September is a fresh start for Milan.

After two years of absence in light of the pandemic, September 2021 represents a new beginning for the city:

Milan is going through a slow and gradual reopening - it is seeking a new way of restarting.

Milan Design Week was one of the most anticipated design events to take place in Italy, and it has finally opened its doors to visitors. From the 5th- 10th of September, more than 350,000 architects, designers, artists, and craftspeople from all around the world had the chance to explore new design innovations and exchange ideas about interior design, furniture, and lighting. During the week-long event, Salone del Mobile, the renowned furniture and interior design event of the year, hosted local and international exhibitors at the Fiera Milano, Rho, along with interventions by world-renowned architects across the city.

New this year was the Supersalone, the special event of the Salone del Mobile, curated by the architect Stefano Boeri, that marks the restart in our
post-pandemic city. There were 425 brands in the four pavilions and 1,900 projects on display with spaces dedicated to companies and small consumers. The emphasis was on the smart component and the rediscovery of the home as an environment in which to live. There were 30,000 tickets only on the first day (the expectations were 50,000 for all six days), of which half were foreign visitors. And as we walk through the pavilions, the amount of visitors is undeniable.

"Milan is moving and, with Milan, Italy is moving again," said the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala. "It is an event that brings to the world the positive image of our city and the country. I welcome and endorse the invitation of President Mattarela, who I thank for his presence, to assume our responsibilities. Milan takes responsibility and wants to lead the restart.".

Guglielmo Sallustio
Partner, Milan

The pandemic has transformed the process of hiring top executives.

Many companies are poorly served by their current hiring practices – especially when competition for top talent remains so keen.

A recent study from research and advisory firm Gartner surveyed 3,500 managers and found that only 29% of new hires have all the skills required for their current roles, let alone for future ones. The shelf life of skills is becoming shorter and shorter. The research found that in key functions such as finance, IT, and sales, positions filled today will require up to 10 new skills within 18 months.

Globally, we are seeing some very specific themes emerge in 2021:

The pandemic created all sorts of disruption, from technology to corporate culture and a greater focus on diversity.

Many boards are focusing on the need to accelerate their digital transformation. and there is an increasing demand for business transformation specialists.

Virtual interviews have certainly cut the time it takes to interview and hire, but the hybrid scenario is here to stay where the first-round interviews can be done online, but further stages require in-person interviewing. However, virtual interviews can mean far less investment is required on the part of candidates, so it is vital to explore their true motivations for wanting a new position.

Companies also are giving priority to different values in their leaders, such as communication skills.

Sometimes it is good to hire for potential and transferrable skills not just specific industry experience. All too often firms simply put together a profile mirroring that of the person who has left, perhaps tacking on a few new requirements. At best, this highlights candidates who are prepared for yesterday’s challenges, but probably not ready for tomorrow’s.

Candidates are being increasingly selective about who they work for and companies are having to sell themselves to the candidates as much as the other way around.

There is an increased demand for leaders who can bring an organisation together with shared values and a mission worth pursuing, with transparency and responsibility, to present the organisation in the right way.

The freedom (or the imperative) to work remotely and to manage one’s own time has increased the effect that an individual can exert over the design of their jobs. WFH also has broadened the applicant pool - many employers are no longer limited by borders and geographies.

Executives who can motivate and lead their teams from afar will therefore bring a huge benefit to the stakeholders.

Finally, CEOs and Boards are very conscious of the need for contingency planning and lessons learned in anticipation of future events. Succession planning has become even more vital and so retaining key people is essential.

We are all living in a different world, and that world demands a new approach to hiring that can't be ignored.

Lorri Lowe
Partner, UK

The path to a 'New Work'

For most employees, home office means having flexibility and freedom and many are reluctant to give these up. However, if studies by the Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim (ZEW)* are to be believed, they don't have to. Many companies plan to stick with the home office arrangements beyond Corona. In 2020, 64% of companies in the information economy wanted to continue to allow working from home at least one day per week. In 2021, it was already 74 %.

