Executive talent

Global Magazine from AESC

 

The Future of Executive Search and Leadership Consulting – An Evolving Profession

Future of Executive Search Evolving Profession

Next Gen Consultants

The profession has been known for gray hair and wisdom, but that is changing. Clichés such as ‘the old boys network’ no longer apply, but neither has the profession completely earned a reputation for agility and disruptive thinking. Yet.

“We can’t hope to be valuable to our clients if we don’t personally represent modern business thinking. So not only do we need to represent modern ideas for business so that we can be a sounding board and proper advisor to our clients, we need to know who all the modern talent is. If we don’t know, we’re not worth our salt.” Bullis describes the requirement for the profession to not only mirror clients, but mirror and connect with leaders who represent clients’ future needs. That means a profession that is forward-thinking, innovative, agile and more.

“The reality is that to best serve clients, we need to attract consultants who have deep networks in all of these areas—and it is hard for someone to have a deep network if they’ve never been an insider,” Czarnota says. “I expect we will continue to expand our own recruiting to include and support more consultants who have first-hand experience with diversity, digital transformation and the many issues surrounding the next gen workforce.”

Kaneko offers a practical explanation for why the profession has been traditionally older. “Historically our industry has been made up of those professionals who consider executive search as a second career, those who are established in other sectors, industries, and professions, who chose to enter the profession later in their careers. That will make our industry inevitably somewhat of a more senior profession. We clearly need to establish a clear path for younger generations to see our industry as exciting and meaningful.”

For Hasell, the challenge is attracting a younger demographic to the profession. “There’s a lot of value and wisdom from experience or wisdom from a certain vintage, if you will. But I think there is an equal amount of wisdom that comes with youth and hands-on experience and application. We absolutely should ensure that diversity, digital transformation, and next gen talent helps change the demographics of our profession. There’s no doubt both gray hair and wisdom and next gen wisdom have a place in every industry. Our industry is no different.”

The profession saw the demand for next gen talent coming. Arts says, “Many executive search and leadership advisory firms have anticipated the demand and have tried to attract the people more in line with the demands of clients regarding digital transformation and next generation talent. You can only really collaborate with clients on these issues if you present these skills in your own firm. So, many firms try to attract the younger profiles, the technology consultants who understand these key issues, but this is an ongoing process, and this is a battle actually for many executive search firms.”

According to Nielsen, a focus on next gen executive search and leadership consulting talent “will get us better aligned with what the newer and emerging needs of our clients are, and I don’t think that the move away from the traditional gray hair and wisdom means that there’s going to be less wisdom. I think there’s going to be different wisdom, and I think the new demographics of professionals in this business will come with a wisdom that doesn’t necessarily depend on years of service or number of years in the profession. I think they will be better aligned with the digital orientation, better aligned with the multiculturalism that our clients are driving. So I welcome that change. I think it’s good for the profession and I certainly think it’s good for our clients.”

Future Trend: The Employer Brand

A client’s employer brand and value proposition represent the value a candidate perceives in working for that client. It answers questions around the employee experience, development opportunities, and the impact that employment will have on a candidate’s overall quality of life and future prospects. And in a tight market for talent, employer brand and value proposition can determine whether a top candidate says “yes.” Is there a role for executive search and leadership consulting? Absolutely.

Messaging

“A fundamental part of what we always do is to promote the employer brand on behalf of our clients,” Aureli says. “Which means that the better we know the client, the better we can do that. The challenge comes when the client’s brand is not at all recognized. How do we help those brands in getting traction? We do it really by associating ourselves as a quality-driven executive search firm with the client’s brand. We are a seal of quality, as all members of AESC are.”

As brand ambassadors to the talent market, retained search and leadership consultants represent their clients through their own professionalism and how they present opportunities to candidates.

