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In the Author's Blog I collect all the articles I publish on LinkedIn, in one place and chronological order. Stay tuned - more will follow!


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A hiking trip to Lapland

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I am again going on my yearly hiking trip with my friend, and want to share this experience with you. Experienced hikers already know everything I am about to say, but this is meant for all the first-timers, so they know what to expect. We are going three weeks from now, but I already know from experience what to expect. It will be good! As an example, I will tell you how our hiking trip was last year when we visited the very same place where we are going this year too.

 

We start from Helsinki railway station with the night car train to Kolari (1 000 km north from Helsinki). Then we drive to Kilpisjärvi (järvi = lake), which is in the most north-western corner of Finland, bordering to Sweden and Norway (1 300 km from Helsinki). The target of our hiking trip is a Norwegian mountain area 30 km to the west of Kilpisjärvi, a large and stunning area with snow-topped mountains. And how do we get there? Well, we walk there through the wilderness. There are no roads, houses, or people. After you step over the main road (the only road) in Kilpisjärvi and take a few steps further, the wilderness starts. The only way to move around is by walking. We are now at our starting point.

 

I put on my hiking shoes. Gosh, I did not remember they were so heavy and clumsy. And the backpack then. After 50 hiking trips into the wilderness of Lapland, we certainly know how to stuff and load our backpack. Max. 20 kg it is. Yet, for some reason, our backpacks always seem to weigh 25-27 kg. So also this time. Well, you always have to include a six-pack of beer and a little whisky. But it does not feel so bad when I lift the backpack on my back. It feels good to be on a hiking trip again.

 

After 300 meters, I notice that I am already all sweaty. Well, If you carry an almost 30 kg backpack straight upwards along a mountain, you sweat, don't you? After 5 km, I start paying attention to how sore my shoulders are from carrying the backpack. I am not used to this yet. My shoulders are already aching. I wonder if I will be able to sleep at all next night. It feels that bad. We still have 8 km to go today. Back at the train in the restaurant, when we had some beers, in our minds we flew like birds over the mountains. Now, we can barely walk 1,5-2 km per hour in this rough terrain. We do keep pauses, but we have to walk on; otherwise, we will not reach our destiny tonight. Many are the moments when I think "who was the darn idiot that got the idea to come here in the first place".

 

Finally, late in the evening, we get to our destiny, tired and exhausted. Every single muscle is aching. We put up our tent and start the fire. Then we wash in a mountain stream. Please put on the cold water, let it run for five minutes, and you get some impression of how ice-cold the water in the stream is. And you have to go in pretty deep. How can you otherwise wash? God, what an ordeal. I would not wish this for my worst enemy.

 

But I do know from experience that washing in the ice-cold stream is worth all the hardship.

 

Because, after the washing, when you are clean and fresh comes the first "really good feeling". No tiredness or pain anymore. The scenery around us and how good we feel are like made in heaven. Now we sit by the fire and roast our sausages. We have a beer and some whisky drinks. Our minds are as relaxed as the surface of a completely calm lake. Not one single negative thought enters our minds anymore. This is just the very reason why we came here. And from here on, it only gets better, day by day.

 

Every hiking trip includes some exciting experiences. The next day we are upon a one km high mountain. Snow-topped mountain peaks everywhere, as long as you can see. How can the world be so beautiful, we think. We enjoy the moment and take a short nap up on the mountainside. When we wake up, there is a thick fog. You can barely see two meters ahead, and there are steep mountainsides around us where you can fall hundreds of meters if you take a wrong step. Does anyone remember the way we climbed up here?

 

No! Well, no problem. We stay put where we are, so no-one falls down the mountain by accident. We put up the tent by a small mountain stream, light a fire, and relax. After all, why not. We drink a whisky, or maybe two. This is an excellent place to be, I mean, a perfect location: no houses, no roads, no people, no nothing for tens of kilometers. We are entirely on our own. We finally feel one-to-one with nature. We can almost hear the wilderness talking to us. This too is why we came hiking, to experience this feeling. I do not know how you could feel better than this.

 

The next morning when we wake up, the fog is gone, and we can find our way down from the mountain, and then continue up the next mountainside. The next day I slip and fall into a creek and get soaked. No problem, my clothes will dry up as I walk. And so our hiking trip goes on. Every day a little better. But after five days we are out of food, out of whisky, all our clothes dirty and shabby, so it is time to go home. When we hike back to Kilpisjärvi, all I can think of is how nice it will be to get into a hot shower. However, when we get to Kilpisjärvi, we first go to a café to have a coffee and doughnut. When we enter the café, I pay attention to how clean and orderly everything is. I can feel the pleasant smell of the perfume from the lady at the cashier's stand. She is looking at me with her eyes wide open. Well, why not. I am an experienced hiker who just has returned from the wilderness; I probably must be looking a little like Indiana Jones, I think.

 

Then I pay attention to another strong smell, like a dead rat, and I notice that this smell is coming from me. Even though we have washed every day and changed clean underwear, my hiking jacket and trousers smell of five days of sweat, dirt, and smoke. I look into the mirror in front of me, and my skin which I thought would have a tremendous suntan after five days in the sun, had, in fact, a greasy yellow look. On top of this, I had a five-day stubble, because I had not shaved. So I looked like a genuine drunkard who had slept the whole last week in a ditch.

 

No wonder the cashier lady was looking at me with her eyes wide open. I probably don't look like Indiana Jones after all. Well, you must just overcome these kinds of hardships, I think. After a coffee and doughnut, we head for the showers, where I stay for over 30 minutes. Then we have a pizza and a cold beer. Then another cold beer and then suddenly, as if by magic, all the hardships of our hike are forgotten. Only the memories of the beautiful sceneries and wonderful moments and experiences we had are left. What a fantastic hike we had, we think. Once more, it surpassed all our expectations. And so, in our car on our way back home, we already start planning our next hike to Lapland.

 

It will be a good hike. This hike will take place three weeks from now.

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Recruiting and Executive Search after COVID-19

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We have for long known that technology, robotics, automation, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will change the world big time. Now we have one more parameter in this equation – COVID-19. This and "the COVID-19s of the future", will force the world to develop new ways and methods to minimise the impact of these viruses.

