December 22, 2020 – For an industry that is all too familiar with the reality of economic downturns, confronting the COVID-19 pandemic has been unlike any other crisis in memory. Executive recruiting leaders say they have no idea this time around how extensive or long lasting the damage will be, never mind when business will return to normal.
A critical part of our role at Hunt Scanlon Media has been to help the recruitment industry wend its way through the crisis by providing valuable information and insights. It is a job we take seriously, bringing you stories about the breadth of the pandemic’s effect on executive search, how leaders and teams have responded, and what the future holds. Since the pandemic first appeared in February, we have blanketed the crisis with our coverage: We have interviewed leaders at every level of the industry, from the big recruitment firms to the small boutiques. We have interviewed search firm clients in every sector. We have watched many firms struggle with lay-offs and pay cuts and office closures. We have observed as fierce competitors in better days spoke to one another in Zoom meetings, sharing concerns and strategies for getting through the crisis. And we have seen men and women exhibit the fortitude and skills that will no doubt get their businesses back on track and in the end help them thrive.
Leaders are hired to lead. No excuses. What better time than one of the greatest crises of our lifetimes to display what good leadership looks like in action? This year, we brought our readers three especially revealing reports—by Comhar Partners, McKinsey & Company and Summit Leadership Partners—that delved into the art of leadership and its impact on both the short and long term. Caldwell, too, provided astute guidance on helping to manage the crisis in the here and now.
A key part of leadership, of course, is identifying and bringing aboard the best people for available jobs. Our stories helped give our readers greater clarity around the pandemic’s effect on talent, the benefits of hiring during the crisis, and what the future will hold for landing the best candidates. We even dug deep into the significant changes the pandemic has brought for one particular position: the all-important chief human resources officer (CHRO) role.
One thing is certain: The crisis will bring lasting changes to the executive search industry. Everyone expects that remote work and interviewing, for example, will remain in large part after COVID-19 is defeated. But as a study by Waterstone Human Capital showed, the impact of such changes will be broader than one might expect: The effect on corporate culture, the firm says, will be tremendously consequential and will ultimately drive both competitive advantage and performance.
Above all, we have seen the search industry’s humanity shine through throughout 2020. When the crisis first struck, recruiters were calling clients not for assignments but to ask how they could help. One story that resonated with us was that of N2Growth, which back in March announced that it would defer 50 percent of all search fees for new engagements until the crisis had passed. Said Mike Myatt, the firm’s founder: “We feel an obligation to lead by example and do our part to help the marketplace get to the other side of this.” To our ears, those words sound familiar. Indeed, they sound like the words of leadership in action.
What does it look like to lead in a pandemic era, with COVID-19 raging on, civil unrest all around, and a global shift in health, perspective, and politics? To answer this question, Bernard Layton and J. James O’Malley of Comhar Partners spoke with leaders in a range of industries to share how their leadership has changed since the pandemic began. They uncovered the five tenets of courageous community building within workplaces: unity, action, communication, agility, and empathy. The Comhar Partners’ report explains how and why you need to bring these tenets into your leadership practice during our pandemic era.
United we stand, divided we fall. It is a phrase we have heard hundreds of times, and yet again, our world – and, more specifically, the communities within our companies – must come together, united as one, said the report. Countries and companies do well when we find common ground in a common cause to overcome a common foe. “While a global pandemic, civil unrest and political uprisings may not seem like topics that you, as a leader, need to consider in your role in the workplace, your role has shifted,” said Mr. Layton. “As leaders in these uncertain times, when stress levels and anxiety are at an all-time high, we need to lead with empathy, transparency and unity, being courageous community leaders for our teams.”
Over the past six months, The Bowdoin Group has completed several executive searches with venture- and private equity-backed companies. Although the majority of the firm’s clients and their investors expressed some degree of concern kicking off the assignments, according to the firm’s Sean Walker, “as we moved through each successful placement, it became clear that COVID-19 has not necessarily changed executive search fundamentally – it has only moved the processes and tools we use to build trust and relationships into a digital format.”
Mr. Walker said that client companies who are forging ahead with talent hunts are navigating the pandemic landscape well, and many are using the opportunity to bring new talent on board as a competitive advantage. Zoom meetings, facilitated socially distanced walks, and virtual tours have all played their part in the new normal of recruiting.
While the scientific community had hoped the heat and humidity of the summer months might limit the spread and severity of the coronavirus, we are seeing that community spread continues to be a problem in many states and dense urban landscapes. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that the world is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic and that action is needed to curb the spread.
Based on what we are seeing, there is little reason to believe the virus will stall out until well into 2021. Rather, it is more likely to gather steam and spread on an exponential basis as we move into the spring, says a new report from Caldwell president and CEO John Wallace and managing partner Jay Millen. Every model has essentially been wrong, predictions change every 24 hours, and we’re seeing responses ranging from sheer panic to total apathy.
