Of the various compliments we have received from clients and candidates since introducing our new range of senior executive recruitment services some six months ago is that we are “refreshingly different”.
The reason this was music to our ears is that this is precisely the reaction we set out to achieve.
Having spent many years as both hirers and candidates in the not-for-profit sector it is clear that the process of replacing a departing executive has become increasingly transactional, impersonal, packaged and expensive. To us, these alarming trends are not in the best interests of candidates, cause-driven organisations nor the communities they serve. So, we set out to develop an approach that shift emphasis from ….
Transactional to Transformative
Typically, the exit of a senior executive catapults a board into crisis mode. This, in turn, triggers a series of steps the board goes through to put a new leader in place as quickly as possible. You know the drill: engage a Recruiting Agency or conduct the recruit yourselves; stick the vacancy on a few ubiquitous Job Boards, sift through the mountain of applications and choose a small group to interview; make an offer to the candidate the board seems most comfortable with; hopefully they accept and can start quickly; the person commences and “Houston we no longer have a problem! “ .
Of course, it seldom works out as smooth as this, but hey it eventually works. Or does it?
The problem with a transactional mindset is that it assumes their is one response to executive turnover and this simply isn’t the case. For instance, what if we look at leadership turnover, not as a crisis or, at best, a nuisance for a board but as an opportunity – a chance to facilitate greater mission impact? Would it change our response?
Those of us who have led not-for-profits know there are precious few opportunities for transformative change in an organisation. Significant program and funding changes represent a couple of pivot points in the history of an organisation. The moment of executive turnover is another. When a CEO leaves things become a bit messy. This state of messiness offers the organisation a chance to restore order in new and creative ways. Our approach is this transition period is to revisit and possibly create new visions, solve lingering problems, energise stakeholders, in addition to performing the transactions associated with searching for and recruiting a new leader. A CEO transition can be “game changing” moment for an organisation in more ways than one.
Impersonal to Relational
A disturbing consequence of the transactional mindset is the process has become so sterile and dispassionate. Time and again both Boards and Candidates have expressed the same sense of frustration with us.
For Boards it is the lack of a true understanding of their organisation’s culture, challenges, opportunities and nuances that grates the most. For Candidates, it is the silence after an application is submitted and being treated as number when contact is made.
Our approach with clients is relational and, by its very nature, for more personal. When we take on an assignment, we do so because we believe in the organisation’s mission and feel we can contribute to its success. We work in partnership with clients and trust they will think of us as a resource for the time we work together and into the future.
With candidates, we do all we can to treat them as individuals. The quality of their experience is important to us as it reflects both on ourselves and our clients. We follow-up with candidates, keep the process as transparent as possible and have honest and clear conversations throughout. Importantly, we want the opportunity to be right for the person, their family and career. We help them evaluate all aspects of a new role to make sure it is the right fit.
Vendor to Partner
Admittedly, the complete recruitment package offered by many agencies is appealing to several not-for-profits. Basically, this involves an agency being briefed on the organisation’s recruitment requirements. They go away and do their thing and eventually return with a shortlist of candidates. An oversimplification, of course, but you can see agencies are typical vendors in these circumstances. They have a standard product and you get what you buy.
Our partnership approach, however, is quite different. Each client is seen as unique and services are unbundled and tailored to meet their circumstance. For example, an organisation may be perfectly capable of handling several the steps in the recruitment process and merely seek advice regarding the overall recruitment strategy. One client asked for a hand in conducting referee checks. Another asked us to sit in on the final interviews, negotiate the offer and advise on the on-boarding process.
Expensive to Affordable
Basically, not-for-profits are segregated into two groups when seeking to recruit a new chief executive:
A. Those that can afford to engage a recruitment agency.
B. Those that can’t afford a recruitment agency and conduct the recruit themselves
The irony here is that those in category B tend to be smaller, tightly resourced organisations where the impact of a poor recruitment is far more consequential to the organisation’s future.
We have strong views on the pricing models adopted by many executive recruiters which are probably best left for another day to get into, but one fundamental pricing mechanism surely must change. That is moving from a fixed fee model based on some arbitrary % of the salary to package to a time-based model. Other professions moved to this model long ago and it is high time Executive Recruiters do so as well. Billing based on the time spent on an assignment is transparent, ethical and, when combined with unbundled services, places professional recruitment services within reach of all not-for-profits.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that well led cause-based organisations drive positive change in Australian communities. Boards and sector leaders have a profound responsibility to ensure they place highly competent and effective people into senior leadership roles – we are ready, willing and able to assist.
By Chris Gandy – Chris is the Principal of Cause & Effective. He has over 25 years experience as a CEO in the not-for-profit sector and currently serves on 3 not-for-profit boards.
Cause & Effective is dedicated to partnering with good causes to find, attract, evaluate and recruit effective leaders. When you are ready to recruit a new leader please get in touch. If you are looking for your next leadership role in a mission driven organisation, please join our Cause Leadership Community