 

Our behaviour and values will change as a result of COVID-19, creating a demand for all kinds of new services and products, most yet unknown to us. This again creates opportunities for new business ideas. The business world all over, also the recruiting industry, is thinking about what these new services and products could be.

 

The job market, how you search for a new job and how people are recruited in the future, will change. It may not be enough to pay attention to only your "next job". Maybe you need to look further into the future already now before you land a job. Because that "next job" may not be there anymore after five years.  

 

The Executive Search Industry is not immune to changes. Virtual meetings and interviewing candidates virtually will likely increase, also in the Search Industry. It is not always easy for a person to take a 3-4-hour break from work to visit a Head Hunter, so to start the process with a one hour "get to know" virtual interview with the Head Hunter might not be such a bad idea. Of course, person to person interview is, in my mind, a must-have, if we continue in the recruiting process.

 

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is also likely to enter more strongly now. The benefits are indisputable. By 1) doing talent sourcing 2) locating, processing, and analysing information faster 3) providing better business intelligence 4) screening and assessing candidates, AI increases efficiency and reduces time to hire.

 

Already today, CV:s are screened by robots, and you can be dropped from the recruiting process without a human ever seeing your job application. Already today you might get to an interview, only to realise that you are interviewed by a robot and also dropped by the robot, without ever talking to a human being. This is increasing. I find this scary. I feel we should draw a line somewhere, both for ethical and professional reasons.

 

Our ethical, moral concepts, motivation, behaviour, feelings, ambitions are based on, e.g., our characteristics, culture, political views, religion, race, gender, life values, desires, education type/level, sexual orientation. Can AI truly understand this dimension of the human mindset?

 

Then the professional dimension. I like to think that the hiring Client wants a Business Partner with outstanding business acumen. A real-world live Search Consultant, who interacts with Top Executives, learns who they are, learns to know them, learns from them and continuously so - instead of a robot, an algorithm.

 

I also believe any hiring Client or Candidate prefer having a top-level Search Consultant deciding who is to become a finalist Candidate in a search process, rather than a robot doing it. While databases, Internet, LinkedIn, and AI can take you a long way, they will, in my mind, never replace an experienced professional Search Consultant in Senior Executive Management Executive Search. I like to end by quoting myself.

 

"Who would you choose? An experienced Search Consultant with excellent business acumen - with whom you have developed a good, trustworthy personal relationship over the years - with whom you can talk about anything, also personal matters, discuss business world gossip - with whom you can go golfing, or even share a pint of beer? Or, would you choose a robot, that you know may know a lot of things, but really could not care less about you - and can't even golf." 

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A Trusted Advisor in Executive Search

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Technology & social media are reshaping recruiting even as I speak. Some feel Artificial Intelligence is the big game-changer. By, e.g. talent sourcing, locating, processing, analysing information faster, screening, assessing candidates. Chances are this leads to putting ever more emphasis on technology and less on personal relationships.

 

This raises a question: Will AI endanger or strengthen the Trusted Advisor relationships in Executive Search?

 

In my mind, for both the Client and the Search Consultant, a Trusted Advisor relationship is as important as ever. We are talking about long-term and mutually benefitting Business Partner relationships, which at best  develops into a “Trusted Advisor relationship”.

 

Some People assume that it is only the Search Consultant who is a Trusted Advisor for the Client and that this is the only dimension of the phrase Trusted Advisor in Executive Search. I feel this is narrowminded thinking. It takes two to tango. In my mind, a Trusted Advisor relationship is not a one-way street.

 

When you can call a person and ask for advice, consultation, for his/her professional opinion in a for you important matter - if you can discuss everything in the strictest confidence - and knowing that this person is giving you his/her best try to help - what else is this person than a Trusted Advisor. And then, some other day this person calls you for advice and help. Now you are his/her Trusted Advisor. So, it is a two-way street. 

 

Neither is this relationship restricted only to the Search Consultant and the Client. As Research Manager, I paid much attention to developing good personal, trustworthy relationships with business executives. Many, over time, turned into Trusted Advisor relationships. It is impossible to overstate the importance and value of the advice, guidance, information, help and inspiration I got from these relationships.

 

Which top executive would not like to have a top search professional as his/hers Trusted Advisor, whom to call to consult and ask for advice in a career change situation? So, here too it was a two-way street. When it was my phone ringing, I tried to do my best in return.

 

To answer my question in the second paragraph above: At best, AI might give us more time to focus on these relationships. However, focus too much on AI, and the opposite may happen. So, in Senior Executive Management Executive Search, if I am forced to choose, I rather put my money on Trusted Advisor relationship management than trade it to AI.  

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A good Interviewer in Executive Search

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There is no magical formula as to how a perfect interviewer should look like. Two quite different kinds of persons can both be excellent interviewers. This does not mean that anyone can become a good interviewer. Certain things are a must-have for a good interviewer, e.g. proper education, specific characteristics, a respectful attitude, people skills, enough experience and expertise. The mixture may vary, but all ingredients are needed.

 

You do not have to be a master of every industry and profession, but you must have the general knowledge and also the intellect to understand what the people you are interviewing are talking about. How else can you interview them?  The higher the position in question, the more demanding the task of the interviewer becomes.  Interviewing a Candidate for a Sales Manager job in a 10 million turnover company is different from interviewing someone for a CEO job in a 1 billion € company.

 

Good communication skills and good listening skills are essential.  A genuine interest in the Candidate and what is discussed in the interview is vital. The Candidate immediately senses if this is an interview of no real interest to the interviewer. A good interviewer is always well prepared and takes the time needed. Everyone understands that the interviewer may ask some tough questions, but this should always be done in a friendly atmosphere.

 

Experience, both work and life experience are a must-have. Having met and having dealt with many people gives perspective and understanding. And even so, you must continuously keep up with what is happening in the business world. Nobody is born ready into any profession. Neither does interviewing ten or even fifty persons make anyone a master. When you have interviewed 500 persons, you may have got a hunch of what this is all about.

 

You must also like people if you want to develop into a good judge of human nature. It does not hurt to have some intuition, instinct, gut feeling. Even though it is difficult to precisely define what “gut feeling” is, I rather have this than not.  I feel this is your subconsciousness processing what you are hearing and seeing. Certainly, a good thing to have. 

