Executive Search Firm Partnerships are Founded on Trust

By April 14, 2016 CXO Interviews, Talent Acquisition

For any organisation, engaging an executive search firm has long-term implications. That’s because, at the heart of every relationship between an organisation and its executive search firm, there is mutual trust and respect for each other – built over seasons of working together to make the best choices in recruitment on the mandates agreed upon and the rules of engagement. It’s an experience that ensures both executive search firms and their clients do justice to the job and maximise the value of their relationship.

Kaustubh Sonalkar, Chief People Officer at Future Group, described it aptly in his interview with us when he said, “We consider executive search firms as our extended partners.”

Earlier, Elizabeth Wasserman in her article How to Work with an Executive Search Firm in Inc. Magazine writes, “The cost of a bad hire can be considerable. It can cost your firm time and money and its competitive edge in the marketplace. Tackling an executive search on your own can also distract your senior staff from managing and growing the business while they search for the right hires.” She quotes Peter Felix, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), on the subject of engaging executive search firms as follows:

“’When you engage and retain an executive search firm, it is not a matter of just putting ad in the paper and seeing who the best person is that applies. At the senior executive level, it’s very crucial to find the best person you can,’ says Peter Felix, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). ‘The whole purpose of proactive recruitment is to bring into consideration candidates that might not be otherwise identifiable in the market. They may not respond to an advertisement. It opens up a whole range of candidates who might not have been aware of or shown interest in your appointment.’”

Although Elizabeth Wasserman’s detailed article How to Work with an Executive Search Firm makes good reading for us all, we wanted to seek a perspective from the Indian industry at large. When we approached the Future Group, one of the giants of retail business in India (but not one of our clients), Kaustubh Sonalkar, Chief People Officer – Future Group, reached out to us with his views in this interview:

Mr Sonalkar, what is your current role or function in your organization?

As the HR head of Future Group People Office – a company which is exceptionally versatile in terms of product offerings, my role is vital and crucial. From staffing, recruiting to identifying the need for executive search firms, from inducting every employee to be attuned to organization culture to understanding the process of HRM environment in retailing – are my major functional areas. Additionally, HR planning & development performance management also fall under my purview.

Do you have a philosophy or strategy for hiring/recruitment, particularly for hiring executives, at senior positions at leadership levels? If yes, can you articulate this for us?

Yes, we have a very well-crafted approach in place. We believe in recognizing the competence and growing people within the organization. Just in case, if we require a particular skill set, that we believe requires a different outlook at the project, is when we step out and hire professionals at senior level.

How do you attract talent at leadership levels? Do you follow a clearly-defined process for hiring senior executives in your organization? If yes, can you describe or share an outline of this process to us?

Yes, we have well-defined process in place to hire senior executives in our organization. When we believe the attitude of the employee corresponds to our values and work culture, we immediately welcome them with open arms.

How often do you engage executive search firms for leadership level appointments? What specific benefits do you look for in executive search firms when you engage them?

We consider executive search firms as our extended partners. It becomes pertinent for them to understand our work culture, beliefs and our style of working. We engage with them closely for leadership roles. We believe they bring in a market perspective and a clear objectivity to the hiring process.

How do you assess executive search firms when you select and engage them? How would you define or describe the relationship that you and your organization have with the executive search firm you engage with?

We not only look at the credentials of an executive search firm in terms of the people that they bring on board for any company, we also analyze their understanding of their client’s work culture and thereby sourcing candidates who would fit in the overall ecosystem of any organization. We also believe that one executive search firm may not be the answer to all recruitment needs, as each of them brings expertise in one or more kind of profiles. For every open position, we look at the executive search firms who have engaged with us and decide who would be best to fulfill a particular requirement.

Do you engage executive search firms purely on transaction based assignments or also for retained services? What kind of mandates do you normally set in your engagement with executive search firms?

In an endeavor to align our executive search firms in sync with our organizational culture and values, we prefer to keep a long term relationship with them on a retainer basis as well. The better they understand my organization, better they get at assessing suitable candidates who we would like to hire.

Do you engage executive search firms for tasks other than recruitment? Such as for transition plans for senior executives, leadership coaching, succession planning, executive assessment etc?

We engage with different firms for one or more levels of engagements, depending on their capabilities and our requirements at a particular point in time.

Thank you, Mr Sonalkar, for this interview.

To quote Peter Felix (of AESC) again from Elizabeth Wasserman’s article How to Work with an Executive Search Firm in Inc. Magazine: “The most fruitful search firm partnerships are founded on trust, open communication, and a commitment from each party. Cultivating a true partnership with a recruiter will enable you to attract, hire, and retain the best people in your industry. ‘Remember to realize that these are consultants in human capital and strategic issues as well as being recruiters for a particular position,’ Felix says.”

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