We're Better off Collaborating

Tandem whitewater kayakers collaborating in a competition

Four major periodicals have published articles about changes in the executive search profession (The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist and the Financial Times). They all pretty much say the same thing: In-house functions are taking work away from firms.  All four articles have spawned some thoughtful (and some not-so thoughtful) comments from search firms and internal recruiters alike. As a consultant to the profession with experience on both sides of the desk, here's my take:*

Many in-house teams are providing services and value that exceed that delivered by many search firms (measured by client and candidate satisfaction, as well as by quality of hire). Those that enjoy long term success have, first and foremost, active CHRO engagement in the group’s activity. Further, the successful in-house teams are those that have developed rigorous workflows, processes and procedures that integrate well with other HR departments, especially talent management and staff recruiting. Finally, the most successful in-house teams value the benefits of quality of hire over those of cost savings.

Implementing a successful in-house team, however, is easier said than done; and many companies fail to achieve long-term success. Companies without senior executive support, with the wrong person leading the initiative, or without integrated processes will either fizzle, never expand beyond mid-level management recruiting, or will continually see the best assignments outsourced to firms. Additionally, the business case for developing an in-house function isn’t viable for every company.

Hence, there will always be a place for search firms. However, they are no longer able to rest on their laurels and must become more responsive to customer expectations. Those that will be successful are those that—consistently—deliver superior service and quality placements; they will have capabilities and cultures of flexibility, ethics, accountability, high quality and client focus. Further, firms will need to improve their process  efficiencies, better leverage technology and significantly increase internal collaboration.

Without question, the profession is changing. I believe there will be a place for both high-performing search firms and high-performing internal functions. The profession, each of us practitioners individually, and the market overall will be best served without an us-versus-them mentality and increased collaboration among all of us.

*This content was originally published in the comments to The Economist's article. My whitepaper Trends in Executive Search Profession has more detail about the current direction of the profession and how firms can adapt.

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