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Head Hunting: the Drivers for Change

 
Saisha Pirvani, Sub Editor – Employment Affairs
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In discussions with colleagues in the head hunting industry, I was told of a recent client meeting when they were looking at an assignment to appoint a process change manager in manufacturing - taking as an example for the brief the automotive and aerospace industry environment. The discussion centred on a person having a clear vision of the issues of added value, location and process. 

Inevitably part of the conversation took in the situation at Peugeot – essentially the different positions of Ryton and the new plant in Slovakia (Trnava).  At one plant 2500 people lose their jobs whilst at another more jobs are created as the output of cars per capita in Slovakia exceeds output anywhere else in Europe.

Either the jobs moved where the process added most value - or the business lost competitiveness and customers – or, at the very least, faced uncomfortable levels of competition. 

We talked also of Airbus and its problems with plants and process.  It appears, at least looking in from the outside, that when decisions - hard, crucial decisions - were required, these were made difficult by inter-country and inter-company politics and were put off.

This, it seems, led to the early departure of the man who was widely thought to have been brought in to make and implement those very decisions.  I am no expert on engineering processes, but I would have thought that if processes called for parts of the task of building some of the world’s biggest and finest aircraft to be spread around then the spreading should, at the very least be done on the basis of best value for money and/or best added value.

So, if VW finds it economic to switch the assembly of parts to Slovakia because the cost of assembly is cheaper - it means their cars can be priced cheaper, the consumer benefits and VW will sell more of them; everyone gains.  If that is so then the same should be true of aircraft assembly also. 

The final irony of course is that Christian Streiff who left Airbus because – it is thought – “they” would not let him take the hard decisions, and went to ….. Peugeot!

We then read that whilst some assembly and automotive manufacturing plants are closing in the UK, ever more of the high tech F1 Teams are choosing to locate here and that several world- class manufactures are similarly deciding to locate their global design facilities here also. 

Through a glass darkly – almost literally – I had a vision of manufacturing moving to distant locations where labour and costs offered best value for money, assembly being concentrated at central locations close to the market/customer.  And all the back office stuff – research, planning, marketing, accounts being located wherever there was most advantage.  The important thing being that what the customer sees is a finished product that works and offers value from a supplier whose products and services gives them confidence. 

Talking this through over a glass of Sancerre (hence the glass darkly) with Shena from EURONET Search and Matt and Munib my colleagues, I thought it might be interesting to apply the same principles to recruitment and head hunting.  We thought it would be a timely thing to do when tens of millions of £’s are being poured into agencies in anticipation of what someone in the on-line recruitment magazine called, I think, ‘the Perfect Storm of 2007’.  Amongst others they predict a real shortage of available management talent in Europe coupled with exponential growth in India and China which will stress our skills resource as western managers are recruited by Asian concerns in the same way that they affected the basics in 2006 – oil, energy, steel etc. 

I suggest that in these terms a successful head hunting assignment is the product of a process of assembly – the culmination of a number of tasks that have been properly concluded in good time for an appointment that will endure and deliver.  In that sense, to continue the analogy, the process mirrors manufacturing the Airbus or the automotive industry.

The basic tasks that make up an assignment are pretty well known although they are often described in the arcane language and jargon (that ancient religions used to enhance their power and status!):

  • Build up a good Brief
  • Do the Research
  • Reach and meet targets
  • Assess, Select, Report, Advise
  • Interview, Negotiate and Appoint .... & get paid!
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    The elements and tools that are required include:

    • Reputation, confidence and track record.  (These secure the assignment in the first place in a competitive market.)

    • Cost competitiveness. (Increasingly important.)

    • The www and information sources. (They have transformed   research and targeting – influencing  resourcing as more CV’s are on the web ‘somewhere’ in the world.)

    • Data bases and data management methodology.  (Where/how one holds data is now of major significance and the process including assessment can be completed in part or wholly electronically.)

    • Telephony, email and documents. (I know hardly any head hunters who now use hard copy except to print off for meetings reports that have already been e-mailed.)

    • Advice, Market updates, Problem solving, Persuasion.

    • Assessment methods, experience and knowledge.  (Some excellent work by Roger and his team at TalentQ, Tim Harding and his people at the 360 Partnership (and others) means that, for those who believe in assessment tools, the assessment can be handled remotely.)

    It all adds up … to a continuation of the assembly analogy showing that some of these tasks can be completed separately and incorporated later in The Consultant’s decision-making process. 

    In the end it comes down to getting the consultant in front of the client, the consultant winning the confidence of the client and extracting the brief and going on to kick-off the process, which is then managed to a successful conclusion.

    We know that when a senior appointment goes wrong it is a high profile failure, which can destroy reputations in a heartbeat. In many cases the reputation of a business is, in reality, dependant on the latest results of a couple of Consultants. In many cases problems have arisen as a result of not doing sufficient research and taking an attractive easy looking option. Reports are rife of assignments that have been completed only after a target list of 100 or more people has been considered. That means more back office work and much greater support for the consultant - all of which is costly, pushing up overheads in an industry that has always been cyclical. 

    Whilst the future of head hunting is not set in concrete, I suggest that some long terms trends are already discernable because the business model, at heart, remains largely people-dependant, which will ensure a steady migration of those parts of the task that can be done elsewhere will be done elsewhere. How that happens will be a function of how innovative and intelligent individual businesses are in breaking down tasks into their component parts and how brave they are in taking advantage of opportunity. 

    The possibilities, as I see them, are for the emergence of four models:

    The traditional established agency with a global capability, operating from prestige addresses in major cities around the. Probably fewer of them but larger. No reason also why the trend for such agencies to move their back offices to more beneficial locations should not continue to evolve.

    New virtual agencies – collectives of experienced consultants working together using bandwidth and telephony to recreate the feel of their larger global brothers but operating with lower costs and, in theory at least, lighter and quicker on their feet. 

    Specialist niche suppliers who providing back office from prime operating locations and other functions to both employers and agencies in ways that are ever more innovative and flexible affecting first research and data and but extending rapidly into more services. 

    A few traditional niche agencies and head hunters, probably small, run by experienced consultants on the basis of specific sectoral or skills knowledge and experience and a particular relationship with a particular client or industry. 

    The reality will of course be different in that it always is – the clarity of thought we bring to analysis is rarely wholly recognisable at the coal face. For example it is likely, I think, that the Consultant will become (even) more important in all the businesses and to some extent it will be the business’s ability to attract customers and support Consultants that will determine whether the Consultant stays in a corporate situation or moves to the virtual association.

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