Reinventing Leadership Search in a Post Pandemic World
The pandemic was a huge wake-up call, one that reset priorities for many, and unmasked the deep unhappiness that a huge number of people had with their jobs and workplace. The “Great Resignation”, “Great Reshuffle” and “Quiet Quitting” were not just trending hashtags – rather they represented a harsh reality in many cases, where companies witnessed a huge exodus of talent. This, coupled with the growth of remote and hybrid work, unleashed the demand for high quality leaders who can lead in unpredictable and turbulent times – the new normal. Finding such leaders is often harder than even raising money or getting customers these days! But, find you must, if you want to scale and grab the tremendous opportunities that the current market presents. Here are a few ways that have worked for me always, and more so in recent times:
- Go with a clear message that sets you apart: This is easier said than done. Very often, I hear clients repeat their standard marketing message to potential candidates, and that just doesn’t cut it anymore. You are talking to folks who have a very good idea of the market dynamics, and perhaps are even working with a competitor in a similar space. They are doing extremely well and have no immediate urgency to shift jobs. It helps to appeal to their self-interest – what are you offering that will help them, and is something they cannot easily get anywhere else? For instance, one of my clients is a highly successful entrepreneur, building his next start-up. In our message, we decided to focus on HIM as a unique aspect and what it would mean to shadow and learn from him on the job. This is obviously something/ a candidate cannot get elsewhere. The right person got the value immediately, and we got our hire!
- Age is not equal to seniority: We are all used to associating seniority/expertise with experience. This is not true anymore. You find some who have done more in 10 years, than what others have done in twice that time. And vice versa. It all depends on the kind of opportunities that they have had, and the kind of companies they have worked at. We all know companies that have blitz scaled in the last decade. The experience of being in the midst of such growth does accelerate learning. Different people have very different experience profiles, but they may all work for you, and you need to keep an open mind. This is exactly the scenario in our current ongoing search for the ‘First Product Marketing Head’ for a high-pedigree startup. Our final candidate shortlist of three now has people varying in experience from 8 to 20 years, all equally well qualified for the role.
- Be innovative around how you engage with senior hires: The cost of making a mistake in hiring is higher today than it ever was before, both for you and the candidate. It does weigh heavily as you come closer to making the offer, and that sometimes makes you risk averse and indecisive. The same holds true for the candidate too. How do you break the lock jam? This happened recently with one of my clients. The company was a hot start-up about to raise another round of funding. While it was growing and had a product out in the market, its early investors were convinced that the company needed a strong, experienced Chief Business Officer to bring some order and predictability to its revenue. But how do you hire for such a crucial position in a hurry? We found the right person, but the client was concerned – after all, there are more chronicled failures than successes in executive hiring! The candidate was equally apprehensive. There are after all two sides to it – if they are in a job, then it is a big disruptive move. If they are not working, s/he is still closing the doors to other opportunities. What we suggested was a via media – appoint the candidate in a consulting role with significant time commitment, a very specific KRA, and a path to a full-time role, so that both the company and the executive have a chance to assess one another before making a final decision.
- Pick a strong recruitment partner: More so now than at any other time you need a committed partner on your side to make the hiring happen. Someone who believes in you and your vision and can articulate it effectively to the dream candidates you want to hire; someone who can be blunt with you when required; someone who is vested in your long-term success and does not look at hiring as a short-term transaction. The right partner will stay by your side through highs and lows and help you build an organization that you can be proud of.
The seismic shift witnessed during the pandemic years is just the tip of one of the biggest talent crises in recent times. Not only must we all be willing to experiment without the fear of failure, we also need to be more innovative to stay ahead in this fierce competition for finding, and retaining, top talent. 2023 will be a year to reckon in leadership hiring, and we are excited to see what is in store!