A view from the CFO Practice at Green Park
17th May 2019 4 minutes read
We recently had a window cleaner come to our house. I asked for an extra quote for a few really hard to reach windows that hadn’t been done for ages. The price increased a lot. At first my instincts were "no thanks, I'll climb out of the window on to the flat roof with no safety gear and do it myself with a bucket of hot water and a sponge!" Then I saw sense and recognised I was talking to a professional with many years' experience who could do the job with the right equipment to a vastly higher standard than I could myself. But he wanted to double the quote! Again instinct told me to negotiate the price down but even though it was a 15 minute job for him I stopped myself. Here was a professional with experience, a track record, knowledge and the ability to do a great job. So I agreed and put the kettle on for him.
Lupin's gone mad, you're thinking. What's any of this got to do with recruitment and retention? It's got everything to do with it. The executive interim management market in Local Government is in good health despite austerity, Brexit or anything else. But increasingly Councils are using arm’s length frameworks, outsourced arrangements and managed service providers to deliver senior interim recruitment. For more routine and volume recruitment that saves time, creates robust competition in the supply chain and cuts cost without harming outcomes too much. All good in theory but that's simply not the case with the most senior, sensitive and high risk appointments.
Bear with me on this. Would you ask 6-8 firms to work in competition on a 48 hour turnaround to find CVs for your next permanent CEO, Executive Director or AD? Would you ask them to do so by email without meeting them to determine their expertise, networks or track record? And would you want them representing you to highly networked, senior candidates without having scoped out the nuances of the role and the softer competencies required of the appointee?
If you were the candidate in that situation, would you view that Council as an employer of choice? Or might you feel like a commodity being traded for a fee rather than a professional interim who is fully engaged in that organisation's journey and requirement? Increasingly that's how even the most senior interims are sourced these days. Austerity has pushed Councils to often determine that cheaper equals better. While for many services that may be true, I am convinced that is not the case when it comes to senior interim managers.
Don't get me wrong. There are many Local Authorities that approach executive interim hires with the same rigour as executive search, where significant value is placed on a genuine partnership between the Council and recruiters whereby we become a seamless extension of their HR capability and their employer brand. It makes for an inclusive process that engages candidates in that organisation and ultimately delivers the best results. It might mean spending a little more but it definitely means a better outcome for the Council.
So for me it's about taking a more holistic view about what value means in 2019. When my window cleaner wanted to charge more for those hard to reach windows, my default view was to think about the cost, not the benefits or outcomes. Surely I could climb out of the window myself - akin to a Council cutting out recruiters and going to Linked In and other networks alone with the challenges that entails - or I could get more quotes and hope to hustle the fee down (compromising the quality of the service).
What I'm saying is that when it comes to identifying, attracting, engaging and retaining highly sought after executive interims in a ruthlessly competitive market where your peer Authorities are your competition, there are three options. 1 - go it alone, 2 - beat the fee down to the lowest common denominator and keep your supplier(s) away from you, or 3 - select a firm or two or three on their merits and keep them close, allowing them to do their very best for you.
When I look at the best work we do, which I define as the best outcomes for our customers - both candidates and clients - without exception those appointments are driven because people value us and we value them. Candidates value our honesty, our ability to give them access to suitable opportunities and our deep understanding of the sector. Clients place a premium on us being able to ensure they get the best possible candidates who deliver the outcomes they need at a price point they are comfortable with. About 70-80% of our assignments are driven by repeat business, recommendations, referrals and our networks. People buy people after all so working as closely with your interim recruiters as you do with your search recruiters will maximise outcomes.
Anyone can search Linked In for candidates but finding the best ones is another matter. It’s an incredible resource but one that needs to be used carefully. At times it can be a bit like a shop window with no health warning to tell you that once you've bought something, if it doesn’t work, you cannot get a refund. People assume that Linked In makes finding candidates easy which in turn should mean recruitment is cheap but the right executive interim partners can guide their customers to the best, robustly vetted candidates and help you avoid those statistics about failed appointments. Good recruiters spend countless days, weeks and months networking with candidates to ensure they’re ready to respond immediately to requirements with the best possible shortlists and creating and maintaining candidate networks is the cornerstone of what we do.
So keeping your executive recruitment network close enables them to advise you, work with you and do their best for you when you need them, just as you might with permanent executive search. A bit like our window cleaner. He did a great job and we'll be asking him to clean all the windows from now on. You get what you pay for.
Neil Lupin is Managing Partner and Local Government Lead at Green Park Interim & Executive Search.