Spencer Stuart Acquires Several Business Units of Aon

The second largest executive search firm plans to acquire key businesses from the London-based global professional services firm, including those related to culture and engagement, boosting its use of people to improve clients’ businesses across the board.

April 19, 2019 – With culture shaping now seen as one of the most important drivers to achieve competitive advantage among companies, many search firms – including the global leaders as well as the boutiques – now offer some variation of it. It includes human capital management, business transformation strategy, leader engagement, talent optimization, organizational development, HR transformation, and leadership and talent management.

To bolster its leadership in the space, executive search firm Spencer Stuart has reached a definitive agreement with global professional services firm Aon to acquire certain businesses within its talent practice, specifically its culture and engagement, leadership development and advisory, and related products and services. Financial terms of the deal have not been undisclosed.

“Leaders everywhere are striving to increase their organizations’ performance and agility, often by pulling the essential levers of strategy, finance, technology and more,” said Ben Williams, CEO of Spencer Stuart. “We believe the single greatest lever is people, mobilized through leadership, culture and engagement.”

An engaged workforce is a competitive advantage that drives higher productivity, innovation and retention, he said. “Engagement is also an essential measure of effective leadership, and brings valuable, relevant data to the critical leadership decisions businesses need to make. Adding these capabilities from Aon will enable us to work with boards and C-suite leaders more closely on a matter of increasing importance to them.”

Leadership Advisory Services

These offerings will complement Spencer Stuart’s portfolio of leadership advisory services — executive assessment and development, CEO succession, team effectiveness, culture shaping, board effectiveness and the people side of merger integration.

“We are pleased to add these capabilities in engagement, leadership development and related advisory services to our noted expertise in leadership and organizational culture,” said Patrick Hynes, who leads Spencer Stuart’s leadership advisory services. “More and more leaders now understand that to win on the outside, you first have to win on the inside. These capabilities in using online experiences to go more deeply within organizations, and added expertise in HR effectiveness, will also expand our collective ability to help address the important leadership and talent needs of top teams.”

“Selling the culture, engagement, and leadership development & advisory businesses provides an opportunity for Spencer Stuart to create greater value for clients, given their focus on talent and leadership,” said Cary Grace, CEO of Aon’s retirement and investment solutions.


Hiring for Cultural Fit? Here’s What You Should Know
Working with talent acquisition and HR leaders, you often hear this: “We hire for cultural fit, first and foremost.” But what does that mean, and how is that fit assessed? “Well, sometimes it’s whatever a hiring manager wants it to mean and that can be a big issue, leading to poor hiring decisions fraught with bias or even legal liability.” 


The transaction is expected to close in several months, subject to customary closing conditions. It is anticipated that this business will operate as a distinct and important new entity within the Spencer Stuart organization. It involves about 550 employees in 26 countries globally.

Cultural Fit

Culture fit is hardly a new concept. Well before the rise of various models and frameworks to evaluate organizational culture, companies recognized the risk of hiring a cultural mismatch — such as the lone wolf in a company that values collaboration. New employees, especially leaders who clash with the culture are often ineffective, and are likely to quickly depart for a friendlier environment.

“As appreciation has grown for the power of culture to influence individual, team and business performance, many leaders are looking for more systematic approaches to evaluating culture, personal fit and culture impact,” said a recent report by Spencer Stuart. “With this insight, they can make better decisions about hiring and promoting, improve the success rate of leadership transitions and ensure that they develop future leaders who are able to positively influence culture.”

Culture analysis is a critical action for a company to take — and a complex one, as well. The Spencer Stuart culture approach is based on the insight that an organization’s culture is defined by where it falls on two dimensions: how the organization responds to change and how it views people.

“Organizations can range from highly individualistic to highly interdependent, placing greater value either on autonomy and individual action or on collaboration,” said the report. “Similarly, an organization can be more or less open to change — focused on maintaining consistency and predictability at one end of the spectrum or emphasizing flexibility and creativity at the other. We use this framework, which includes eight distinct cultural styles, to evaluate organizational culture and understand how an individual executive is likely to align with — and shape — that culture.”

Related: How Artificial Intelligence is Changing the Culture of Work

Culture can feel elusive for companies. Absent a methodology or common language for evaluating their current culture and defining an aspirational culture, organizations can fall victim to a few common culture myths. “This can make it harder to select the right people or equip hires with the guidance and support they need to succeed in a new context,” Spencer Stuart said. “According to our research, when newly hired executives do fail, a lack of culture fit (rather than lack of skills or experience) is most responsible 68 percent of the time.”

5 Things to Consider When Creating Company Culture

In the last few years, Spencer Stuart has partnered with a number of organizations across various industries, helping them assess, articulate, build or transform their cultures. In a separate report, the search firm looked back at these and identified five key questions that organizations concerned about their culture must think about:

1. Are we thinking of culture as a magic wand?

The recent buzz in management literature around the topic of culture has led to a situation in which culture is at once blamed for, and seen as solution to, almost every organizational performance issue. “While the criticality of culture shouldn’t be understated, it is important for organizations to also think through other factors that may have the same or larger impact on the problems they are seeking to solve,” Spencer Stuart said.

2. Do we really understand our current culture?

It is commonly known that leadership teams often lack alignment in the way individual leaders perceive and describe the culture of their organizations. “It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there often exist significant differences in the ways cultures evolve and get manifested across different locations, functions, etc., within the same organization,” said Spencer Stuart. A clear appreciation of these differences and the reasons contributing to organizational sub-cultures is essential for gaining a nuanced view of where things stand currently.


The Expanding Role of Culture in Search and Succession

A revealing report by Spencer Stuart busts three common cultural myths and zeroes in on how today’s recruiters look at the culture of an organization when seeking candidates. Let’s go inside the findings!


It is equally important to distinguish between the articulated and the actual, emergent culture, which can be very different. “A formal, structured assessment of the current culture, therefore, is a critical first step in any culture-related intervention,” said the firm.

3. What is the impact that our culture is having?

In their desire to adopt elements of what they perceive to be the “ideal” culture, Spencer Stuart said that many organizations skip the important step of considering how the current culture is affecting various organizational outcomes and, by extension, how changing the culture would impact those outcomes.

Related: Why Your Culture Is Your Brand

4. What should our culture be like?

Although Spencer Stuart conceded that there is no simple answer, the firm said it encourages organizations to consider the following when thinking about the culture styles they want to emphasize: First and foremost, the culture must always be aligned to the strategic goals a company is trying to drive. “Imagine a regulatory or fraud-prevention body with a culture emphasizing enjoyment and learning, over safety and order,” the firm said. It is always easier to build on what you have; so leverage and reinforce the strengths of your current culture instead of trying to change everything. “Culture has staying power; use yours to your advantage,” Spencer Stuart said. Always consider the trade-offs and unintended consequences of any change.

5. What does cultural transformation entail?

While far from all-inclusive, Spencer Stuart sees the following as fundamentals that organizations embarking on cultural change must consider: Obtain the buy-in and alignment of stakeholders early in the process – ideally at the point of identifying change priorities. A process of open debate and discussion to jointly agree on the way forward helps drive the engagement of the leadership team and other stakeholders with the change agenda.

Related: Culture and Brand Seen As Top Advantages When Recruiting Talent

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

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