Search Firms: Big or Boutique? Flash or Function?

Search Firms: Big or Boutique? Flash or Function?

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I believe that a constant in our society is that Talent drives innovation and execution. Talent is the key ingredient in all successful companies. Every successful venture has either a single talent or a group of talented people behind it. I don’t know many people who would argue this point.

My question is, “Why don’t more companies and HR types consider the talent of the prospective search consultant in their equation before they hire a search firm? I have observed that many companies take the “easy” way out and hire a search firm based upon a name brand alone. I have to laugh every time that I hear another company announce the hire of another major “international search firm” to conduct their search. One of my guilty pleasures in life is getting the call from the VP of HR asking if we can do a search that one of the “big-boys” has had for six to nine months with terrible results. They fell for the “pomp and circumstance” that the big firms can do during their board room presentation. Here’s the routine: send in the ex-CEO and an SVP or two to pitch to the board and close the deal. If that were all they had to do, bravo! Unfortunately, that is the easiest and most predictable part of the whole process. The real meat of the process happens behind the scenes and more than likely, the people who sold the deal have no exposure to it. There are a bunch of “greenhorns” who do all the candidate sourcing, recruiting and vetting. The original “pitch partners” have nearly no exposure to the most important aspect of the search. After you’ve identified the potential executives, selling them on the opportunity and getting them to the point of willingness to explore a new opportunity is the most elusive part of the search.

So, what are these companies paying for if by signing on with a big firm, they have underlings doing the majority of work? I would guess that they pay for the high salaries of the guys who close the deals and then of course the large overhead of that organization and its stock holders of course.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy coming in and saving the day and doing the clean up job. I just can’t help but wonder why these HR types can’t figure this out before they waste a full fee on one of these failed searches.

Alright, so let me offer the HR folks some advice. Do yourself a favor and don’t fall for the flashy presentations put on by these “stuffed suits.” They will wax eloquent about the process, but more than likely have very little to do with it. Ask very specific questions about what happens beneath the bullet points on their “proprietary process” slide. Who will conduct each aspect of the search from candidate identification to recruiting calls? Who is the one who will “sell the dream?” And before you take their answers as truth, understand that they are not paid to do the grunt work.

Let’s face it, even though it isn’t necessarily the best approach to the Executive Search process, there is comfort there and little perceived risk in going with the name brand. If it fails, at least they can say that they went with on of the big boys. I wonder why more HR executives don’t take a more hands on approach to vetting the search firms? Perhaps I’ll never know…

 

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