October 24, 2018 – Executive search as an industry has long been driven by the need to reduce the risk in senior hires within organizations by introducing research-based search methodologies and due diligence mechanisms to identify and attract the best and the brightest. This has enabled executive decision makers to make more informed hiring decisions based on a reliable body of evidence to mitigate some of the risk.
The core purpose of an executive search firm has remained much the same. But with the advent of new technologies and shifting tides in global labor markets, the way in which search firms add value to their clients continues to evolve, according to a new report by London-based executive search firm Wilton & Bain.
“Twenty-five years ago, the industry was characterized by information asymmetries, local/regional labor pools and a reliance on consultant’s Rolodexes to both identify and access talent in the market,” said Gene Allmark-Kent, a Partner at Wilton & Bain. “Client organizations sought to protect their best talent by keeping individuals hidden from the outside world and it was generally harder to get noticed.”
Fast forward 25 years to the present day, the volume of publicly-available data has grown exponentially. Websites such as LinkedIn have provided professionals with a platform to promote their personal brands to a global audience and thought-leadership materials can now be distributed and targeted with minimal effort. “On the one hand, this has led to a breakdown in information barriers creating unrivalled visibility and access to professionals at all levels,” said Mr. Allmark-Kent. “On the other, it has lowered the barriers to entry, making it easier for new executive search players to enter the market and take away market share from incumbents.”
Consequently, executive search firms must innovate to remain ahead of the competition, and leveraging artificial intelligence will play a big part in creating a competitive advantage. “In my view, AI is likely to have a major impact in broadly two areas: 1) Expansion of consulting services and 2) developing efficiency in automating time-intensive, repetitive tasks, said Yaroslav Writtle, Engagement Manager at Wilton & Bain.
AI Doing the Heavy Lifting
In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks, we delve into the world of AI with our host Andrew Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is joined alongside both Gene Allmark-Kent and Yaroslav Writtle of Wilton & Bain. According to them, AI is taking the repetitive tasks away from recruiters, and allowing technology to do more of the heavy lifting in terms of research and sourcing. “The important piece here is to know that AI is an enabler that allows organizations to find tools that can replace their existing processes and make a more efficient search experience,” said the recruiters. Listen Now!
The executive search process has a high administrative overhead that even today relies on significant manual processes including desk research, report writing and administrative tasks, particularly in the early stages of the engagement, said the report. Given the access to information we now have, the creation of long-lists, identifying relevant candidates and formulating “fit to profiles” is now becoming increasingly commoditized, said Mr. Allmark-Kent.
Consequently, an opportunity exists to leverage AI to automate time-intensive, highly repetitive tasks. “For example, ML algorithms may be used to efficiently ingest, analyze and structure large amounts of publicly-available candidate data scouring sources such as social media networks, company websites, articles and whitepapers to help provide greater insight into specific talent pools or markets,” said Mr. Allmark-Kent. “Not only is this likely to generate faster and more thorough results across a broader data cluster, but it will also augment the existing research efforts and free up more time for a consultant to focus on higher-value tasks that require a more human-centric approach.”
Having spent over a decade delivering executive search mandates in the professional and technology sector, Gene Allmark-Kent now serves as a member of Wilton & Bain’s risk and insight practice. He supports clients and their boards address complex and ever changing regulatory agenda, appointing key executives in areas such as cybersecurity, compliance, analytics and across the emerging technology landscape.
If technology is making it easier for internal HR and recruitment teams to identify relevant candidates, how can executive search firms leverage AI to add value to their clients in new way? “This will inevitably lead to an expansion in services that is made available to clients–from market benchmarking and analytics-underpinned selection processes providing tangible and unbiased set of recommendations, through to executive coaching and leadership development providing a unique set of tools to support the integration and development of executive hires,” said Mr. Writtle.
“Wilton & Bain have developed our own proprietary executive assessment tool, METIS, which leverages a blend of psychometric analysis, and qualitative interviewing to assess a candidate’s fit for a role, cultural alignment and core competencies,” said Mr. Allmark-Kent. “Using this foundation, we are developing a set of predictive analytics tools that could be utilized to enhance leadership develop strategies by defining areas of personal development and long-term value the individual could cultivate within the client’s organization.”
“Further to this, we have also seen some of the Big Five executive search firms make steps in a similar director to expand their services offering — for example, Korn Ferry’s acquisition of Hay Group — and this trend is only likely to continue, accelerated by technological change,” said Mr. Writtle. “Looking forward, executive search firms are positioned better than ever before to cultivate deeper partnerships with their clients as they become increasingly involved not only in the appointment process but in providing more end-to-end Human Capital advisory services to help executive hires succeed. ”
Yaroslav is an Engagement Manager within the executive search practice of Wilton & Bain, aligned to the professional & technology services domain. Having previously founded an accelerator-backed start-up and worked across the financial technology industry, he serves as a member of the global leadership team for Wilton & Bain’s financial technology & blockchain practice, supporting incumbent firms looking to accelerate their digital transformation as well as disruptive, rapid-growth start-ups looking to scale by providing a blend of executive search and human capital advisory services.
AI is still early in its development and adoption and recruiters must be aware both of the challenges and limitations this early-stage technology might bring. “Firstly, increasing volumes of public data does not correlate to either it’s accuracy or quality especially as many sources such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc. are self-curated by individuals themselves,” said Mr. Allmark-Kent. “Therefore, a ‘trust but verify’ mantra should be an important consideration when developing inputs for machine learning tools.”
In a people business like executive search, however, it is important to remember that humans are predictably irrational. “An executive search consultant must play the role of analyst, trusted advisor and executive coach, which requires empathy and understanding to establish rapport with candidates, many of whom aren’t actively looking for a new role,” said Mr. Allmark-Kent. “Therefore, whilst technology provide us with a unique set of tools to deepen our understanding of people, it is unlikely to ever replace an experienced consultant who will be able to build a personal connection to develop the required trust and enable a successful result. ”
As technology continues to evolve, various use cases of AI are undoubtedly going to be applied to executive search with varying degrees of success. “But one thing is for sure – the market is not standing still and change is coming,” said the Wilton & Bain report. “Executive search firms will be faced with a choice—either adapt to the changing landscape that AI and broader digital innovation brings or experience diminishing returns as agile competitors find ways innovative ways be better serve client needs. Therefore whilst technology provides us with a unique set of tools to deepen our understanding of people, it is unlikely to ever replace an experienced consultant who importantly will build the relationship and the person to person trust required to enable a successful result.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media