The ‘ease of choice’ in vacancies for top executives is greater than ever. ‘The focus of the headhunter has shifted from detecting candidates to selecting those who are best able to manage complexity within an ever-changing, dynamic work environment,’ says Frank De Mey, Partner & Co-Founder at Valpeo.
‘The world is changing faster and faster and so is our industry,’ says Frank De Mey, Partner & Co-Founder at Valpeo, a leadership advisory organization with outstanding expertise in filling top vacancies and leadership roles.
‘A rise in prosperity over recent decades has allowed more people access to a better education. As a result, there are more candidates aspiring to top positions, including the role of CEO. At the same time, there are increasingly higher expectations because the complexity of these positions has grown rapidly.’
More and more candidates
‘For organizations, the challenge is more than ever to find the ultimate CEO,’ believes De Mey. ‘Companies have to respond to, and meet, diverse expectations from an increasing number and variety of stakeholders. In addition, companies are expected to act in a socially responsible manner. In a market where more and more qualified and relevant potential candidates are presenting themselves, it becomes essential to pay even more attention to the fit between candidate and company.’
Many people can define the problems, it is much more difficult to find someone who can solve them.
‘That fit is no longer prioritized by the experience someone brings to the table but rather by the extent to which he or she is able to fully understand the complexity, ambitions and strategic priorities of the organization and of the business environment in which it operates.’
The bigger picture
The intentions and ambitions of the organization must be clearly and explicitly stated. If they are not, there is a risk of attracting the wrong candidates in the selection and appointment of new executives and not least in the choice of the next CEO.
The candidates themselves also increasingly want to be appreciated for the value they bring through the contribution they make with others.
Unique and authentic
‘A candidate is much more than a constructed frame of reference. He or she wants to express their own authentic and unique personality. The candidate’s own value framework should match the desired culture of the organization and the candidate should be able to fully understand the challenges of tomorrow,’ says De Mey.
‘Experience is no longer the barometer for success. And there is another challenge: many people can define the problems, it is much more difficult to find someone who can solve them. If the most important challenges are not clearly formulated at the start of a search, the chances of success are not realistic. Boards of directors have an important responsibility here, by the way, to convey the company’s ambitions clearly and with clarity.’’
Individual added value
The world has not become any easier for candidates moving up to C-level either. There are more and more candidates for the positions they believe they are qualified for.
The fit is no longer determined by the experience a person brings but by the degree to which he or she is able to understand the complexity of the organization.
‘Determining how a candidate will fulfill a dynamic role in an environment that is constantly changing is the new challenge for the search partner. They must therefore be able to expertly assess the authenticity, the unique core and the individual added value of candidates’, says De Mey.
Insight into comfort zone
What can a candidate do in this new market reality? ‘Potential executives and CEO candidates need to have an increased understanding of their own comfort zone and the type of role and environment for which they are optimally employable. Some are already succeeding very well,’ says De Mey.
But not every challenge is equally complex and there is still insufficient awareness of this. Optimizing processes or defining and shaping the strategy for the medium term, for example, is fundamentally different from fulfilling a new socially relevant role for the organization.
A fundamentally different world has also emerged for headhunters. ‘In the 1980s and 1990s, headhunters profiled themselves as sellers of very expensive résumés,’ laughs De Mey. ‘Due to the relative absence of assessments, while some of the placements led to success stories, at least as often – and only afterwards of course – there was a mismatch, with occasionally disastrous consequences.’
We advise potential CEOs to invest in an increased understanding of their own comfort zone and the type of role and environment for which they are optimally suited.
‘Today, the headhunter has become the prey of many candidates. There are more and more candidates for a C-level position. Prospects – or future clients – sometimes still ask for references and are concerned with our database of potential candidates. Actually, this is hardly relevant anymore. Candidates for C-level positions have become highly visible and at least as accessible.’
Just about every potential candidate is open to the ultimate new opportunity. The metier of the headhunter has shifted from finding to thoughtfully selecting the new executive – and thus the new CEO – who fits in the best possible way into the client’s complex picture, in which the strategic priorities and challenges of the company on the one hand and the stage of development of the organization in question on the other, are of crucial importance.