“Let’s face it, a great executive search consultant is a master storyteller. It is a person who can represent the situation and the story on behalf of their client as well, if not better, than their client can,” Bullis explains. “No executive candidate wants to hear roles and responsibilities. An executive who’s on the receiving end of an outreach by me wants to understand what the situation is in the company that I represent, and whether or not that situation is compelling to him or her.”

Talent builds the brand

The profession’s influence on the employer brand is a natural result of building and developing a client’s leadership team. According to Ha, “What we’ve tried to do is really focus on delivering data-driven insights around leadership assessment across both our search and consulting businesses that are going to enable our clients, the CEOs, the boards, the C-suites, the regional managers to be able to make better talent decisions, so that they can continue to burnish their employer brand and be able to continue to attract the best talent, and retain the best talent.” He says, “I firmly believe that’s what differentiates a company from being good to being great.”

Hasell says, “Anytime you add or change someone at the C-suite or board level, you are in essence changing the dynamic and impacting the brand and the culture. Even though we talk about recruiting someone strategic, we also talk about recruiting someone who will fit into the culture. But, as the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. So, I think that the employer brand and that value proposition is very closely interwoven with culture. It’s always been there, we just have a new name for it and that is employer brand.”

Dedicated role

The issue of employer brand and value proposition is becoming so important, some organizations are creating job descriptions that include that specific function. “It’s actually being carved out in some companies as a role: employer brand,” Bullis says. “Sometimes it’s in marketing, and sometimes it’s in HR. Having that position put in marketing really emphasizes how important it is. It’s just a given that the number one differentiator for a business is its people.”

The truth hurts—and helps

For Agrawal, “The second role that we play in this is being able to play back candidly to clients what candidates are saying about them. And we do that quite a lot. If we’ve had negative comments, or if you’ve had a particular question or an issue coming up more than once or twice, we take it back to the company and say, ‘Well this is what people are saying. What’s your take on it? What’s really happening? And how do you want us to respond? And of course we have to be convinced of the accuracy of that response. But we make sure that we are playing off the same script, and reinforcing the image of the client that we believe in.”

Czarnota explains, “We often have to have difficult conversations with clients about the likely perceptions of their choices around leadership and talent. While each client ultimately has to shape its own brand, search consultants can provide a crucial perspective on how small details—including which competencies to pinpoint in a search, or how to structure a role—can have an outsized impact on how current and future employees perceive their choices.”

Sometimes those challenging conversations are more pragmatic. Agrawal describes her experience with diversity-based board searches after a regulatory directive in India. “Everyone’s like, ‘Just get me a woman.’ And I’m saying, ‘Is your board ready for a woman? What are they looking for? Is there a female toilet near your boardroom? Do some of your older board members have inhibitions, or constraints in terms of being able to speak openly? Are you ready for this?’ In some cases those conversations were quite comfortable, and people were quite receptive to hearing them. In some cases they became uncomfortable quite quickly, but that says something. Anyway, it’s a journey that people have to go through. And I think part of our responsibility is to nudge them along to get there.”

In the effort to represent clients to the market, AESC members do not lose sight of their ethics and values. Logue explains, “There’s a difference between attracting and retaining, and if an advisor helps a client do better at their interface with a candidate to be more attractive, or to at least not turn a candidate off, that’s one thing. But in terms of retaining, if that’s not actually their truthful employer brand, it’s not really who they are, then that curtain’s going to drop and the candidate’s going to be disappointed.”

Competitive advantage

Talented leaders have choices, and they are increasingly motivated by more than financial gains. Kaneko describes, “candidates whom I consider truly senior executives who are highly comped, strongly educated: they are looking for not only tangible outcomes and potential, they're also looking for non-tangible benefits. Many of the truly C-level and other executive level professionals would like to make themselves socially impactful leaders.”

For example, Ha says, “I think employer brands have become even more relevant, more top-of-mind for top talent. So, talent who maybe 10 years ago wouldn’t have thought of serving at the head of a not-for-profit, or running a cultural institution, educational institution, trade association, professional society, things like that, I think are much more drawn to the mission, and that dovetails into the brand of that organization.”

