Hiring Disrupters in the Age of Disruption Part 1: Re-imagining Executive Search
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent times, you must be well aware of the waves of disruption sweeping through a post-pandemic world. Covid-19 literally demanded us to change our lives overnight, forcing millions across the world to stay at home for months at a stretch while altering our usual ways of life and work. What followed was a huge wave of pandemic-driven technology development and innovation at a pace that was unprecedented. Be it the shift to remote work via video conferencing, telehealth, online education, a surge in e-commerce and accelerated digital transformation, robotic delivery services or contactless payments - everything was now at our fingertips. The new crop of AI powered chatbots have further ignited a new race to develop technology that is upending the economies of the internet as we know it. The AI arms race among the tech giants like Google and Microsoft are well under way with many smaller AI companies nipping their heels in the hope of becoming the next industry giants. AI is likely to do what the last decade disruptors like Uber did to the taxi industry and Airbnb to the hotel business. These are exciting times indeed!
There’s never a dearth of newer business models and new technologies, or companies finding new ways to exploit existing technologies. Disruptive players are coming out of nowhere and toppling empires. Remember Kodak? In 1998, they had over 170,000 employees and sold 85% of photo paper worldwide. But in just a few years, their business model practically disappeared, and they were soon relegated to the has-been list. If history is anything to go by, the thing with disruptors is that they don’t gradually appear. They practically annihilate those that stand in their way, and transform industries in a breath-taking manner!
And as the world around us changes,It means that companies need to get all in to find ways to reinvent themselves before they get steamrolled by upstart newcomers. It requires bold and new thinking. It requires them to rethink their entire business. The same holds for individuals as well. After all, this brave new world requires brave new leaders to evolve and adapt as well.
Which brings us to the crux of this matter – in a truly global economy, how then does one find the right leader? Or to be more specific – a change leader, a transformation leader. One who does not just identify and successfully ride these huge and never-ending waves of changes, but one who can also persuade us that those waves are coming.
Decades ago, formal training and development programs exemplified by the old giants like IBM and GE were what produced leaders who ran their businesses successfully. Hundreds of graduates were hired and rotated across divisions and departments, and then a few allowed to ascend the corporate ladder. And in other firms, hiring was typically done with the help of industry specialists to pair a particular position opening with a suitable match – based on credentials, specialization, training and years of experience.
These days are long gone. While these erstwhile approaches follow a more predictable and linear course of change, they are no longer applicable in today’s world. The pandemic experience has proven that geography and borders are no longer barriers to building in finding the right talent. But time is of essence to ensure that you get the candidate you want because in this kind of market, talent comes and goes in the blink of an eye! There has been a significant shift of power away from the employer and towards the candidate as well. And they know it too – there is a pervasive “why should I work for you?” attitude that companies have to cater to. There is also no denying that innovation, new management theories, and increased focus on customers across new markets are driving new critical leadership requirements.
For these very reasons, it is imperative that we re-imagine our entire approach to executive search. It challenges the bedrock of existing people's practices, of how we evaluate and manage talent. Conventional hiring approaches just do not cut it in today’s dynamic world. Considering the fact that the dominant view is very rigid, focusing on specific geographies, functions and industries – it just translates to a lot of money and time spent…on an extremely small pool of talent. It’s like attempting to fit round pegs in square holes, so to speak, just because we are being restrained by certain factors (that should not actually matter!).
The time has come to look beyond these silos and narrow mandates. What we really need today are not traditional recruiters, but rather strategic consultants who work alongside us at every step of the way. The kind who isn’t afraid to ask hard questions about what suits your organization and what may not. Someone who comprehends your competitive landscape and potential impacts on your bottom line. Someone who understands your business’s game plan and the kind of talent you need to stay ahead. Someone who is capable of looking beyond silos and identifying leaders across domains, geographies, demographics and expertise.
After all, at the end of the day, it does not matter which part of the world or industry your leader comes from. Or for that matter his age! It all boils down to experience, innovation and most importantly, the ability to think outside the box. After all, a true change leader is one who transcends borders, and pays no heed to industry or function “labels”. These leaders aim to apply their learnings to understand the various aspects of a new business/market. They have a compelling vision, and they are not afraid to push their limits to reach their goals! Yes, that’s just what a company on the cusp of a disruptive revolution, or one undergoing a transformational change, needs to drive them to the next level.
Against this background, as the use of traditional methods of recruiting decline, strategic consultants are consciously adopting new age approaches that are highly interactive, extremely personalized and offer a great candidate ‘experience’. These proactive approaches include big data analytics, social media, direct sourcing and referrals, and uniquely designed tactics that lure out potential leaders that may not even be in the market for a job! Because as we have seen time and time again, you just never know when the “next big thing” will come along or where your next leader will come from…and they come from all walks of life, backgrounds and experiences!
Look at how Jeff Bezos came out of nowhere. Amazon started out simply selling books online in 1995 with the advent of the Internet … but they haven’t stopped expanding since then! The thing with Bezos is that he kept evolving as a leader. He kept reinventing himself and his business to keep pace with changing times. He called the shots predictably and consistently…of course, some failed, but some were acts of pure brilliance. Today EVERYONE uses Amazon.com to buy just about anything. And the best part is Amazon sells its own products rivaling huge retailers like Walmart, offers a host of web services on par with IBM, and even pits against Apple as a device maker with the Kindle, Fire tablets and Echo. Amazon is truly the undisputed king of ecommerce and has a market cap of over 1 trillion dollars today!
Bezos is just one on a long list of transformational leaders. Think Jack Ma. Sundar Pichai. Sheryl Sandberg. Tim Cook. Reed Hastings. And these are the kind of leaders that we need to keep an eye out for, for they are the ones who invent tomorrows rather than worrying about what happened yesterday.
It may be an age of disruption, but it is an environment that is ripe with opportunity for transformational leadership. After all, serious change demands serious people.
This is the first blog post in our series – Hiring Disruptors in the Age of Disruption. The next blog post will explore what transformational leadership is about…and what it takes to become one. Our last post will focus on the unique hiring approaches required in today’s fast-paced environment drawing on our personal experiences. Stay tuned!