 

Then, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable we are, sometimes our personal feelings, bias, preconceptions, and prejudices may impact on our opinions and actions. It is not necessarily a conscious action. We cannot help reacting to the things we see and hear, so we must therefore consciously pay attention not to let this affect our professional opinions and actions in the wrong way.

 

There is probably much more required of a top-level interviewer, but this is for starters.

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AI (Artificial Intelligence) vs moral, ethics and potential risks in recruiting

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Few technologies hold more promise than AI. And indeed, rightly used, AI has the potential to bring a lot of benefits. However, in the middle of this hype, it is good to remember that wrongly used AI can also potentially bring disaster. Every Industry has its question marks regarding benefits vs potential risk factors, neither as well-known as we would like them to be.

 

I narrow this article down to the recruiting industry and more exact to AI vs the Executive Search Industry because this is where I have made my career. I want to stress that I am here exclusively talking about C-level Searches. Some Firms also search for people to entry-level and low-level positions in general. Searching for a CEO for a billion-euro turnover company is different compared to searching for, e.g. a Coder. The process, professional experience and expertise required in C-level Searches are different. Therefore, also the question marks regarding the use of AI are different in C-level Searches.

 

In the AI pro-people end of the spectrum are, e.g. all the companies that develop and sell AI-solutions to the Executive Search Industry. Much of what you hear about "how fantastic AI is", comes from the marketing departments of these companies. It feels like they only can see good things coming out of using AI. When asked about potential AI risk factors, they often brush away the question marks people raise as theoretical ones - "Don't worry, we got it under control" is the message. Well, I can hardly blame anyone trying to sell their product. The responsibility of doing Due Diligence when buying a product belongs to the buyer.

 

There also exists AI pro-people within the Executive Search Industry. Many are ardent AI supporters, praising AI, and so excited about the potential benefits that they are sometimes "blind" to the risks. There also exist people who always want to be first in line when modern technology is implemented and are therefore AI pro-minded. That said, I know from my experience that many Search professionals are not all exactly IT or technology wizards, so the trust in AI is sometimes based more on a strong belief, than fact-based knowledge. Maybe some also believe the AI-company salespeople more than I do. Nothing wrong with that.

 

At the other end of the spectrum are the Search Professionals who, while not against AI, feel that there are also risks and want to move more slowly. We also have Search Professionals with a different philosophy, who feel that AI should never "replace" an experienced top-level Search Professional, particularly so when talking about C-level Executive Search. There also exist numerous thought-leaders, specialists and scientists, who have the knowledge, experience and perspective to understand what might happen if we get it wrong and who therefore advise extreme care. Many consulting firms, e.g. McKinsey, KPMG, PWC having researched the subject, say the same.

 

Algorithms have already for a long time been able to predict, with an impressive degree of accuracy, personal things about you using a very small number of your Facebook Likes. Personal means: gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation, religion, favourite intoxicants. (Microsoft and the University of Cambridge published some research about this in 2013). It's not news to anyone that advertising platforms like Google and Facebook collect personal information, but we have gotten so used to this, that most don't care. Maybe we should. It is 2020. These surveillance and predictive abilities have developed tremendously since 2013.

 

During the Corona crisis, Google has released county-level reports in the USA about exactly how the travel patterns have changed over the past few weeks. Google says that the data collected can't be identified or connected to an individual. Except, I have noticed I can barely walk out from a random shop, before I already get suggestions on my mobile phone about visiting similar shops. So, they likely also now when you are at home and leave home. Theoretically, you can "turn this feature off", but for practical reasons few do.

 

This example alone should send shudders down anyone's spine. These algorithms are today made by humans and can also be used for purposes not in our best interest. This is likely also happening today. What if in the future AI at some point takes control and starts developing own algorithms, that are not in our best interest? Is there any risk that this could happen in algorithms related to behavioural analysis and predictive abilities in recruiting too? 

 

One key argument in favour of AI is its ability to screen resumes without a hint of bias and to identify the best candidates in record time.

 

AI may well have these kinds of abilities. But the algorithms are human made. Coders are also biased, so who is the one deciding the rules. What if all coders creating the algorithm are Americans? Is it 100% certain that their American culture, life values, and individual biases regarding, e.g. diversity, ethical values, race, gender, politics, are not affecting their algorithm? Does this algorithm have the same reliability also in all other cultures and countries where these parameters are very different? What if all coders are Chinese, French, British, Italian? Does it matter that the AI application is in, e.g. English instead of a person's native tongue? Is there in the algorithm a country-based parameter fixing the cultural differences? I don't think so.  

 

As a human being, the recruiter is always biased. For example, recruiter A could hire a candidate that recruiter B would not even invite to a job interview. A lot of recruitment is done based on feelings, and the criteria are often quite arbitrary (Often used sales arguments by AI-recruiting software salespeople).

 

The first sentence in the chapter above is true by definition. The second sentence may be well true but is this always wrong? Should we not have the right to choose whom we like working with. In my mind, the element of chemistry and professional expertise fit should also be allowed to have some impact when recruiting, if we are to work very closely with this person. The third sentence is a generalisation, insinuating that most people who recruit don't know or care what they are doing. "A lot" and "often" are words not fitting every company or person. There exist many persons who do not hire people purely based on feelings or based on arbitrary criteria.

 

AI can undoubtedly bring benefits in screening, analysing and evaluating people in recruiting situations, but a blind trust in AI is bound to create problems. The higher up in the organisation we go when recruiting people, e.g. the C-level, the more complex and demanding everything becomes. This concerns also AI. I can spontaneously think of at least four question marks (there are certainly more):

 

  1. In my mind, the most critical issue here is related to moral and ethical aspects. If we let AI evaluate a person's ethical concepts, motivation factors, behaviour, feelings - which are based on individual cultural differences, values, desires, gender - and based on this then let AI decide who is to become a finalist and "who is the winning candidate", then we are in dangerous waters. True, a person can make mistakes here too, but then we are talking about one individual. If again, an AI algorithm is faulty, the error is in the system, impacting all recruiting taking place in all the companies using this algorithm. A straightforward example of an AI system error: An aeroplane pilot can make a mistake and bring one plane down. A faulty aeroplane autopilot has the potential to bring all planes down.

