Hiring Strong Leaders in Today’s Climate

Hiring during a pandemic has changed the landscape of executive search, and the market is moving quickly to adapt to the new reality. The use of virtual platforms has become more prevalent to the hiring processes. Likewise, clients are also adapting. Let’s take a closer look.

July 29, 2021 – Before the pandemic, “it was almost unthinkable to hire someone without interviewing or meeting them in person,” said Cecilia Besa Montes, managing partner with EMA partners. “It is a fact that this new reality is solving various issues related to distance and travel times, but it still represents significant challenges for companies in their hiring process and onboarding candidates remotely.” Incorporating a person in this new way can pose challenges, not only for a company but for a candidate as well, she said in a newly released report. “Planning, assigning a methodology and giving consistency to the induction process becomes even more difficult in teams and organizational structures that are often reduced, highly stressed and encountering demanding deliverables,” said Ms. Besa Montes.

In addition, there is less supervision and control, which could lead to the executives being forced to work with a greater amount of autonomy in these crucial decision-making processes.

Omniscient Optimism Bias

“When we reviewed the list of people who have been hired during quarantine, most of them were currently working, and a new opportunity presented them with a professional challenge to enhance their careers and skill-set,” said Ms. Besa Montes. “A few common characteristics that were consistent with all of the executives that we reviewed were the following: conviction, self-confidence and low risk aversion.”

In the words of Israeli psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman, these could be people with an “omnipresent optimistic bias,” who also have other positive characteristics that are especially beneficial for these times. When making a more detailed description of these people, he noted, ‘the optimist is more resistant psychologically, has a stronger immune system and on average, lives longer than the pessimist.’ “This optimism, sometimes unjustified, in this scenario seems to be adaptive, allowing them to make decisions, overestimating benefits and underestimating costs, and promoting them to take on risky projects. What is their advantage? Being able to see the opportunity beyond the risk known to others.”

Today we see executives being hired who have excellent potential, outstanding careers and are usually replacing someone who did not perform at the expected level during this pandemic or prior to it. “Therefore, expectations are high, the urgency implies assuming the new role with agility, and more than ever, with a high level of autonomy,” said Ms. Besa Montes. “This independence takes on even more importance if it is taken into account that they also have limited exposure to the company, and in many cases, very little interaction with the team itself.”

Related: Five Leadership Attributes Essential for 2021 and Beyond

The question is, “Is changing careers in today environment a high-risk decision?” “It certainly remains risky, not even the most optimistic could deny it,” she said. “An executive’s work history, like any other, involves creating an impeccable brand and reputation that must be maintained.”

Balancing cost and Opportunity

If we evaluate the opportunity associated with change, we could say that the context has affected all industries to a greater or lesser extent, said Ms. Besa Montes. Therefore, it is necessary to balance the possible cost and the opportunity of the challenge. “In the event of a failure or from the point of view of reputation, it will be very difficult to clarify how attributable it is to the performance of the executive,” she said. “Is it possible to properly assess and qualify the factors that result in failure or success? If a person succeeds and achieves a good result, that individual will be praised and will receive a good reference both internally and externally, and most likely will have grown substantially in the development of skills and as an autonomous decision-maker in uncertain scenarios, and with few resources, flexibility, agility of learning and tolerance of ambiguity, all which are valued characteristics and necessary assets for the future.”

There is a saying that refers to the fact that great fortunes are made in times of crisis. “Could it be that the same applies to the world of work?” she said. “The ones who are prepared to take a risk and embark upon a new challenge will be the executives that grow and excel in their careers in the long run.”

Since 1988, EMA Partners has partnered with multinational corporations, governments, and not-for-profit organizations across a variety of industry sectors and functional areas. It has more than 40 offices on six continents, and the firm continues to expand globally.

Ms. Besa Montes holds a bachelor’s degree of business administration from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Her early career began in commercial and marketing areas in the financial and industrial sector, both in Chile and Brazil. She has worked in human resources consulting and compensation studies, primarily relating to the executive role. Her involvement in executive search services and opinion studies dates back to 2005. Ms. Besa Montes is founding partner of TestaNova, focusing on customers´ needs throughout an integral service and shared business vision.

Related: Lack of Interview Skills Fueling Post-Pandemic Hiring Crunch

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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