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Career Transition – What Can We Learn From Losing Our Best Talent?

February 4th 2015

As a search consultancy we are regularly challenged to secure the industry’s finest executives for our clients. Upon client briefing our specific charter is to locate the candidate that best fits the needs of our client. At this point we follow a highly structured process that includes securing the interest of the candidate and ultimately a successful placement. I am often asked what are the circumstances that trigger the resultant move from one organization to another.

What me! Why?

Place yourself in this scenario. You are content in your position with favourable career prospects, and out of the blue you are contacted by a “Headhunter” to have a chat about some special opportunity. Most candidates are initially flattered which is followed by a sense of intrigue. Psychologically speaking from this point the process becomes most interesting from the perspective of both candidate and consultant. Interestingly once career drivers are shared we are able to convince the majority of our targeted audience to continue dialogue with us.

Over the years I have interviewed thousands of executives many of whom have attended our exploratory meeting out of sheer intrigue rather than pro-actively seeking career change. My challenge is to determine suitability, exactness of fit, and if appropriate identify their real motivations. From experience we are able to conclude that successful, career minded executives have many things in common. Just as their sporting counterparts are highly motivated and constantly seeking to improve performance, business professionals strive to excel and value success also. Therefore one of the more significant challenges for a search consultant is to convince a highly successful, well regarded executive to participate in career change.

Management Expectations

The very factors that attract executives to new positions invariably do not hold true in the long term. Organizations are dynamic entities having to meet a complex set of challenges, whilst facing enormous pressures both local and global. Those that participate in the public environment have the added pressure from their Boards, shareholders, fund managers and other institutions. As organizations travel along the road of uncertainty so do the expectations of management. How many of the readers can equate with the experience of an organization embarking on an strategy of market expansion only to be followed by stringent cost cutting; or reverse of this scenario? How many readers can relate to ineffective management or poorly executed business planning? How about ineffective change management or integration outcomes? Just imagine how the clash of cultures at Nokia and Microsoft is being managed through the latter’s purchase of Nokia’s Devices and Services business.

On one hand there are the macro issues governing people’s motivations, whilst on the other micro issues need to be dealt with. Take the following influencers and contemplate how one’s motivations can alter over just a decade: Graduation, marriage, family, divorce, travel, knowledge enhancement, promotion, professional rejection, termination or redundancy, dealing with challenge, managing success or failure, managing stress, business takeover, business liquidation and death. We can all relate to these influencers as either significant or otherwise. We are judged by our ability to cope with and handle varying degrees of pressure. Our capacity to be motivated and influenced by external forces shapes our destiny to some degree. It is little wonder the HR consulting profession has grown so significantly over the past twenty years.

Win / Win

Throughout our search and selection process we need to define those organizational qualities that serve to attract and retain our targeted candidates. In order to maintain good progress we need to establish the said items of interest as quickly as possible, for in the absence of such information we have little room to negotiate. At the end of the day the role of a search consultant is to create a win / win outcome for all stakeholders; a win for our client by attracting only those candidates that fulfill their exact organizational requirements and a win for the candidate by placing him / her into an organization that fulfills their professional and personal needs. Let us now turn our attention to these specific needs.

Attracting the Desired Quality Executive

High achieving executives able to point to a sustained history of successfully meeting personal and company objectives almost always seek new challenges for themselves. Many organizations fail to recognize this. The very qualities that an organization found so attractive in the first instance can be difficult to nurture in the longer term. We are able to point to a number of logical reasons for this dilemma. Management may fail to recognize the professional’s constant need to set and fulfill challenges. The organization may be ill equipped to handle this motivational requirement. It may lack the necessary strategic human resources policy to implement such a cultural requirement. Sometimes people just outgrow the organizations that have served so faithfully. Without exception when I am determining the particular needs of my targeted candidates they all point to their immediate desire to fulfill some new challenges. It is in the makeup of all successful individuals and teams for that matter.

Successful people like to belong to some higher order. They enjoy being a part of and contributing to a collegiate type team. I am regularly asked “what is the corporate vision of the organization that I represent?” I have determined people like to identify with and align themselves with corporate objectives. Should there be any mismatch in corporate / cultural values the resultant selection process is prone to failure. Management needs to recognize this fact because in our global competitive world the dynamics that impose themselves on business are constantly shifting, therefore there is an on-going need to adjust for change. Just as management strives to recruit team minded persons, it must foster such a working environment.


Successful executives are attracted to effective management systems and particularly effective leadership. No matter what our field of endeavour we admire and are attracted to quality leaders. Common to those persons that I deal with is their interest in the type of leadership and prevailing cultural values. This is not a forum for leadership however I can state with certainty that the best leaders understand the manner in which to cultivate and manage a harmonious working environment that fosters personal development. Fundamental to our success is the alignment of the personal to the corporate value system. For example people that value empowerment and a degree of autonomy are not going to maintain their successes under with a leader displaying autocratic tendencies. Similarly it is difficult to imagine a strictly controlled and rigid working environment with little flexibility, being able to get the best out of an executive striving for creativity and/or entrepreneurial flair.

A Human Resources Strategy

Common to all organizations displaying the positive characteristics as described, is a well managed strategic human resources platform. Human resource professionals recognize the need for effective retention strategies and build an environment that cultivates such. Succession planning, training and development, career counselling, empowerment and 360 degree feedback are not just buzz words, they are the essence of what attracts and retains quality people to quality organizations. The HR professional forms an integral component of the organizational structure and in many ways shapes the future for our budding executives. Those HR executives that genuinely “have the ear” of their CEO are well on the way to developing and maintaining excellent corporate cultures.

Case Study

In conclusion this particular case study might prove illuminating and fill some of the gaps for our readers. This consultancy was retained to recruit an Operations Director in China for a high profile telecommunications organization. Following some careful research we identified a particular candidate (one of several) that formed an integral component of his employer’s management structure. Following contact and an initial exploratory meeting we settled down to our process of selection.

At no time was I particularly confident of a successful outcome until I engaged the spouse in the discussions. She was both surprised and exceptionally pleased to be involved. I was able to determine that following many years of excellent service this executive had been striving for renewed strategic challenges, with further management training and development, necessary for him to advance his career; for the past five years this had been lacking.

In consultation with our client we tailored a value added compensation package that included the necessary soft elements and thus secured for our client an outstanding Director. From experience high achievers are constantly striving to attain excellence; they need the requisite tools and organizational stimulation in order to fulfill their professional and personal objectives. Failure to address these needs can often lead to disenchantment and provides the stimulus for career transition to be contemplated.



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