In a recent article the excellent Robert Cole addressed the replacement of Lord Browne and Sir Peter Sutherland at BP. As ever, he raised some issues that were of particular interest to me as a Head Hunter.
Whilst there are times when the opposite is true, it is my general rule that when things go well it is down to my client, when they do not it is down to me and, either way, it is not appropriate that I should ever be a part of the story.
Finally Princess Diana was right. There are three parties to a head hunter’s relationship – the employer who engages us, the target and us. I know it can be flattering to see ones name in print, but a head hunter’s five minutes of fame should be about principles and not about particulars. I really do not want the heads of any of my team appearing over the balustrade no matter how well they have done.
Similarly, until the appointment is signed and sealed every assignment should be as private as a marriage bed and what goes on in it should be confidential at all times between the parties. That is why I took it as a good sign that the speculation about the ITV appointment prior to the announcement of Michael Grades appointment was often critical and sometimes pretty direct – something about how long can it take to line up etc ……?
To my mind that is how it should be – let the head hunter take the flack until it is all done and dusted at which point my client is the star - that is, in part, what we are paid for.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old head hunter at the start of another year – and another thing!
The Torchwood effect – Living with perceptions of the past.
It is almost 50 years since Milton Freidman first came up with the beginnings of monetarism and more than 20 since Margaret Thatcher brutalised us with much needed change, since when much of British industry has withered in the face of
globalisation. The other side of that coin is that the bits that have survived have, largely, done pretty well. We have a generation of new managers and investors who have changed the ways businesses are run and have shifted, heightened, also our expectations of results and performance.
As a result, a lot of established names live on in engineering, manufacturing and services - but what goes under the banner of tradition is completely different from the past. There are many examples where new management has sold off or closed down old processes, lines and products whilst moving the business towards a bright new future that is distinct and different.
In every case the ideas for evolution are sold to banks, investors and shareholders. Sometimes, but less often, they are sold also to the existing workforce. However, the successful implementation of change is often dependant upon a new skills base and, in my experience, all too often not enough is invested in what is now, in the jargon called ‘employment branding’. I dislike such terms because they can disguise what is really being said. In this case what we understand is that getting the expected returns out of much new investment depends on getting the right people on board.
Much business depends on natural entrepreneurial skills and it is a feature of good entrepreneurs that they are resilient. It is a feature of many natural employees that they are not particularly resilient and that they do not easily forget. Thus it is that many of the names that are now surging forward with new products and processes are associated in the minds of some of the people they will want to recruit with past sins – redundancy, uncertainty, job losses, old practices and poor management at the time.
In such cases the job of the head hunter must extend to helping review at the situation holistically so as to create circumstances and conditions in which the business and the job will be attractive to potential appointees. We used to say that we would help make our client “the employer of choice”. In some cases that required that what the company did would enhance the CV of whomever joined, especially bearing in mind that there are few people who now join for life.
In these days when the initial target list can extend to 100 or more people we simply cannot afford to get to the final hurdle only to see our horse fall. By that I mean we cannot afford the loss of time, the possible adverse effects in the market place or the buggeration factor.
So my lessons from 2006, learned yet again I have to admit, are to make sure that you get the brief right from the first – too often we set off looking for a Rolls Royce because that is what our client insists on - but what we actually want or can afford is a truck! When we have that right (continuing the analogy) we must make sure that the drive and garage will accommodate a truck and that the people who have an interest in the choice and use of the vehicle know precisely why we took that particular option.
Pass the Parcel – the Law of Unintended Outcomes, as it affects head hunting.
I would like a business where I had a list of all the board members of all the listed companies worldwide and the details of their pay and personal preferences and the expiry date of their contracts. (Their personal e-mails would be nice also).
I would then be in a position to set up something like a student exchange and earn my crust shifting established and experienced board members between businesses operating in similar markets with similar products and processes.
In fact the memories of some head hunters are still raw about a few appointments that achieved notoriety whilst other head hunters, being charitable folk at heart, outwardly looking sad at the discomfort of a colleague, whilst inwardly thanking whatever deity they worship for the chastisement of another. Whether the perceptions were right or wrong is another matter – the fact is that in some areas damage was undoubtedly done and individual reputations as well as the role of head hunters was brought into question.
I began by writing about the ITV appointment. At one stage criticism was rife and later, after Lord Grade took up the job, there was much praise in some quarters and concern expressed in others. I have no inside track but it does seem to me that who ever got the job done did so by bringing about a change in the job description and by changing the reward structure that was on offer.
Whether, in the context of my truck analogy (above), the existing workforce has been sold the change and the appointment - and whether future recruitment has been assisted or hampered by the appointment of a scheduler and programmer par excellence rather than a financier – only time will tell. It is, though, hard to believe that top grade recruits will join unless and until they think there is a real chance of joining a sound, well financed business that will enhance their individual CV’s.
What triggered my thought process today was a headline in The Times:
“Pedantry should not deprive BP of a top-notch
boss”. As I said earlier, if someone is doing their job the way I think it should be done, then it is all happening in the background and no-one but the three parties will, or should, know what is going on or how far it has gone.
However, I do have a general concern which is based on my personal experience of late and not on any of the specifics I have mentioned.
In too many assignments I have a feeling of a missed opportunity. The velocity of change is something that I write about often and that is because it seems to me that the speed of change is always accelerating – like the galaxy always expanding at an ever faster rate.
In the same way that each new generation learns to master new technology and new problems, managers are acquiring knowledge and experience across a broader range of topics in markets that are ever more complex and competitive faster and therefore at a younger age than their predecessors could hope to match. Yes of course, to some extent wisdom comes with age, but I wonder if we always take every opportunity to broaden our choice when we set up an assignment.
As I said earlier, the first and vital thing is to get the right brief and, again, as I said earlier, the second is to make sure that the business is ready to accept and encourage the right appointment whatever the right appointment proves to be.
I am not a great fan of the turkey shoot and heaven knows that my research team in India has limits to its capacities and patience but I like the idea of two recommendations – one who can show he/she has done it and one who can show that they aspire to doing it and are ready to do it.
I accept that the result may be two lists of 100 people – the aspirant and the proven - but so what?
Our job is to get it right and sometimes in some cases it is the process that shows us, and our clients, what is really needed and who is right for the job.
Good luck, good head hunting and a successful and Happy 2007.
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