Not just attracting, retaining

Onboarding services continue to expand and the longevity and effectiveness of executive placements are a critical measure of success. Employer brand and value proposition contribute to that success. “I think the instruments that are really effective on retention are changing,” Nielsen says. “Money is still an important instrument of retention, but I also think that the next gen—many of the people who are in their twenties and maybe early thirties today—appreciate a number of other things relative to monetary incentives. A diverse work environment, an environment that values their input and participation, an environment where they feel important, empowered, engaged and rewarded, not just financially, is very often as important if not more important than a retention bonus.”

The flip side

A great employer brand also makes for a great launch pad. For Boggis-Rolfe, “Employer brand is a huge factor, and of course it attracts people. One of the other things it does is to make it easy for people to leave, perversely. For example, if you’ve joined McKinsey because you’re attracted by the employer brand and you remain with McKinsey because you’re attracted by it’s employer brand, you might well choose to leave McKinsey because you know that if you’ve been with McKinsey for a period and done well, you’ll have no difficulty in getting the next job. So employer brand helps to directly impact candidate brand.”

“An employee’s brand is impacted either positively or negatively by the organizations that they’ve worked for,” Boggis-Rolf explains. “Employer brand is a well-named concept. Candidate brand is something one might want to think more about.”

Earning our influence

It’s unlikely that any consultant can truly affect an employer brand for a client they don’t understand well. Arts explains, “You can only have influence and impact on the employer brands if you have a long lasting relationship with the clients, if you are the trusted advisor, because then you can develop with the clients their own brands. You can advise them in placing the right diverse talents. But it takes time. It’s not an easy exercise, but it is key if you want to have this long lasting relationship.”

Challenging that long-term relationship are “clients who get tempted to work with different types of suppliers because they want to have results relatively fast and they think by changing now and then they could get this.” Ultimately Arts sees these same clients “coming back to working with retained firms because they see the added value they need in building up their employer’s brand. Clients get tempted to try out other forms of talent acquisition, and they have every right to do so, but if you talk about reshaping employer brand, you need a long-term relationship with the client to have real impact, and that comes with a quality executive search firm.”

Close relationships are vital for clients with particular challenges. For example, Schubert explains, “Germany has these hidden champions, these smaller, family-owned businesses of 500 million revenues, 1 billion in revenues, 2 billion in revenues, and they sometimes are global leaders but in a niche market. And they have of course, more challenges to really be the preferred employer brand because they don’t have the means to do it very widely. Are they turning to leadership advisory to help? Sometimes they are and we are most happy to support there and do that.”

The bigger picture

In the chain of influence from organizations to people to the communities in which they live, the profession makes a mark. Kaneko says, “This is obviously a large macro statement, but as executive search professionals we have an opportunity to create an environment in which wellbeing for all citizens is considered. We must become good shareholders of business fairness, social collaboration, and community involvement.” 

Tech Transformation

Leaders across industries and geographies are laser-focused on digital transformation and disruption for good reason. Automation, advanced data capture and analytics, machine learning and quantum computing present both threats and opportunities beyond imagination for every enterprise, including executive search and leadership consulting.

So, will technology disrupt the profession? The consensus among AESC board members is, it already has.

Bullis describes three waves of technological transformation in the industry. “The first wave in my lifetime was just the invention of industry specific software: databases, creating platforms that enabled us to capture information, use it to communicate information better; the Cluens and the Invenias platforms of the world, those things changed everything.”

Another advancement is the internet itself. Bullis says, “The access to information, our ability to learn about an industry, a market, a company, our speed, our depth. The internet changed everything, and obviously continues to do so.”

Bullis says, “The third would be LinkedIn. LinkedIn obviously is now essential. No one in our industry is doing business without it. No one. All of these were game changes in our industry. All were good things. So I absolutely expect more transformational opportunities going forward and will embrace them. Bring on the next.”