As organizations begin to look at the matter of if, when, and how they will transition back to traditional workplaces, leaders are fielding a number of questions: What will the office look like? Will it be safe? Will it ever be the same again? Can we have a high-performance culture with so many people working remotely?
Related: COVID-19’s Impact on the Gig Economy
“We know that some team members will happily return to offices, while others will choose to visit the office as needed, and yet others will continue to use their home office as a base of operations,” Marty Parker, president and CEO of Waterstone Human Capital, said in a new report. “The impact of these changes on corporate culture cannot be overlooked; nor can the fact that now more than ever, organizational culture will be the driver of competitive advantage and performance. Your culture will differentiate your organization more than anything.”
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed C-suites all over the world. But for the role of chief human resources officer (CHRO), the changes have been revolutionary. A new report from IMSA Search examines how the COVID-19 crisis has demanded new capabilities and duties for chief HR officers.
The report’s conclusion: The role of CHROs shouldn’t be overestimated. “At a time when new risks and second thoughts have emerged practically overnight, these leaders have had to create a new work culture, maintain morale and empower their employees,” the IMSA report said. “And this is and will continue to be a massive task. The CHROs who are effectively dealing with it while avoiding harming staff performance have gained not only a new set of skills but also new responsibilities and duties.”
On the wisdom that it is better to rip the Band-Aid off fast, let’s get the bad news out of the way quickly: The global consulting industry is in a tailspin. According to a report by Richard Wilcox of Tatum, the mega-billion-dollar sector is forecast to experience a 19 percent drop in fees in 2020, which amounts to a one-year revenue hit of about $30 billion.
Related: Leaders Take Stock of Covid-19
It is not all doom and gloom from here; in fact, there are encouraging signs that the worst of the impact may be over, the Tatum report said. Just two months ago, for example, the majority of consulting firms reported a “rapidly and significantly deteriorating situation.” Today, the majority say market conditions are either stable or improving. Quite a turnaround.
COVID-19 has now hit global employment harder than the 2008 Great Recession. When normal life resumes, millions of people will be without jobs, and millions of jobs without people. According to new report by Armstrong Craven, one possible outcome, which the HR world must prepare for, is a period of unprecedented hiring activity as businesses around the globe reboot their talent acquisition processes. The talent insight and executive search firm refers to this as the “talent storm” and it has the potential to change the talent landscape.
A lot of people are facing the first period of employment uncertainty in their careers, the firm said. All “non-essential staff” are now working from home, and many are responsive to networking approaches they would have previously ignored. “Proactive talent teams can use this opportunity to reach out to these ‘unicorn’ candidates with niche skills or experience,” Armstrong Craven said. “To be truly proactive, internal teams will benefit from in-depth maps of current talent pools.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing worldwide public health concerns and widespread disruptions across the global economy, including for businesses and schools. It has caused society to put a pause on public gatherings, sporting events, the arts, restaurants, and nightlife, which otherwise would have provided relief during difficult times. As the crisis unfolded in 2020, the team at Summit Leadership Partners engaged in conversations with client management teams, CEOs and CHROs at a variety of organizations across industries, helping them navigate their decision making during the crisis.
“We are living through unprecedented times,” said Summit Leadership Partners. “Our way of life is under threat, and it is now more important than ever for management teams to collectively lead by example and keep driving the business forward while managing the risks and impacts along the way.”
COVID-19 has caused CEOs to shift how they lead in expedient and ingenious ways, which will have great potential beyond the current crisis, says a new report from McKinsey & Company. Ultimately, says the consulting firm, these changes may recalibrate entire organizations and how they operate. Joining in the discussion: Wendy Murphy, managing partner and global practice leader of ZRG; Judith M. von Seldeneck, founder and chair of Diversified Search Group; Steve Potter, U.S. CEO of Odgers Berndtson; David Heron, group CEO at Wilton & Bain; and Laura Mantoura, a member of the board and CEO advisory practice at Russell Reynolds Associates.
“Only CEOs can decide whether to continue leading in these new ways, and in so doing seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to consciously evolve the very nature and impact of their role,” the report said. “Part of the role of the CEO is to serve as a chief calibrator — deciding the extent and degree of change needed. As part of this, CEOs must have a thesis of transformation that works in their company context.”
N2Growth, a Philadelphia-based management consulting and executive search firm, will be deferred 50 percent of all search fees early on during the pandemic for new engagements until after the COVID-19 crisis has been contained.
“This is a rather unprecedented time, and it’s during times like this that we need to come together and find opportunities to serve each other,” said Mike Myatt, founder and chairman of N2Growth. “The spread of COVID-19 is causing suffering for thousands of families around the world; it is disrupting daily life, closing schools, and impacting markets. We feel an obligation to lead by example and do our part to help the marketplace get to the other side of this.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media