 

  1. There are legal issues. GDPR mandates that companies must be able to explain exactly how they reach individual algorithmic-based decisions about their customers (read hear Candidates). What if you can't do this and finalist Candidate "no:2" sues you because he/she is sure it was the AI that chose the winning Candidate, that made the decision and it was wrong. What if you lose?

 

  1. In the Turing test, a jury asks questions of a computer. The role of the computer is to make a significant proportion of the jury believe, through its answers to the questions, that it's actually a human. Some say it's beginning to appear that we no longer need to worry about a robot passing the Turing Test, we need to worry about it pretending to fail. Should this happen, this would mean we cannot anymore be sure that we are in control. The truth is, we may not even notice this happening.

 

  1. AI has a tremendous capability to learn and develop, but it is also influenced by the people interacting with it. There are examples where people deliberately and successfully changed the original "value system" of AI to become "bad", making AI think, e.g. that killing people is acceptable. I don't believe this kind of a value system would be good in recruiting. All you need is a "wrong bug" and someone malicious enough to utilise it. On top of this, many experts fear that AI, at some point, may develop the capability to create a value system of its own. The consequences of this could be anything.

 

Despite all my doomsday warnings, I too believe that AI can be of help in screening, assessing and predicting human behaviour. AI can also bring significant benefits in Executive Search by processing hard facts, e.g. proactively sourcing and analysing the recruiting market potential, locating and processing information efficiently, reducing time to hire. What I am saying, is, don't just have blind faith in AI, understand what you are doing, pay attention to the risks involved and tread cautiously.

 

If I was a Senior C-level Executive, who would I rather have as my business partner and trusted adviser?

 

Would I choose an experienced Search Consultant with excellent business acumen - with whom I have developed a good, trustworthy personal relationship over the years - with whom I can talk about anything, also personal matters, discuss business world gossip - with whom I can go golfing, or even share a pint of beer? Or, would I choose a robot, that I know may know a lot of things, but really could not care less about me - and can't even golf. I would choose the Search Consultant any time of the day. Who would you choose?

 

If you found this article interesting, please also read my other article about AI in my blog, that is  Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Top Level Executive Search. There I approach AI from a different point of view.

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The Value of Sharing, Listening and Observing

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Some think they only have themselves to thank for the expertise and knowledge they have acquired, feeling it is almost an insult should anyone even dare to suggest otherwise. In my mind, a short-sighted and harmful attitude, often even with negative consequences. At worst, hindering a person from listening to, observing and learning from others, potentially missing opportunities and enabling mistakes that could be avoided. 

 

Sharing

Is there a value in people sharing their experience and knowledge to others, as I do about my expertise, Executive Search, or as other people do about other subjects? I feel there is and greatly so! All the people I have met and worked with over the years, my colleagues, clients, candidates, e.g. have all had a positive impact on me developing into a top professional. They have “shared” their ideas, thoughts, and knowledge with me. If I occasionally “feel tall” it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of numerous other people. 

 

Therefore, when I during my career, acquired experience, and knowledge I felt could benefit the business world, I, in return too, want to share what I know. That said, this is not at all so “grand” as it might sound to someone. To avoid any misunderstanding, I do not pretend to “know better or more” than anyone else. I am just presenting my views and perspective and considering my background, something I feel worth sharing. So I wrote a book about everything I had learned. Now people at least have an opportunity to read my book, should they want to do so. Remember, if you share, others will share with you, and as a result, the business world will become so much more interesting, I promise. It is a good bargain.

 

Listening and observing - Not doing this may lead to missed opportunities.

 

I also believe in a pro-active, curious and open mind. I believe in having “big ears”, and in keeping them wide open, so you can listen to and hear what other people say. I believe in having “big eyes” so you can observe and learn from what others do well, and perhaps also not so well, so you can avoid making the same mistakes all over again. 

 

It is always worth checking what, e.g. top professionals are saying and doing, people you know are good in their work. You can look at the person, the whole company or just a particular function, e.g., the HR or Marketing function in a company or the Research function in a Search Firm, depending on what it is you want to check. There are no downsides in doing this, only potential benefits and opportunities.

 

I was an Executive Search Research Manager for most of my career, and I was very good in my job. So, if I now could get into the minds of the top ten best Research Managers in the world, and check their thinking, what would I expect to find? A person “always knowing what’s best” would probably not find much. But that’s not me. As said, I believe in a pro-active, curious and open mind, and in listening to and observing others. With this mindset, you see a different world.

 

I would probably find many thinking much like me about Executive Search. But I would also find things I could learn from. New ways of thinking, interesting thinking, imaginative thinking, out of the box thinking, old concepts re-invented into a new, better form. I would find new methods and processes, other ways of doing things, other CRM and business development techniques. I most likely would find many interesting ideas which I could take “back home” with me, and which would help me become better in my work.

 

I call this benchmarking. Have you ever wondered why some person or company is always so much higher (or lower) on the ranking list than you, or has a very good reputation? Maybe you should try to find out. Do some benchmarking and compare. Without benchmarking you seldom know.

 

When people share - keep an open mind – otherwise, you might miss the point

 

When e.g. anyone has had such a long career as I and write a book, someone is bound to say: “Yes, you had a good career, but times have changed. What you say in your book is now “old fashioned”. Nowadays, we do things differently."  Times do change, and of course, people always have different opinions, disagree about things, organize, manage, and carry out things differently. There are, e.g., no two identical Executive Search Firm offices on this planet. Calling the information I share old-fashioned is missing the point. Furthermore, the subjects in my book, as presented, are completely timeless – not old-fashioned. 

 

To make my point, below just some examples of the subjects I share in my book:

 

  • I emphasize the importance of “Always giving things your best thought and then your best try, and of having a never give in attitude”, a Best Practice mind-set.
  • I talk about customer promise and customer experience. In my mind, the only customer promise must be to deliver, simultaneously creating a good customer experience for both the Client and the Candidates all through the Search Process.
  • The business focus must be to always act in the best interests of both the Client and the Candidate.
  • I emphasize that the goal of any Executive Search Firms must be to deliver high-quality service, highly qualified Candidates, and it should strive to develop long-term relationships built on trust.
  • I emphasize the importance of ethical values and standards in Executive Search like, e.g. honesty, trustworthiness, confidentiality, objectivity, compliance, respect and integrity, and that the Search Firm must understand the impact of and have responsibility for their actions.