For example, Schubert says, “Ten years ago, we were very proud to say we have a database of something like one million candidates. Now we have a 95% completely transparent market of potential candidates, and this will ever increase. And that is due to the technology.”

With technology already changing the way consultants interact with clients, candidates, and colleagues, Aureli says, “Think of the ubiquity of mobile, and the fact that search consultants are part of the ‘always on’ culture. We are available around the clock to deal with our client’s needs; we are able to access cloud-based applications and that allows us to be connected with clients and colleagues around the world in real time. You know, we are using data in very exciting new ways which have improved our productivity, our effectiveness. Definitely data will play, and is playing, a growing role in the way we assess leaders.”

Driving technological innovation

The profession is also actively driving digital transformation. Ha describes an internal lab that works on creating new data-driven tools. “We are incorporating those elements into our processes. We view technology, ultimately, as an enabler to the process that can help us increase, and enhance the work that we do. It’s a complement that allows us to do what we do faster, better, more insightfully for our clients. We still think the human element is going to be the most important factor. We want to innovate, and offer our clients insights with our tools and our platforms, so that they can continue to improve their employer brands, and attract the best talent, and feel that the candidates and talent that they’re meeting are being assessed in the best possible way.”

Technology may be able to mitigate human bias, according to Nielsen. “Technology is blind; we are not, and no matter how hard we try in being unbiased when we make these assessments on candidates relative to client needs and cultures, there’s always going to be an element of unconscious bias, and I think if AI can eliminate it, it could help us minimize the effect it has on our decisions.”

Hasell identifies specific technological developments that address serious client concerns. For example, “Technology helps provide clients the confidence that their search partners are addressing GDPR compliance. For global firms, that is a requirement. Client portals provideclients quick, real time access to what we're doing. Soall of that is just helping what we do, but it will never replace what we do in terms of high touch and in-person evaluation.”

What is the future relationship between tech and consulting?

According to Agrawal, “The opportunity is to partner with it, not to try and compete with it.” She observes, “For all of the LinkedIn searches, at the end of the day in our firm about 60, 70% of searches still get filled by using the phones and scouring the networks. So it still comes back to intuition, instinct, experience and deep access to candidates, and being able to know what you’re really looking for.”

And that is what clients value. Schubert says, “I think it is the advice we give, the search strategy, our recommendation of what direction to take according to the strategy of the client. And then the final match: is this the person in the end who will add massively to the value of the company? That is something that will still be of value to the client.”

Logue agrees. “It’s all about leveraging technology. It’s not going to make our roles go away, it’s going to enable us to identify better profiles, and maybe get there faster, which is one thing that clients are asking for: global access to talent, faster. But at the end of the day, we’re in the people business, so humans are hiring humans, and there are things that technology will not replace, and that’s the interpersonal assessments and dynamics of leadership teams and boards and having an ability to understand the company and the business and the market, and all of the dynamics that technology will not be able to replace. You can’t replace the emotional side.”

It’s personal

There is an inestimable value in insight, judgment, discernment and appreciation of nuance that an algorithm cannot replace.

Czarnota says, “From resume screening to background research, technology can provide a huge boost. When it comes to helping the client choose the best option from those great candidates, however, technology reaches its limits. Even with incredible improvements in AI, I don’t see robots replacing search consultants in nuanced discussions about how a given candidate would fit into a client’s organization, or how to weigh one against another.”

For Ha, “At the end of the day, I just can’t see a board of directors saying, ‘Let’s hit a button,’ and have the right answer be spit out. I just think there are too many things that will require a human to be in that process. Only until such a time when the board consists of just machines, then maybe that’s when they won’t need any of us.”

He adds, “But until that time, I think the human element is still going to prevail, because of the relationships that we have. We’re going to use that data, we’re going to use those tools, to continue to help our clients shape their teams.” 

