Some myths endure for no apparent reason; for instance, the undying myth of the ‘head hunter’ as the sworn enemy of HR. To be fair, this fallacy is challenged by some progressive businesses, but at many firms the old adversarial perceptions remain solidly in place, writes Mosima Selekisho, director of Talent Africa.
Perhaps the root cause can be traced to job descriptions and lack of differentiation. “Recruitment” is a core HR competence. Often, this is a blanket term and covers all staff grades and managerial positions.
No distinction is made between filling a vacancy in a junior or mid-tier position and the highly specialised function of identifying strong candidates for senior posts, building a credible short-list of proven or high-potential performers and supporting a rigorous selection process.
Without differentiation like this, an HR manager may feel defensive about external executive search. A typical reaction is likely to be, “Hey, recruitment’s my job; why hire outsiders?”
It’s hardly surprising, then, that executive search outsourcing is frequently resisted.
Instead, a DIY approach is taken. Cost saving is the principal justification.
But if top talent is needed, a search rarely boils down to placing an ad and interviewing applicants. Top talent already has a good job. Those without a top post or senior experience rarely impress the hiring company’s top team when interviews start.
The entire batch of hopefuls may be rejected.
The process is then repeated. But defensiveness may result in halfway measures. Rather than approach a leading executive search business, an industry newcomer with pared-down fees is called in.
Again, the chances of success are limited.
Finally, a proven specialist is hired, but by now the process has been compromised. Potential candidates may be aware the vacancy has existed for some time, assume there are problems in the background and decide to hang back, even when approached by a top professional.
The process would have been much simpler if the professionals had been outsourced from the outset – using up less managerial time and saving on all the costs associated with delay, including under-performance by leaderless teams, inroads by competitors and dented internal morale.
Companies that embrace executive search outsourcing do so because they’ve “seen this movie before” and learned their lessons. Alternatively, the HR director takes a strategic view and regards the talent specialist as a partner.
This is understandable. At strategic level, “people risk” – the danger of not attracting and keeping the best talent – is often seen as the biggest threat to long-term growth in a market plagued by skill shortages. Executive and non-executive directors are therefore keen to build and retain a cohesive top team.
The board may be just as eager as middle management to cut costs, but the directors know the cost of selection error can be daunting.
It is therefore preferable to work with a leading specialist and tap his or her skills when defining key competencies, establishing a shortlist and initiating selection procedures. The external partner removes a burden and accelerates the process.
Co-operation like this is non-adversarial and highly beneficial. You’re not “sleeping with the enemy”, you’re working with a skilled partner, and results can be very impressive indeed.