For someone who caught the 5:30am train into London, Wendy Foster enters our Chancery Lane offices - takeaway coffee cup in hand - with an unexpectedly upbeat and energetic aura.
Wendy conducts herself with the same degree of professionalism and astuteness she’d expect from any one of her candidates; perhaps it’s this level of awareness and self-discipline that’s been the driving force behind her successful, decade-long career as an executive search consultant.
Despite being based in the idyllic Cotswolds in regional England, Wendy’s vast international network and client portfolio is impressive enough to rival any London-based consultant.
The last twelve months have been marked by political, legislative and economic upheaval. To find out what impact these events have had on the executive search market, we asked Wendy to come in and give us a full update.
Uncertain times; certain investments.
With Brexit right around the corner, many organisations are expressing concern about how the impending changes will impact existing and future talent streams - particularly organisations with offices in both the UK and Europe.
It’s up to us to provide the answers, says Wendy. “It’s our job to guide businesses through the uncertain times ahead with clear and regular communication, total transparency and valuable insights.”
Even with today’s ambiguous political and economic environment, there’s still a strong overseas interest in the UK executive talent market.
“A growing number of foreign businesses are looking to appoint senior leaders in the UK, particularly small and medium-sized, US-based, businesses - and succession planning is something that’s also on their agenda,” says Wendy.
“Surprisingly, a large number of these organisations are looking for talent outside of London, so I’m spending a lot of my time connecting my clients with regional talent pools.”
Minimising the margin for error.
Relying on traditional recruitment and sourcing methodology is no longer an option, says Wendy, who is adamant that executive search providers need to adapt to the changing hiring demands of their clients.
“Organisations are investing in a number of innovative tools that stray outside the traditional realms of recruitment.”
“There’s no longer a heavy reliance on sources like LinkedIn - robotesque search methodology is what our clients need to generate a more rigorous search process.”
When it comes to taking on board senior leaders, the margin for error is so small, she points out.
“You’ve got to get it right the first time, because if you get it wrong, the impact on your business can be catastrophic,” she says.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 80% of employee turnover is due to poor hiring decisions – with Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, going so far as claiming bad hires had cost his business "well over $100 million."
The cost of a bad hire starts at around 30% of their annual salary and climbs as far upwards as five times their annual salary. For leadership position, the stakes are even higher, with brand reputation and employee morale, productivity and retention also on the table.
“Employers need to utilise every resource at their disposal to minimise risk: from thorough marketplace mapping through to psychometric testing and assessment centres – even your gut instinct.”
“To ensure a smooth onboarding of leadership, we’ve implemented coaching and leadership centres for all of our senior executive placements. Larger organisations might already have a programme in place, but this service has huge value for small and medium-sized businesses.”
Bored of old-fashioned boards.
In the last few years, the lack of diversity of senior and board-level leaders has occupied a permanent place in the news headlines, particularly in regards to gender diversity.
Thanks to government and shareholder pressure, the number of women on FTSE boards has risen dramatically since 2011, and last year we saw a number of precedents take place, such as Emma Walmsley taking on the role of CEO for GSK, making her the most powerful woman in the FTSE 100.
UK firms are punching well above the global average with around 15% of executive roles currently held by women, according to McKinsey, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement (35% to be exact) – our peers in the US and Australia operate at 19% and 21% respectively.
We’re also seeing the overall make-up of boards alter dramatically, says Wendy.
“As well as welcoming in more women, boards are increasingly taking on younger members, and they’re also becoming leaner. As businesses are replacing outdated hierarchical structures with flatter and more agile models, there’s a growing trend for organisations to only appoint board members that actually need to be on it.”
A chance for change.
As organisations continue their endeavour to build an agile, collaborative and innovative workforce, they’re also adjusting their preferences to the types of leaders they wish to appoint.
“The strong, powerful, egotistical behaviour that was once acceptable, and perhaps even encouraged, back in the 80s and 90s is no longer welcome in today’s workplace,” says Wendy.
So, what attributes do organisations want in a leader?
Wendy pauses to think about it. “Adaptability. Open-mindedness. Creativity. And definitely a hands-on attitude,” she says. “Organisations need leaders that lead from the frontlines, not from their cosy corner offices.”
To find out more insights and trends impacting the executive search market, get in touch with Wendy today on +44 121 634 5196 firstname.lastname@example.org