 

Have all the above become old-fashioned? I don’t think so.

 

Always try to see “the forest from the trees” when people share. Don´t let your prejudices be your guide. This applies to any information out there.

 

Please have a pro-active, curious and open mind. The world looks very different if you have.

 

Don’t forget to share! It is an investment with very good returns.

 

Don’t forget to also network. It means more resources, knowledge, experience, and perspective. This can only be of benefit to those involved.

 

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When getting a new database - pay attention to the delivery factors

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For every Search Firm, there comes a moment when it must change the present database. Nothing happens overnight, but one day you are there. Simply put, one day, your database is no longer up to its task. Wait too long, and you may be too late. The moment to decide when to get a new database may be as important as to decide what kind of database to buy.

 

In any Executive Search Firm (in most Firms I suppose) the database is the very engine that keeps the company’s heart = the business “pumping”. In a Search Firm, in my mind, the database may even be more important than a Search Consultant or Researcher. Seldom will just one person stop your business, while the wrong database might do just that! The worst scenario case may cost you millions or even be the beginning of the end of your Firm.

 

How a bad database looks like! I have heard many bad stories about recruiting-related databases. E.g., the database does not deliver, is unreliable, lacks capacity, and is awkward, slow and insecure. We cannot customise it. We can never find any data because the codes are wrong and the data we can find is no good anyway because the data is insufficient, or no one has updated it. We cannot print the reports we want, and we cannot get the business intelligence we want. The screens are full of small text no one can see. It is impossible to get a good candidate overview on one screen. Difficult to learn, difficult to use. Horrible user experience. The list of complaints longer than my arm.

 

So, my question is: Why was the “bad” database acquired in the first place? Why did you not do a proper Due Diligence of everything before you acquired the database? The focus here is on “the why”, not on “who did this”. We all make mistakes, me too. Focusing on finding a scapegoat does not solve the problem. Finding out what went wrong and why might. Besides, I think people usually tend to know “who did this” but not "the why". We should focus on “the why” so we do not repeat the same mistake all over again.

 

A metaphor to make a point: If you would like to become a Formula 1 world champion; a) choose Lewis Hamilton as the driver, b) choose the best Formula 1 car in the world and c) make certain all the settings in the car are right. That should, if not quite guarantee you to become a winner, take you a long way. However, if just one of these three factors is wrong, you will never have a winner. If e.g. the settings in a Formula 1 car are wrong, having factors a) and b) right will not help you.

 

It is the same thing with a database. If you have just one critical factor wrong, e.g.:

·        If your best practise and knowledge management are not up for their task.

·        If the database does not support your business needs.

·        If your database codes are wrong.

 

If so, even the most advanced database in the universe won’t help.

 

My point: Focus on getting all the business-critical factors right when you are in the process of choosing a new database! Define the business-critical factors in your work. Whatever database = software you are getting, it should fully support these factors. Easy for me to say, I can imagine many persons thinking. How do we do that? For me, it helps to focus if I think of business-critical factors as delivery factors. Why?

 

Well, in my mind, the only customer promise a Search Firm can have is to deliver results, to deliver as promised and agreed to the clients' satisfaction - simultaneously delivering a high degree of customer satisfaction all through the search process for both the client and the candidates.

 

The Delivery Factors

 

I define a delivery factor is any factor that is critical for the successful execution of the search assignment, as stated in my customer promise above. In my experience, these delivery factors usually relate to the execution of the search process, the daily work and the needs arising from here. The database = the software must fully support the delivery factors. In a database, this puts the focus on factors like:

 

  • High efficiency, reliability, capacity and data security in the database is a must-have.
     
  • A 100% reliable and efficient help-desk service is a must-have.
     
  • The database input, processing, output actions, and functionality features must support your work processes as defined by your best practise and knowledge management. If not so, what is the point of having the best practise in the first place? The database should efficiently support the search process all through the search, e.g., the research, the contacting and evaluation of candidates, presenting of the finalists and the reference checking, and the CRM actions, both for client and candidate. Not having a best practise is not a very good strategy.
     
  • Some Firms put their money on marketing and branding factors instead. This may lead to excellent marketing, but potentially ignoring the delivery factors may lead to poor delivery. Excellent marketing and poor delivery is a bad combination. You first get a lot of Search Assignments - then a lot of unsatisfied clients.
     
  • Putting your money on delivering to everyone's satisfaction is also the best marketing effort ever because here the satisfied clients and candidates will do the marketing for you.
     
  • Lastly, as to what to avoid, in any database, check chapter three in this article. If you bought a database like this the last time, don't do it again.

 

When in the process of changing your database - project points

 

To give some ideas for the road, below some points I feel are worthwhile to pay attention to. I am not going into details as to what the database should look like. How could I? I don’t know the specific details or the exact needs of your company. Nor does any other outsider. I look here at the big picture and address some very basic issues, which I feel are important.

 

  • Someone must oversee the project and be in charge, so start by choosing someone to lead the project. In my mind having the business understanding is of paramount importance. Giving the project decision-making authority to an IT-expert have risks. No disrespect towards any IT-expert, but I feel that IT technology may start playing a bigger role than the business needs. Even more so if you outsource the decision making to an external IT-expert who does not know your business.
     
  • In a Search Firm, the project team should, in my mind, always include a Search Consultant, the Research Manager, and a Personal Assistant. Together they have all business process, search process and miscellaneous office work process knowledge needed. As a team, they have the skill, the ability and the know-how. Leave one out, and you may miss something important.
     
  • As a main rule, we should never start a database project by letting technological limitations become our guiding star, potentially restricting our thinking. Only our business needs should dictate what kind of database we should strive for. There always exist restrictions in any database, forcing you to compromise somewhere, but we should not cross that bridge until we come to it.
     