Consultative vs. Transactional

Digitization plus client pressure on fees and speed fuels concern that the services executive search and leadership firms provide could become commoditized; that technology and transparency will turn the profession’s offerings from painstaking, data-rich but human-forged insights into not much more than an app. Is this an existential threat, or just an imaginary monster in the closet?

From Agrawal’s perspective, “Clearly the middle in recruitment is getting more transactional. As recruiters have easier access to many candidates, candidates themselves are becoming a little bit more transactional. Those firms that stay relevant will truly play the role of the trusted advisor and focus much more on the holistic C-suite issues of a business than just on one immediate search.”

“While jobs with standard requirements may be easy to fill with minimal discussion,” Czarnota says, “the custom nature of most leadership assignments means we need to build relationships with clients to understand both their spoken and unspoken needs. As the value of good leadership becomes more and more apparent, we see clients continuing to give it the time and energy it deserves.”

Forte adds, “I don’t see CEOs submitting their resumes through LinkedIn. It’s not so simple, because they don’t want to be exposed in this way. Most of the positions are confidential, so it’s not easy for an in-house recruiter to call competitors, to approach competitors, et cetera. When dealing with people, analyzing people, attracting people, negotiating with people, the personal approach is irreplaceable, especially in top management.”

While lower and mid-level placements can more readily be met by in-house or contingent recruiters, the profession is not, and never has been, about filling an order. Logue says, “Companies are not engaging us just to put a body in a chair. They’re thinking about things on a much bigger, broader scale, and it’s much more strategic. Clients need to know how this person will fit into their leadership team; what that means for internal succession planning; what will position them for success in the future.”

Making the transition to being a trusted advisor requires trust, time, and even training. Nielsen says, “Related to this is AESC’s commitment to offering educational events, seminars and programs to the staff of member firms. A lot of that is directed toward being better partners, moving away from being transactional to becoming trusted advisors to our clients; from researcher forums to the famed relationship that AESC has with Cornell University, offering an advanced certificate in executive search and leadership consulting. A number of people who have attended that are raving about not just the program in itself, but how that has helped them become better practitioners of our profession.”

Diversity in the Profession

It seems as if the conversation about diversity in the profession has been going on forever. Looking to the next five years, is that conversation going to change?

The cultural context

“I think in five years, we are going to show a lot of progress because it’s been proved that diversity brings results,” Forte says. However, he puts the diversity conversation in an important cultural context. “In Brazil, for example, it’s difficult to talk about diversity because we have a very deep and complex social problem. The more educated people, the people that have opportunities are white Brazilians, for example. In Brazil, other people don’t have the same chances as white Brazilians to be in the best schools and the best universities.”

Therefore, Forte explains, “To have real diversification in companies in Brazil will take much more time because first, we need to solve a social problem. I think in the US, it’s far from perfect, but it’s much better. So, the answer is different, country by country, society by society. But I would say I am optimistic because most countries, most societies, are much more concerned nowadays about this issue than before.”

Logue recognizes an evolution, too. “We’ve been talking about diversity in the profession for years, as we’ve gone from acknowledgement to action. I think for the next generation of leaders, the whole issue of diversity is less of a mental adjustment for them. So, over time, the reality of diversity and inclusion will just become a little bit more innate.”

For example, she says, “Ten years ago or so, the diversity conversation in leadership was primarily about women, and now it’s a lot more recognition of the different types of diversity including ethnicity, age, diversity of thought, industry experience, functional experience, all of those things. To be responsive to the needs of our clients, our advisory profession has to reflect the nature of our clients.”

“I’m an optimist,” she says. “It’s going to continue to improve.”

Reaching new markets

Diversity in the profession, for Kaneko, is a requirement for the profession’s growth in emerging markets. “When we look at world economies, Asia Pacific (and maybe to some extent the Middle East and Africa), these regions are going to have a tremendous economic impact. That said, our typical leadership perspective comes mainly from traditional constituencies in developed and mature countries such as the US or the UK.” He explains, “In order to actualize expanding opportunities outside of our traditional markets, if we are to pursue emerging markets, we need to seriously think about how we diversify our own constituency in order to be sensitized and be aware of the changing world economy.”

