January 9, 2018 – To remain relevant to their clients, executive recruiters – now more than ever – must be willing to adapt. In the new global context, “leadership as usual” is well on its way out, and recruiters must stop relying on an increasingly out-of-date search and selection approach, which is simply no longer enough.
By way of example, Stephen Dallamore, global chairman of AltoPartners, points to the importance of companies paying strict attention to the markets that they serve. Too often, he said in a recent interview with Hunt Scanlon Media, businesses force-feed the strategies and tactics from the developed world into developing countries, neglecting language differences and critical nuances of culture, politics, business and religion.
That might work for short-term gains. But by the time leaders discover the error of their ways for the long-term, it is often too late. “Our profession, by doing what it does best, can work with organizations in such a way that they do not miss the mark,” said Mr. Dallamore. “In this way, we also contribute to the shaping of the global corporate agenda. Placing high-level executive talent in new and challenging contexts is what we do; it is what we have always done. However, in recent years, our job has been made somewhat more complicated by the appearance of new market dynamics over which we have no control and which we don’t always understand.”
Boards of directors and senior executive teams must take on a tone and style of leadership that is more attuned to the needs of a changing world, said Mr. Dallamore. That’s where recruitment firms can make a tremendous difference. The individuals they bring in for their clients’ consideration are the very people that will help companies succeed – or fail, if recruiters fail to do their job properly.
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Up to Speed
“As borders that were once closed to capitalism become more porous, it is vital that our industry quickly gets up to speed regarding the nature and types of dynamics that define these markets,” said Mr. Dallamore. “It is a large undertaking, but we have to tackle it if we are to develop a clear picture of the C-level talent needed to lead organizations in these complicated times.”
Mr. Dallamore, who is South African, was named chairman of AltoPartners’ global operating committee in 2015. He is also the managing director of Search Partners International (SPi), the South African AltoPartners alliance partner. Among other jobs, Mr. Dallamore spent nine years as executive chairman of Mast South Africa, the largest corporate training group in South Africa in 1987.
AltoPartners is an international alliance of leading retained boutique executive search and leadership consulting firms, with 57 offices across 34 countries across the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.
Mr. Dallamore emphasizes that search firms today must find C-level leaders who have an amalgam of talents. They must have proven technical abilities and competencies, of course, as well as powerful personalities capable of putting their stamp on organizations. Ultimately, however, businesses need leaders with a combination of “specific personal attributes, background, experience and skill-sets” that enable them to create “more agile, adaptive, accommodative, collaborative, visionary and sensitive” organizations.
A New Kind of Leader
Such leaders, said Mr. Dallamore, should exhibit a superior ability to exchange ideas, build new relationships and broaden perspectives. They also must have a common touch in order to communicate their vision in simple, exciting and compelling ways. “They will be less operational and more strategic, and driven by a genuine curiosity about the future and less by what worked in the past,” he said. “The new leader will inspire performance through motivation and empowerment using more of a coaching and mentoring style rather than pure command and control and will value the benefits that come from having a workforce that is more diverse and inclusive than in the past.”
“Above everything the new leader will demonstrate a perceptible willingness to take the time to properly understand and appreciate the local issues before rushing to impose decisions rooted in preconceived ideas.”
It is imperative, meanwhile, that C-level talent not stand still in either their personal development or their geographical location, said Mr. Dallamore. Organizations that try to expand their sphere of influence beyond their home territories, he said, will fail if they try to manage operations from a distance.
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But managing the mobility of senior talent, whether it is within the organization itself or to different localities, functions and brands, is no small task. “An article in the Harvard Business Review, ‘Making Mobility Matter,’ emphasized that best-practice thinking in leadership holds that mobility is a legitimate tool that can benefit both leader and the workplace; however, for it to work well it has to be strategically managed using the right facts,” said Mr. Dallamore.
Mobility and Management
A wealth of tools are available to help achieve this. “One is a ‘mobility equation,’ a statistical model that assesses a candidate’s skill set, aspirations, and abilities in the context of the demands and requirements of a particular role and attempts to predict the business growth that will be generated by making such an appointment,” he said. “This mobility equation will differ for each enterprise.”
Executive mobility and its effective management is complex and raises many issues, both positive and negative, said Mr. Dallamore.
On one hand, he said, leadership rotation can be beneficial to organizations in terms of bringing in new ideas, thoughts and approaches. “Mobility supports and refines education and training with exposure to, and immersion in, the many varied nuances, dynamics and pressures of different geographies, cultures and demographics, accompanied by the day-to-day experience of the broad spread of sometimes unique business contexts that they generate,” he said.
But mobility also has its downside. “It can disrupt operations and undermine accountability because people may not be around to enjoy – or suffer – the outcomes of their decisions,” said Mr. Dallamore. “Additionally, those who stay put may feel demoralized because being stuck in the same job too long may start to seem like a failure. Mobility can also become an unduly expensive proposition when moves involve international assignments or frequent relocations.”
A War for Talent
Sometimes senior leadership neglects to take the time and effort to train, coach and mentor successors to take over when they leave. “In addition, as Ricardo Backer, our Argentine partner, points out, there is the potential danger of the expat leader failing to factor in the nuances of the local culture, which can become an impediment to doing business,” said Mr. Dallamore.
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The war for top talent is more intense in the emerging markets, he said, because the specific skills needed are often lacking in certain areas. “These markets often have a shallow pool of experienced international-level talent across industries, particularly with prior multinational company experience,” said Mr. Dallamore. “Our enhanced focus is on the ‘research and identification’ part of the search process, and importantly, the ‘negotiating and closing’ stages are crucial for success.”
But finding the right talent oftentimes calls for a search that goes “out of category.” In these cases, search consultants must dig deeper, in new directions, to find the right leaders. Candidates may be from outside the sector being recruited for, said Mr. Dallamore, but if they possess the right complementary skills and the specific market knowledge needed, they can still be highly effective.
“There definitely is a ‘type’ that does well in a global context,” he said. “Irrespective of whether they find themselves in one of the ‘new’ geographies or elsewhere, they all need to be extremely good with people. They have to be flexible, know how to earn the respect of the people they lead, be able to understand who these people are, what their culture is, how they work, and have the ability to win them over. They have to have a large capacity for empathy plus a willingness to take the time to understand the local issues. These traits are seldom developed overnight, so a successful track record in new and different geographies is a key differentiator.”
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Have a Template
Mobility works particularly well with leaders who not have the necessary skills, qualifications and experience, said Mr. Dallamore, but who devote the time to properly understanding how to be effective in their new location. “This person should also be skilled at training up a successor and mentoring the right team to take over in time,” he said. “There should be a policy in place to ease the expat’s return and takes advantage of the experience gained. Peter Tulau, our Australian partner, emphasizes that strategic fit should not be assumed. It should be managed via information feedback loops and effective data management across organizational and individual performance.”
To help make the right decisions about the frequency and nature of the movement of senior leaders globally, organizations would benefit from having a template of what they require. “It should include a timeline showing the candidate, and the organization, how long they will be in the job for,” said Mr. Dallamore. “Then thought must be given to where they will move to next and who will replace them. The candidate’s next move should be to a role that is fulfilling enough to retain his/her interest and their contribution to the organization.”
“This is endorsed by Kevin Hall, our Canadian partner, who says that uncertainty around the timeline and the likely next move is what most often negatively impacts the individual,” said Mr. Dallamore. “However, he also points out that it is not always possible to be absolutely definitive regarding the next move. But, it is possible to determine the strategic fit for a candidate’s future executive roles within an organization with proper assessment of his or her performance in different roles and locations.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media