  • We should always start by doing a proper, thorough Due Diligence of "everything" potentially affecting the way we conduct our business in the future, e.g. all present work processes, personnel, database, client's needs, candidate's needs, the market environment, legal changes.
     
  • The starting point should be our business. The database chosen should be the one most efficiently supporting our business needs. Not because “everybody else has it, and they are tremendously satisfied”, or “the newspapers say it is a good buy”, or “the software provider promises you the earth”. Neither because "the boss says so" or “because your colleagues or competitors have it”. You are not your colleagues or your competitors. You may have different needs. Sometimes the decision as to what database to buy has already been made by the headquarters. This is no reason for not doing Due Diligence. You may need something your headquarter does not.
     
  • When you are about to buy a new database, you tend to ask the users. “Is there any particular feature you would like to have/need”? You will get a lot of requests. Here, at all costs, avoid "nice to have features". They are simply put, features people like to have, but then never use. They also have the potential of creating unexpected problems and may unnecessarily burden the IT-support. Remember to keep on asking until you are convinced, that there is a real and genuine need for the request put forward. Only then put it on your list.
     
  • Here, if ever, it is important to be objective, pragmatic, rational, logical and to keep emotions and organisational ranks away from the decision making. Focus on facts only. Also, keep things simple. Avoid technical "IT-language" no one understands.
     
  • Remember, there exists no “piece of cake IT-projects” when talking about a business-critical IT-project. There exists no such thing as a “100 % perfect database" with no unwelcome features, surprises, bugs, limitations or restrictions”. Do not believe if someone tells you otherwise. The idea with a proper Due Diligence is to find out this in advance. Will you still bump into unforeseen problems you must solve? Yes, most likely, but now they are much less likely to be unsolvable. 
     
  • Beware of first buying a new database and only later, surprise, find disastrous unexpected restrictions in it. Issues like “we can't print this kind of report or CV” or “we can't produce the business intelligence you want, sorry”, “we can't use your codes”, "we can't fit your processes into our system", are easy to check in advance.
     
  • Everything should comply with the data privacy regulations, the laws and the local habits in the country and the market where you operate. Check this in advance.
  • Beware of having a code structure in your database that is practical, efficient, reliable, logically consistent, easy to understand, easy to use. If you have a bad code structure, now is the time to improve it. If you have a good code system, do not change it for the worse now. If you do, you still get a database all right, but not the database you expected. I can promise you that. Your code system is like the settings in the Formula 1 car. Get them wrong and - well you know the answer.

 

THEN WHEN YOU FINALLY GET YOUR NEW DATABASE, TAKE CARE OF IT!

 

The quality of your database is defined by what data you “put in” the database. Pay attention to inputting quality instead of quantity. If you want useful business intelligence, also remember this requires the business intelligence data first to be put in. No input - no business intelligence. Pay attention to maintenance and regular updating. A database of which, e.g. 20% of the information becomes obsolete every year is of no use to anyone.

 

Importing huge amounts of candidates from external databases may sound like a good idea. However, in doing so, you also import the updating work of the data, so maybe, this is not such a good idea after all. You can always go screen any external database when needed.

 

Pay attention to continuous improvement, ensuring you stay on top of things all the time. For me, continuous improvement, more than anything, is a mindset, an attitude, an approach to the work. You continuously try to improve existing systems and ways of working, including your database. You also try to look into the future, estimate what’s coming and somehow prepare for this too - in advance.

 

There really is a lot you can do to make your expectations come true. Should your database then not live up to your expectations, chances are, you may have only yourself to blame. Your database is usually what YOU make it be.

 

For those who are interested in learning in more detail about this subject, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to check out the content of my homepage, where you are right now.

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My first ever client presentation in Executive Search

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I would like to share an experience I had at the beginning of my career in the Search Industry. The Search Firm I had joined was part of a bigger group of companies which offered all kinds of HR-related services. I had spent the first day on the job by saying hello to everyone, getting introduced. I was a newbie if there ever was one.

 

On my second day, I was to attend a client meeting with a consultant in one of the other companies in the group. Only to listen, observe and learn, or so I thought. But, when introducing me to the client, the consultant, to my surprise, said, “This is Bob Olin from our Executive Search Firm. Why don't you Bob give a short presentation about your Search Services? I am sure this would interest the client.”

 

Outwards, I was smiling, but inside I thought “You moron, this is my second day on the job. I know nothing about nothing”. As I walked towards the end of the table to hold my presentation, I was so nervous I thought my knees were going to give in. But I knew that having a presentation down on your shaking knees in front of a client is not the best way to start a career as a head hunter, so I pulled myself together and held my presentation.

 

It was a fast and very short run-through of the Executive Search process, which I, by chance, had learned by heart just the evening before from my training material - could not have taken more than two minutes. Yet, by the look on their faces, I had somehow managed to do well. I again was still so nervous that I had to focus on stopping my hands and knees from shaking when walking back to my chair.

 

Later, back in my room, I realised I now felt both thrilled and excited, not nervous at all. I also realised I had made the right choice in joining the Search Firm. I now knew I was going to learn, to manage and to like it. And I did. Many years later and hundreds of assignments later, I had developed into a top-level Research Manager and found myself standing in front of billion-dollar company CEO’s who were asking for my opinion and advice.

 

Thirty years and 1 000 assignments later, I could still remember my first client presentation, and how much I would have liked to have a book to look things up from then - before the client meeting - but there were no books.

 

Therefore, I wanted to write a book about Executive Search where anyone can go "look things up", to share what I had experienced and learned in Executive Search. That is how the book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search came to be. I wrote this book for all clients, in-house recruiting professionals, candidates, search consultants – for everyone interested in Executive Search. My goal was to benefit as many as possible, but how well I have succeeded in my endeavor is for the reader to decide.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage, where you are right now.

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How to get quality and value for money

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The Assignment Price vs Quality - is there a correlation? There may or may not be a connection. However, if one Search firm offers the search for 20 000 €, another Firm for 30 000 € and the third Firm for 40 000 €, maybe you as a Client should stop and think why this is the case. Maybe this reflects a difference in the service level, maybe not, but in life in general, top-level experts tend to be more expensive than others. This may be the case here too. Of course, price matters, but don’t pay too much attention to just the price. Instead, pay attention to the expected result of the search.

