The Three Understandings in Retained Executive Search


Retained Executive Search understandings

A couple of posts back under the title “Get it Right the First time”, we looked at the advantages offered by a Retained Executive Search firm versus a Contingent Search firm in hiring senior executives.  (You can revisit that post here and/or download our E-Book “Retained or Contingency.”)

That discussion came down heavily in favor of “retained,” but left you at the starting post. Great, you’ve got the right horse for the track but you are a long way from home.  There is more, much more, to be learned before you can feel comfortable that what you are doing will get you where you want to be.

Here are three basic understandings that govern the success of any retained executive hiring initiative.

1.  Understand the game

The selection of retained search as your model gets you off to a good start, but there is a lot to learn.  You are likely acting on a referral but if not, there is an initial selection or short-list to make.

There are thousands of executive search firms and the best in the world are members of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (as are we). So, start here.  The AESC logo is a respected and reliable indication that you are choosing to do business with an expert and trustworthy organization.

Your due diligence process should cover major issues.  Does your talent pool need to be global? Does the firm have a track record in your business?  Is this a domestic hire or cross-border? If the latter, who is managing it?  What is the average time to engagement? What is the stick rate at 24 months?

Then there is the part of the iceberg under the surface.  Do these people really understand your business?  Do they understand you? Are they people you are willing to spend time with?  Do you admire or at least respect the way they run their own business?

2.  Understand the partnership

This is not just another client-customer contract.  To achieve the best result, you must become partners with your retained executive search firm.

Recognize that in addition to far-ranging access to top talent, the recruiting team is bringing to the table specialist skills, knowledge and intuition that you don’t have.

They look at things differently.  Don’t get hung up on your description of who you want. The search pros are more interested in hearing what it is you need to accomplish.

The best recruiters think like engineers.  They look at the desired end-state and then look at how they can get you there.

That includes looking way down the road.  We can quickly become attracted to great talent with the subject matter expertise and resume that fits perfectly.  After reviewing a dynamite resume, a successful phone screen and a great in-person interview, your reaction is “wow, this lady is off the chart.”

Your partners will help you see 18 months down the line.  Studies point to a breakdown in the culture fit as one of the five main reasons for 40% of executives failing inside the first 18 months.

To minimize this risk, successful executive search firms spend a lot of time assessing the fit.  They get to know the candidates and they need to get to know you.    It’s important that you contribute “environmental information” that will help your partner to understand where you are coming from, your priorities.

And walk the talk. There’s no point in claiming to be a nimble, fast-moving organization if you take two weeks to respond to your emails.


3.  Understand your candidate

Finally, you have to understand what is motivating the candidate.  Once you have arrived at a provisional choice, you need to know why she or he would choose you.

The more senior the position, the more personal the selection exercise becomes. The person you engage will be your peer, will have to fit in with the leadership team. He or she must be someone able to understand and share sometimes intimate aspects of management and leadership.

Which brings us to trust. Today, trust at work is fundamental to a company’s corporate strategy because the employer-employee relationship is one of the most tangible trust-points in our lives.

To take the culture fit issue one step further, you and your colleagues must be satisfied that this is someone you can work with, someone you feel you can trust.

Your candidate is no less concerned.  He or she is about to make a major commitment, and a huge life choice comes with risk.  A wrong placement can have devastating effects on the reputation and career of the person being hired.  Professionals with an otherwise illustrious career have suffered major setbacks as a result of having been hired into a leadership positions for which they were not prepared.


Next Steps

Finding or replacing a talented leader has probably never been easy.  Today, technology, innovation, globalization and heightened life awareness make it more complicated every day.

Building a top-notch leadership team is rated by many organizational gurus as the most important task of a business enterprise.  A fundamental element is anticipation.

So, before the need arises, research the optimum path to attracting and securing the best talent in the world.  A good starting point, IMHO, is our website at, where you will find good information, links to learn more, and access to people worth listening to..



Share this post

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *