Search failure rates are too high and hiring organizations are responsible for most failures, mostly having to do with lack of clarity, consensus, momentum, and commitment – that is, commitment to the process and commitment to hiring the very best candidate. Not to mention hidden agendas that sometimes undermine the search process. Our years of research show that the unacceptable failure rate of 40 percent can be cut in half by proper search management. That’s good for everyone involved.

         David Lord

Describe the executive search checklist that is mentioned in the book.

Lord: ‘Leadership Recruiting’ includes numerous tools for managing individual searches and for building an enterprise-wide initiative for better search management. The executive search process checklist is one. It’s a step-by-step outline of precisely what should happen, from clarifying the need to onboarding the successful candidate. The book elaborates on each of those many steps to show why they’re important and how to execute them well.

Mullins: The search process checklist in particular helps hiring teams make sure that all the pre-work is done before a search starts, and that all the right steps are followed throughout. We often hear from our members that the worst situations occur when not everyone’s on the same page from the very beginning of the search – particularly the interview team — or when there are surprises about the role that come up at the end of the search and derail months of work.

Explain how this can be done remotely.

Mullins: We’ve had the good fortune of being in weekly contact with our corporate members this year and have heard how they’ve adjusted in highly creative ways, several of which are outlined in the book. For situations where final candidates absolutely had to be met before a hire was made, interviews have occurred on distanced walks in the park or even in airplane hangars. At the same time, necessity has driven hiring teams to maximize the value of video interviews, which is actually easier than flying executives around the country. There have been complications with cross-border hires, due to movement restrictions. But with expert help, most of those complications have been ironed out. Perhaps the most challenging part of the remote search process is onboarding.

Lord: The book includes a series of recommendations on the remote search process and I’ll mention two that we have found especially useful: Get comfortable with the mindset that leadership recruiting can be done well without physical meetings. That means making sure hiring managers, HR leaders, executive recruiters and candidates all share this understanding. It requires flexibility as well as discipline. Develop a virtual version of the “white-glove walk in, walk out” candidate experience. Have a recruiter or coordinator make the candidate comfortable, double-check the technical setup and, after the interview, engage the candidate in a post-interview debrief.

Explain how you structure fees for search assignments.

Mullins: To be clear, we don’t do search nor do we set search fees for anyone. We simply gather information to learn what’s going on. Our annual survey shows our corporate members (90 leading organizations worldwide) generally paying less in aggregate fee spend over the years. At the same time, the average search fee has increased in searches to fill roles in the top 1.5 percent of the employee population, which is where most of our members focus. Our surveys also show that the search firm percentage fee is declining, with more than three-quarters of respondents reporting that they are paying less than the “industry standard” of one-third of the hire’s compensation.

Lord: We don’t suggest that any one fee structure fits all. The book includes many variations on fees and an example of a letter of engagement that we believe should be generated by the hiring organization. But many terms of engagement are negotiable. The point is to make sure that issues important to the hiring organization are addressed and that all parties understand their responsibilities. We do have a preference for fixed fees (not discounted), however, for three reasons: They drive an initial agreement on a compensation range for the position; they allow the hiring organization to budget for its expenses; and they avoid an unnecessary negotiation with the search firm, while the compensation package is being developed, on what elements of the compensation package will be subject to a search firm’s percentage fee. We also believe that fixed search fees should include all expenses except pre-approved travel costs. No undocumented surcharges.

Our perspective is from the corporate user side of the industry, where we see a growing level of sophistication in managing search firm relationships and engagement terms.”

Would you share some best practices for assessing candidates?

Mullins: This is a topic of high interest for our members and we have engaged with a number of experts on it. One thing they consistently tell us is that, though there are many wonderful assessment tools available, the most useful and valid is the structured interview. That includes preparing the interview team with clear direction from the hiring manager and holding pre-interview and post-interview briefing meetings.

Lord: Know what you’re looking for, based on competencies that are already successful in the hiring organization. Use structured interviews aimed at examining those experiences and competencies. Require interviewers to provide detailed feedback on candidate interviews – not just “she was great.” Consider third-party assessments by firms with that specialty and without self-interest in a positive assessment. Check references rigorously. The book includes an entire chapter on how to do this well.

Once the candidate is selected, what are the next steps?

Mullins: We hope that by this point the broad concepts of an offer have been constructed and, if there are exceptions to be made, approved by the board of directors. From there, I call this part of the process the “hearts and minds” segment, as things can still go wrong and we need to continually check in with the candidate to make sure they remain interested. This is a good time to use those executives on the interview team, along with the hiring manager, to really cement their relationships and maintain the candidate’s affinity for your organization.

Lord: Don’t let them get away! Communicate like crazy. Make sure the offer is one they will accept. Then onboard, onboard, onboard. It’s actually the most valuable piece of the leadership recruiting puzzle.

How can the book help executive recruiters achieve their best results?

Mullins: If people are looking for a page-turner, this is not it. It’s more of a page-stopper. ‘Leadership Recruiting’ is the reference book for any hiring organization recruiting leader looking for the best possible independent information on how to recruit at the top of the house. At the same time, it is also a window for the executive search industry into how corporate leadership recruiting functions work, what motivates them, and how to shape their services and deliverables to what the future of corporate executive recruiting will look like.

Lord: The reason we wrote ‘Leadership Recruiting’ is that we believe that an educated hiring organization is a happier place for internal and external executive recruiters to practice their craft and – with focused hiring managers and faster searches – external executive recruiters will find that an educated client is a more profitable client.

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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