 

 

Top quality, top service and top expertise usually cost more.

 

Before I go any deeper into the header subject, I would like to say some introductory words. In the last 20 years, the recruiting world has changed a lot, e.g.:

 

  • The technology has changed, both enabling and forcing us to do things in new ways.
  • New actors have entered the market, creating new ways for how to recruit people.
  • AI is changing and reshaping the ways, methods, and practices of the recruiting industry even as I write these lines.
  • The values, ways and habits of people have changed big time.
  • The way Companies hire people has changed.
  • All the above has had a profound impact on the Executive Search Industry.

 

However, all changes may not be in the best interest of the Executive Search Industry, neither the hiring Companies nor the Candidates entering an Executive Search Process.

 

The expression Executive Search has also become more diffuse, and not everyone has a clear understanding of what it stands for. “Executive" Search does not anymore always mean we are searching for Executive Management level persons. Today some Search Firms search for people also to entry level positions. Many Search Firms advertise a lot, also for low-level positions. The price-level varies a lot. Due to factors created by technology like the Internet and social media, e.g. LinkedIn, the threshold to enter the Search Industry is nowadays very low. It is easy for anyone to start an Executive Search Firm and call yourself a Head Hunter. Pretty much all you need is a computer and access to the Internet. Today there exist people in the Search Industry whose main goal is to “make a fast buck” and who only have one search strategy called LinkedIn.

 

For a Client using an Executive Search Firm, it is important to be able to recognise who’s who in the Executive Search Industry. To be able to choose the right Executive Search Firm for the right need, so to say. Not all Executive Search Firms are top-level, even if they say they are. Not all Search Firms are necessarily in the Client’s best interest.

 

So how do we know we get the quality and value for money that we want? Well, make certain you do a proper job when checking the Search Firms thoroughly before you make your choice. Below are some ideas for a checklist to begin with. You can add questions of your own. Start by getting the background. What is the Search Firm's history?

 

The single most important asset a company has is its people.

 

They are the ones that make things happen and determine the service level. It should be easy to get information about the Search Consultants, sometimes also about the Researchers. A top-level Search Firm pays attention to giving information about their services and their people. So, check the personnel! Do they seem to have proper education, relevant and long enough experience?

 

However, focus on the capability, not just the experience. An experienced top-level executive who has become a Head Hunter may be an excellent choice despite perhaps still short of experience in Executive Search. However, preferably he/she should be working in a well-established Search Firm. A top-level Executive is certainly “business savvy”, but likely needs help in the search process, e.g. with the research. 

 

When talking about the Search Assignment Position, also remember:

 

  • The higher up in the organisation, the more responsibility the incumbent has.
  • The more complex and diverse the job becomes.
  • The more challenging and demanding the job becomes.
  • Also for the Search Consultant and the Researcher who are in charge of the Search Process. The more professional expertise is required of them.

 

Furthermore:

 

  • What is the Search Firm's industry expertise like?
  • What kind of searches does it specialise in? What level of searches?
  • What are the Search Firm's finances like? (Good firms tend to be successful and financially sound, making a profit is a good sign, bad finances are often a bad sign).
  • What is the price level?

 

Then meet the Firm/the Search Consultant you think might have the potential to correspond to your needs.

 

  • Have a ready-made questionnaire of your questions, don’t just play it by ear.
  • Pay attention to what the Search Consultant and Researcher are asking.
  • Are they asking the right questions? Are they prepared? Do they seem genuinely interested or just in a sales mode. Does it show that they have done their DD of you?
  • Are they professional, are they convincing?
  • What is their Research like? What is their Best Practise like? What is their Knowledge Management like? What is their Customer Promise? What are their ethical standards and values?

 

The Search Firm references:

 

Just checking Search Firm ranking lists is not enough. Neither is just meeting a Search Consultant or a Researcher who gave a fantastic and impressing performance. Many persons can give good impressions, but it is the results that count, not the impressions. Also try to check their results. Can they deliver? Any references they can give you?

 

Bottom line: There is no magic formula as to what kind of a background a good Search Consultant should have. In my mind, checking this out, does not differ that much from looking at, e.g. a Candidate CV in a very important interview/hiring situation. Just think, do you think a Search Consultant might have what it takes? When meeting the Search Consultant, also ask to meet his/her Researcher that would be on the search team. If the Executive Search Firm is a top-level Search Firm, it should also have top-level Researchers. Should this not be so, ask why? How does this affect the search? There exist top-level Search Consultants (who do not have a researcher) who are perfectly capable of doing their own research. However, if the same person is doing everything, it is good to remember that the resources of just one person are always limited.

 

The moral of this article is: High quality always costs more, regardless of what industry, product or service we are talking about. If a company is about to start a Search Process to find a high-profile Senior Management Executive, to a position of business-critical importance, I strongly advise turning to a high-end Executive Search Firm.

 

For most companies, it is about more than just a Search Assignment. It is about finding a Trusted Partner with whom you can form a long-term and mutually benefitting Business Partner relationship. The Client is looking for a Strategic Business Partner with outstanding business acumen. The Client expects the Search Consultant to have an in-depth knowledge of the Client Industry and the ability to consult and give advice on issues relating to the Client’s business. This will cost more, true, but top quality and top expertise cost more.

 

For me, the expression high-end is not defined just by size or a position on some ranking list. I define a high-end Search Firm as a Firm that excels in the level of quality it delivers. For me a high-end Search Firm delivers high-quality service, highly qualified Candidates, and where the highest ethical standards characterise the service given by the Firm. Often high-end Search Firms are big globally operating Firms, but in my mind there exist also small and locally operating Search Firms that give excellent and high-quality service.

 

Yes, I know that high-end Executive Search Companies sometimes fail too. It happens. Errare humanum est. We all make mistakes. Sometimes you give it your very best thought, your very best try – and yet you fail. Sometimes your very best was just not enough. But in a high-end Executive Search Company, this is rare. That said, let’s be honest. Not all Search Consultants and Researchers in the world are as top-level as we would like them to be - not even in high-end Search Firms. (This unfortunate statistical fact applies in any industry. There are always exceptions.) But when this is the case, it is mostly an “isolated” local problem in a single Search Firm Office. This is exactly why you should always do a proper Due Diligence of the Search Firm. If you do this, you will find this out in advance.

