Boyden Executive Search

Food For Thought is a series highlighting discussions about candidates, organizations, assessments and boards. Authored by Kenneth V. Mortensen, Managing Partner of Boyden Denmark and Board Director, he has more than 20 years’ experience in the executive search industry.

By Kenneth Vinther Mortensen

DISRUPTION is prevailing in numerous industries, yet no one can truly predict the world of tomorrow. Because disruption is frequently a consequence of the increasing use of data analytics and digital technology, companies must stay on top of their game by continually innovating and implementing new digital techniques. The potential for disruption also places new demands on employees and leaders to consider the wider ramifications that disruption could have on relevant industries.

Ten years ago, no one could have predicted the importance that data analytics and digital technology would take on. Big data and wide-spread adoption of online platforms have made the rise of companies such as Uber possible.

The taxi industry had not changed for decades, and few would have expected it to, until a young Californian revolutionized it with software. Now the industry faces a formidable challenge to its status quo. Uber’s success has also spurred the growth of many other similarly asset-light business models. To cite an example from the hospitality industry, Airbnb has challenged existing players in the industry and forced them to adapt to new, previously unforeseen competitive pressures.

It is safe to assume that the number of digitally anchored businesses will continue to grow. Many industries could be left behind if they fail to transform along with digital developments, particularly those driven by innovative data scientists focused on building technology platforms with smart analytics.         

How does this relate to the executive search industry?

The executive search industry has experienced dramatic development as a result of technology. I can personally recall when job opportunities were promoted in newspapers. Fortunately, we have come a long way since. Technological development brought about online marketplaces such as Jobindex, About.com and career oriented social media sites like LinkedIn. But as the landscape becomes ever more sophisticated, what will be next?

Transitioning from traditional to digital

From a critical perspective, the executive search industry has not historically been among the most innovative or technology centred industries. This is changing. With the growing importance of digital innovation, executive search professionals are working towards increased implementation of digital techniques. The question is whether this will be enough in an industry that has been conservative for so long.

Social media and databases are increasingly acknowledged as sources of value creation, but the transformation of data into workable insights is a vast and complex undertaking. One immediate advantage, however, lies in candidates’ increased use of social media for personal branding. This activity can be leveraged to our advantage, as it provides a fuller picture of the candidate. It can also help meet increasing demands for speed and quality.

In many ways, linear growth is replacing exponential growth. This has major implications for every organization, as it creates the need for leaders capable of navigating an entirely different universe – one in which globalisation occurs at an unprecedented pace and shifting direction. The ability to adapt to change and lead in uncertain environments have become increasingly sought after competencies.

For recruiters, it is becoming more important to find leaders with global competencies through the use of extensive networks. To find the best-suited candidates with the right capabilities, the search process must be conducted on a far more international scale. This increases the candidate pool, but it also increases the complexity of the assessment process.

More global search processes necessitate greater focus on building international and integrated executive search firms that operate on a global basis, rather than specialising exclusively in a single country. The growing demands on future leaders naturally place greater demands on the executive search industry to deliver high quality at high speed.

Accomplishing this requires a highly skilled, experienced and dedicated workforce, capable of truly grasping the complexity of candidates, to conduct challenging worldwide searches. To succeed in the future, the executive search industry must adopt more sophisticated and innovative search methods, along with a deep understanding of the more complex requirements of a given role to become a trusted advisor to clients and deliver results in a fast-changing environment.

To ensure the most beneficial platforms are utilised, the value-creating opportunities of internal databases should be re-evaluated in relation to external databases. Platforms such as LinkedIn are highly accessible and tend to offer more up-to-date candidate information; however their value generating opportunities are limited.

It is likely that, in the near future, possessing unique knowledge about a candidate, ideally obtained through personal relations and networks rather than databases, will take precedence.

Getting personal with candidates

A personal relationship gives the recruiter insight into an individual’s preferences and requirements for future positions. In particular, knowing the candidate’s timing considerations is crucial. Given the war for talent and shorter employment tenures, understanding whether a candidate is ready to leave their current job or would prefer to stay for a few more years will become an even more decisive competitive edge.

Like it or not, most industries will eventually be affected by or even completely disrupted by technology going forward. Those unwilling to adapt to these rapidly changing circumstances will likely not succeed. Recruiters must be proactive in growing their networks, gaining access to unique information about candidates, and in this way, continuously delivering candidates that create value by meeting clients’ criteria for success and need for speed.

Being progressively candidate and client focused could be a matter of competitive edge in the long run.


For more information about disruption in the executive search industry, please contact Kenneth Vinther Mortensen by phone +45 20 44 42 42 or email kvm@boyden.dk.

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