Executive Researchers: The Special Forces of the Recruitment World?

Executive Researchers: The Special Forces of the Recruitment World?

“Your role – to capture intelligence and carry out research – is similar to that of the military.”

This was a comparison, according to Simon Thomas, Head of Brands & Insight, Talentworks International, made by former Director of the UK’s Special Forces Lt. Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, during a chance encounter between the two men.
Lamb, a retired British Army officer and a former Commander of the Field Army, is now Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. His Speaker Bio states that he is ‘Considered to be “a particularly aggressive general” with a reputation for “toughness and blasphemous plain speaking” http://www.leadingauthorities.com/speakers/Graeme-Lamb.html

A phrase that leads neatly on to the first speaker at the Executive Research Association (ERA) Annual Conference, held in the wonderful setting of Sadler’s Wells Theatre a few weeks ago. https://theera.org/april-2014-era-conference-2014/

Neil Morrison is Group HR Director – UK & International Companies at Penguin Random House UK. Morrison was known to me via Twitter (@neilmorrison) and his blog Change-Effect, but this was my first sighting of him in person. Declaring the executive research world to be “quite posh”, Morrison confided to the audience that “I love HR”, a touching moment worthy of our performing arts venue.
However in the true spirit of those who speak the plainest to those they love the most, the Sweet Thing of the van Morrison song suddenly metamorphosized into a tough Army General type as he launched into a brief summary of the problems with HR as he saw them. Morrison briefly addressed these problems with his 10 point agenda for change; this mirrored his blog earlier this year, well worth a read http://change-effect.com/2013/01/07/hr-a-10-point-agenda-for-change/
(My notes record that Morrison was “restless, constantly on the move, water bottle in his hand” – he reminded me of a prowling leopard with hints of Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and Jeremy Paxman).

As if in leopard mode, Morrison settled down to tell the audience that sourcing candidates is like hunting; from an HR perspective, resourcing is about honing what we do anyway. With specific reference to recruitment, he was not of the view that the recruitment model is dead but did think that some repurposing and realignment is necessary. People are much more careful due to the changed economic situation but they are still using search and research.

Candidate experience, candidate experience, candidate experience: this is where the focus should be.

Exit Morrison, enter Simon Thomas, who hoped not to disappoint if he remained a little more static while he spoke. Thomas picked up the baton of candidates, comparing them to “consumers: people who are ‘buying a job from a company’; we need to give them the right deal.” Work is a massive commitment of people’s time so we need to consider what Thomas prefers to describe as the “Employment Value Proposition (EVP)”. This was a great day for ‘Love’: “I love EVP” – whatever we say must be visible, consistent, differentiated, distinctive, authentic”. A closing comment from Thomas: “You should map the touch points with the candidate: you really cannot communicate too much.” And so say all of us!

An afternoon panel set to work on Diversity. Karina Robinson’s firm Robinson Hambro was part of the Advisory Group to Lord Davies’s Women on Boards, which launched a Code of Conduct for search firms aimed at increasing the participation of women. A few quotes from her: “Chairmen want to hear the business case” and “Quotas are not the same as targets”.

Sarah Churchman is head of Diversity & Inclusion and Employee Wellbeing at PwC UK. Churchman shed some light on the struggles going on behind the scenes in many large companies, where there is “passive resistance by many senior people.” The social justice case for change is very strong, with data now being used to drive change: “Data is everything for accountants.”

We spoke of military intelligence earlier; the other panel member was Mandy McBain MBE, a former Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander who now works for Stonewall. McBain exudes a quiet strength that undoubtedly disarmed naval commanders opposed to equality. She advocated visibility: “equality credentials on company websites, visible role models, visible inclusion, visible policies and procedures.”
As the remaining panel member, such remarks about websites were like music to my ears. Many organisations are very active in the field of diversity and try to attract candidates who, as McBain said, “mirror the constituency”, but one would never know this judging by many websites.

The final speaker of this well-attended day (c. 70 delegates) was Karen Blakeman, MD of RBA Information Services. Blakeman spoke of “Building an effective search strategy”. Enthusiasm personified, she totally belies some people’s perception that anyone with library and information credentials is (whisper it) “boring.” Google, Bing, Boolean, Yandex, Blekko – the words tripped off her tongue as she took the audience on an exciting whirl of how to track down the right person for the right post. If Morrison was the leopard, Blakeman was the determined hunter who would surely leave every TV detective gasping for breath. Underneath the excitement, however, one could sense the sheer hard work involved. No wonder Simon Stephenson, the event’s Chairman, had told us that “Many were too busy to come today”: we know now that they were all Googling, Binging, Booleaning, Yandexing and Blekkoing around the place!

Lessons for other recruiters not involved in the heights and depths of executive research? There are clearly three:
● Treat candidates properly: candidate experience is everything
● Have a nose for diversity
● If you are not prepared to shed blood, sweat and tears, you are in the wrong job

Anne Tynan is an Equality & Diversity Consultant (@AnneTynan)