 

For those who are interested in learning in more detail about this subject, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search. 

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage, where you are right now.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Top Level Executive Search

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AI is changing and reshaping the ways, methods, and practices of the recruiting industry even as I write these lines. AI is simultaneously both elusive and tempting. Those who are in favour of AI and strong advocates for the use of AI feel it promises us the world. I belong to those who advise treading cautiously with the use of AI in Executive Search. Especially so when talking about Senior Executive Management Search. Here I feel there are big risks.

 

I am not against AI, new ideas, development, and changes. I feel I am as Best Practice minded, Knowledge Management minded, Continuous Improvement minded as they come. When I was working as an Executive Search Research Manager, not a day went by without me trying to find a way to do something more efficiently and better. What I am saying is, be careful! Don´t use AI everywhere - just because you can. There are risks!

 

E.g., when the GPS tells people to go in a certain direction, a great many do so unconditionally. People have driven into the sea, off the road, into cul-de-sacs, into shopping centers, to the wrong city or even to the wrong country, just because some device has told them to do so. If the GPS tells people to turn right, many do so, even if there is no road. The same thing has already happened enough times with automatically driving cars to prove the same point. People have drunk coffee, read newspapers and even slept in the car when the car was driving, only to a little later die or kill someone else in a car crash.

 

We are not here only talking about “stupid” people doing stupid things. In my opinion, more like about an increasing, and already a rather common behavioral change among people, which is caused by blind trust in technology. We let technology take over, and then we lose control. Imagine a world full of automatic cars driving around according to what the GPS tells them. AI may indeed be an excellent servant if we get everything right. However, if we get it wrong, the expression dire consequences will get a new dimension.

 

AI can, e.g. certainly screen the Internet, and then, in a moment, print a Candidate list for you. However, if AI really could develop a list containing all the very top Candidates you are looking for, why would the hiring Company need the Search Industry in the first place? It could just buy some AI computer time and order the list itself. Don´t worry. It takes more than this. That said there will always be people who believe that AI has all the answers.

 

However, should we, in Executive Search, let AI do the Search and Candidate evaluation work in an ever-greater degree, our work will eventually be restricted to only reading Candidate lists provided by AI, without us not even knowing from where those names came from. On top of this are the moral and ethical dimensions. If you let AI decide who´s to become the finalist candidates in an Executive Search Assignment, you walk on thin ice.

 

The more we start relying on AI doing the job, the less important our trusted advisor network might start feeling. Our desire for developing good person to person relationships with top business people might start diminishing. Why should I waste valuable time on going to lunches with people to get an update on what’s happening in their industry, when I can ask AI, someone might think and instead increase his/her interaction with AI. This cannot have good consequences.

 

You may remember me saying something about blind trust in technology. There are already Search Firms whose Search strategy is called LinkedIn because they feel that this is all they need. However, if we are talking about Senior Executive Management Executive Search and the Search strategy is called LinkedIn, this is, in my mind, more like a disaster.

 

No matter what some may think of the benefits of AI, Top-level Executive Search is not quite so easy, that we could let AI do our work for us.

 

The importance of good personal relationships

In my mind, the only way you can develop into a top-level Executive Search Consultant is by meeting and working together with top-level Executives. This is about getting to know and learning about what the makings of top-level Executives are. Who they are, how they think, what they think, and why they think the way they do.

 

If you have developed a good relationship with, e.g. 100 top-level Executives, this is a tremendous asset. These people are at the top of their business and their industry. They know their products and services, their markets and the market trends inside out. Face to face, you can discuss things confidentially. Via these Executives, you may potentially gain access to their network. Each Executive may have a network of 100 top executives, potentially at your disposal. Who feels these relationships are not important for an Executive Search Consultant - that AI is better?

 

Some issues that must be discussed in an interview and where we need human input

  • Personal traits, general behavior, style, attitude, anything extraordinary.
  • Ambition level, goal orientation, career potential vs career ambition.
  • Key motivation factors, must-have factors, absolute motivation kill factors.
  • Core expertise, the substance, professional strengths, weaknesses.
  • Management/leadership skills, also vs expectations regarding their boss.
  • Decision making easy/difficult, fast/slow, pays attention to other’s opinions or not.
  • Delivery ability, timetables, quality of work, trustworthiness.
  • When the going gets tough, stress endurance, stress behaviour, can he/she cope?
  • Extraordinary achievements/failures.
  • Strategic skills, conceptual skills, problem-solving skills.
  • Analytical skills, mathematical skills, detail-oriented or sees the big picture.
  • Communication skills/Presentation skills - verbal, writing, listening, credibility.

 

Issues like chemistry, company cultural fit, humorous or not, if and why the Candidate is interested in the job, must be checked in person.

 

Subjects like strategic vision, goals, action plans, e.g. must be discussed face to face before the Executive Search Consultant knows what the Candidate stands for.

 

A human can recognise, analyse and react to issues which may impact on the interview, in a way that AI cannot. A human can, e.g., react to the tone of voice, the feelings and the emotional state of the candidate, the eye contact, the difference between normal nervousness and unnatural behaviour, see the difference between uncertainty, modesty, healthy confidence and unmotivated overconfidence.

 

A human can have a discussion with a pre-planned direction but also knows when there arises a need to move away from the plan and when to move the questioning into new areas.

 

A human knows when to change the line and tone of questioning in a situation requiring empathy, sensitivity, and flexibility.

 

A human can show interest in the subject discussed and in the Candidate. Talking to an AI-robot, that we all know could not care less, certainly must impact on the motivation and the answers given by any Candidate. How would you feel as a top-level Executive, if you would have to try to impress a robot? How do you connect with a robot? The answer is, you don't!

 

Lastly, I do not want to be the Devil's advocate, but what if AI has the intelligence needed, but one day not anymore, your or your Client's best interest in its mind?

 

For those who are interested in learning in more detail about this subject, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage where you are now.

 

Here you can also have a sneak peek on the content of my book; e.g., the Author’s Note and the table of content - check under the heading The Book Presentation.

 

After that, you can also click my LinkedIn profile or Facebook.

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