Reflecting the client, the talent, and the universe

According to Agrawal, “Inside the profession is really going to be a reflection of what’s outside in the clients that we serve. And as companies embrace diversity more holistically, we have no option but to do so ourselves.” Ha sees this in practice. “More and more clients are demanding that we bring diverse teams to work for them, recognizing that a more diverse workforce will always bring a variety of benefits.”

Logue predicts, “Clients absolutely will be looking for advisors in executive search and in succession planning and assessment who understand the demographics of the talent. This is where I think it’s critical that we assemble the best teams of consultants to serve our clients, and there’s diversity in that. So absolutely, clients will be demanding diverse teams of advisors to be able to advise them, and also then, from there, attract that diverse talent.”

Speaking for Russell Reynolds Associates, Czarnota says, “Diversity in our business is a requirement to serving clients well, and it is a top priority for us. My hope is that our understanding of diversity will continue to grow and expand, so that it’s not just about achieving equal representation for women and ethnic groups—these should be table stakes—but also about bringing into the conversation people who might feel marginalized for less obvious reasons. Our strength lies in hearing from all voices, not just some.”

Hasell adds, “If you are not capably representing the universe, and the universe as we know is diverse, then I think you’re really limited to how you can add value to an external organization, be it as a partner within a search firm or a search partner to a client. Diversity has to remain on the agenda until you can look around the room and see a balanced, diverse platform.”

Wishful thinking, or inevitable?

Bullis says, “I don’t think diversity is going to be less of a conversation in five years, but in 15, probably. At least in the US, we’re going to see an increasingly diverse population of leaders, simply because the population itself is more diverse, and more equal. And that’s going to be because of societal changes for the better,” she says.

“It would be great if diversity just became baked into the DNA of every company, every client, every search firm, and every candidate slate to the point where it would become an irrelevant topic,” Hasell says. “But I think that’s years away. So I hope that there’s a continued commitment to apply pressure from investors and owners for search firms and the clients they serve to see the benefit of diversity and the benefit of it to the bottom line and the top line, and of course the culture.”

Getting it right

Filling quotas, diversity without inclusion, a superficial definition of “diverse,” and failing to encourage diversity of thought are some of the pitfalls consultants help their clients avoid.

For Arts, “A big challenge over the coming years will really be to have broader discussions in terms of diversity. Many corporates are not yet sensitive to diversity in its broader sense. It remains very often related to gender. You have to have a broader conversation, and that is our responsibility. In order to have diversity, it demands so much discipline from the client’s point of view but also discipline from us as a whole in our profession.”

Agrawal cautions that superficial diversity hires do not provide much value. For example, she says, “There is no point hiring somebody who’s Indian, but who has spent all of their life and work experience restricted to say, the Midwest in the US, and who doesn’t really have an appreciation for the issues on the ground here in India. You have to go much deeper.”

For example, she describes a recent board search specifically seeking diverse candidates. “It’s a global technology company, and maybe 60%, 70% of their workforce is in India and Asia. I asked, “How many Indians do you have on your board?” And the client answered, “I have one Asian, but he’s Chinese-American.” And I thought, how is this working if you do not have somebody at board level who understands the issues in the region? So that’s a different kind of diversity.”

These lessons apply to diversifying any profession, including executive search and leadership consulting. 

Within the profession, Nielsen says, “My hope is that in five years from now, although we’ll still be talking about diversity, we will have a more holistic and more mature discussion about it, where we look more broadly at diversity in terms of diversity of experiences, diversity of cultural backgrounds, rather than more single-eyed looking at how diversity is defined at this point in time. But unfortunately, I think it’s going to take not just this profession, but I think it’s going to take the world much more than five years to get to a point where diversity is something that we no longer need to address in many of our conversations.”

Closing the sale

It’s a rewarding profession, according to Hasell. “There is a great opportunity in our profession to effect change in the way businesses are run and managed, and ultimately, the return they provide.” She says, “No one comes out of the womb saying ‘I want to be an executive recruiter!’ and what we need to do is reach a broader and more diverse audience, and convince them of the gratification of being a recruiter and having that impact on a corporation as it changes and grows.”

From Aureli’s perspective, “It is on us to encourage people from diverse social backgrounds, ethnicities, and of course gender diverse people to enter our profession.”

Kaneko plots the trajectory for the discussion of diversity: “In the future I hope diversity is such where we don't think about it. It’s just simply going to be the air we breathe. Diversity is not ‘the agenda’ we hope to solve. Rather, diversity is a driving growth for our industry in this changing economic world.”

Vision of the Future

Considering the panoply of qualities that a professional services consultant must have, in the future Forte says, “We need to continue being consultative to our clients. We must understand their businesses. We need to understand people: how to evaluate people, how to advise people. We need to understand what’s going on with technology, with the digital world.” He adds, “The most important thing is to be prepared for the future. This is the value that we can bring to our clients.”

What might that future hold?

Arts says, “I think we ask this question ourselves often. What is the future with all the changes going on? When you see that AESC, for example, exists now for 60 years, you think, ‘My God, the profession still is there, 60 years on.’ And the core where clients need advice and need expertise and need quality leadership advisory skills, this will remain. I honestly think this will remain for quite a long time.”

For Schubert, the future is about increasing the profession’s value to clients. “We will go into even deeper, closer relationships with our clients; we will have even stronger long-term advisor relationships with the C-level. That is the main thing which I see on the long term: getting closer to the client, meeting more leadership advisory needs and providing even more advisory support within executive search projects.”

Ha envisions more growth to come. “My sense is that in some markets, particularly China or India which are of course huge, the offering of a retained search process is still in its infancy, and I’m hoping that over time, whether it’s three years, five years, or more, there is going to be an increasing recognition by clients there that there is a difference in terms of a retained model, in terms of what you get, and the quality, and the caliber, and even the speed.”

Change is coming

What are the consequences of change for the profession? Logue says, “Every industry has been disrupted by technology, and those who can adapt will survive. That applies to our profession, too. The whole business world is changing, so executive search needs to adapt to support that change.”

“In the Chinese language, crisis and opportunity utilize the same Chinese characters,” Kaneko says. “So how do we look at it? How do we look at the next five to ten years for our industry? Do we look at this as a crisis due to digital transformation, geopolitical risk, changing world economy, reduction of a total historical workforce? Do we look at that as a crisis? Or do we look at that as an opportunity?”

Kaneko asks, “Are we in a position to shape our industry, or are we going to be shaped by the coming transformation? I think we are the ones who need to define our industry, ourselves, in the future.”

Boggis-Rolfe observes, “It would be very odd if it didn’t change over the long haul. One of the definitions of life is change. When things don’t change, they’re dead. So of course the profession will change, and I think that the underlying requirement for search and the existence of the search profession isn’t in any doubt at all.”

Why so optimistic? For Bullis, “The science feeds the art. It’s not one versus the other. Those who succeed in executive search will be those who harness science in order to make the art all the better and more powerful. But it will be because ultimately, from the client’s perspective, the art is absolutely fabulous.”

Ha’s hope for the future “is that the idea of a retained search process will continue to take hold and grow, so that in the end, the quality of placements, and talent will also reflect that. I think that’s how hopefully society improves, and things get better.”

It’s urgent

Boggis-Rolfe is convinced. “The most important thing that any organization does is recruiting, hiring, retaining, and developing their key people. Because what determines whether an organization is successful or not is whether it’s got the right people in the key jobs,” he says.

"Few if any organizations can survive bad leadership for long.”

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