Executive Search: Rumors of My Demise are Grossly Inaccurate!
Putting aside for a moment the obvious self-serving parsing of data to reflect their version of truth that is rampant in our media today, what is missing from a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article and a similar Wall Street Journal article published October 9, 2012 in claiming the demise of the executive search industry, is the fact that executive search is a consulting profession, not merely a “name sourcing” service.
True, in the digital age, information has become a commodity, and certainly no longer the driving value proposition in our profession as in the days of the desktop Rolodex. I view this as a positive for our industry that has served to elevate the value of what a good consultant truly delivers.
Specifically, insightful assessment, both of an organization’s true needs, as defined by their business objectives, as well as of a candidate’s ability to deliver on those objectives, which is best left to a qualified, independent consultant, who can maintain objectivity without internal political pressures, deliver global reach into the competitive landscape, as well as guarantee complete confidentiality when necessary. Clients value the crucial consulting advice and comparative judgment that a good retained executive search consultant provides.
Further, while some employees from the likes of KFI, H&S, etc., may have gone to the client side conducting in-house recruiting (though I believe the articles grossly exaggerated this), these are largely not senior level consultants, but rather, they are “sourcers”, i.e., researchers, and candidate developers who, while they play an important role in the search process, are not qualified business consultants to senior leaders.
One of the readers even commented that he had conduced a recent survey of 53 organizations, claiming to support this “emerging trend”! YIKES!
NEWSFLASH: 53 organizations does NOT even come close to representing a trend. Further, espousing an un-bundling of our service as this reader suggested demonstrates a lack of understanding of what we deliver, and a belief that professional consulting can/should be commoditized. Candidate and industry research, for example, is merely a means to an end, not a service for which search firms earn their keep. “Un-bundling” commoditizes our process, and our service, and destroys any collaborative / consultative nature of our client relationships.
Collaboration and partnership between consultants and clients happen all the time in our profession, as is the case in others such as accountancy, strategy and legal consulting. If a client does not feel they are getting collaboration and partnership, it is time to find a new consultant.
Now, about that nasty habit the media has of selectively reporting data to support their own flawed analysis…
The facts are that after reaching a 2008 all-time high of $11Billion in revenue, and experiencing a dramatic fall of 32.5% in 2009 at the onset of the global economic downturn, the executive search industry has staged a remarkable comeback, with final 2012 revenue numbers projected to be close to the 2008 high-water mark.
As the global economy begins to drag itself from the long term financial crisis, and as executive mobility increases, there is little doubt that the scarcity of top executive talent will bite even harder than in the past and that client organizations will need all the help they can get in maintaining their competitive talent positions.
The impression given in these articles that the retained executive search profession is in decline is clearly not substantiated by the facts.
I am quite confident that senior leaders who truly believe in building a sustainable talent advantage in their organization will rely on a number of tactics to do so, and executive search, and a relationship with a trusted adviser, will be a very important arrow in their quiver for many years to come.
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