Leadership is becoming much more demanding

The fact is that in the last couple of years, many employees were allowed to work from home for the first time - and it was also a new experience for many supervisors. If it now becomes the rule that employees are predominantly at home, this also requires a rethink in terms of leadership. Leadership, already an often underestimated management discipline, becomes even more demanding.  Without the chance encounters in the corridor and the short chat at the coffee machine, supervisors will have to invest more time in the future to stay in touch with their employees. Keeping this connection, even over distance, continuing to provide guidance and coaching requires a high degree of empathy. This is a quality that is much more in demand in Executive Search today than it was before the pandemic.

'New Work' means rethinking work

The much-used buzzword "New Work" tries to give a home to the megatrends in the world of work such as digitalisation, work-life balance, globalisation, etc. It is also a way of thinking about work in a new way. Those who understand how complex the topic is are rethinking work: starting with recruiting and training new employees, to leadership and employee retention. Employer benefits related to the office are losing importance - and also attraction.

What connects employees of a company, how do they become a team?

A practised corporate and leadership culture, shared values and work that is defined by the value delivered are becoming more important than ever. At the same time, the boundaries between work and private life are becoming increasingly indistinct. The risk of being overwhelmed, of restlessness is increasing, because work is omnipresent with the increase in home offices. This is yet another argument for the importance of empathic leadership.

Motivation and willingness to perform - the inseparable partners

Then as now, motivation and willingness to perform are closely linked. Employees want recognition for their performance. Company leaders have to ask themselves: How is it currently working in my organisation? How much room is there for new ideas? What about the culture of error? How regularly does exchange take place between managers and employees? Companies that see the current situation as an opportunity to take a fundamentally new look at the topic of leadership and to set fresh impulses in the design of their working and organisational world will benefit from this in the long term.

A plea for personal contact

Despite all the possibilities offered by new digital media today, I am convinced that inspiring leadership distinguished by empathy cannot do entirely without personal contact. For me, this is not a question of an old or new economy, or of trust and mistrust. It is therefore understandable that many companies specify at least one or two days of presence in the office.

Decisions in favour of a higher proportion of home office are mostly CFO-driven. Some companies have used the absence of employees due to the pandemic to sell office space. Such cost-driven decisions may be good for companies in the short term, but not in the medium to long term.

Motivation boost Corona pandemic?

In May 2020, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) surveyed 500 companies from various sectors on the topic of working in the corona pandemic**. Around 70 % of the participants stated that they had largely switched to home office. Half assessed the performance of their employees to have remained the same during this time - 30% even recorded an increase in productivity. Decreased productivity mostly resulted from the reduction of working time accounts, short-time work, etc.

The study results also show what a strong impulse the Corona crisis gave to develop innovative solutions together - to overcome an existentially threatening situation together.

How long will this last?

When will motivation also decline at the home workplace and with it productivity and efficiency? To prevent this, leaders must now build up and expand their virtual leadership skills and find the right mix in delegation, team organisation, personal responsibility and duty of care. The experiences of the last few months are too important not to be used systematically.

*Source: "Home office in times of Corona", Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim (ZEW).

**Source: "Working in the Corona Pandemic - Towards the New Normal", Fraunhofer IAO in cooperation with the German Society for Human Resource Management DGFP e.V.

Matthias Zühlke, Partner
Hamburg, Germany 

A successful recruitment process enables growth – even in the middle of a prolonged crisis

The arrival of COVID-19 in Finland transformed the economy and working life, to say the least. Like many service businesses, Friisberg Finland was forced to face facts in March 2020: the uncertain situation in Finland and around the world has increased caution for headhunting customers and candidates.

The fact is, however, that the need for competent professionals still exists; if we wish to ensure continued growth and move on from the crisis, we need the right people in the right places.

COVID-19 affected recruitment and headhunting processes

What has changed in the recruitment of key personnel over the past 10 months?

Change 1:

Successful recruitment is ensured through psychological aptitude tests and personality assessments.

More and more customers want the option of two top candidates to choose from instead of one at the end of the headhunting process with both candidates tested using psychological personality and aptitude assessments and their references checked. Why? Especially in these circumstances, customers want to ensure that they will be able to hire one of the two best candidates as quickly as possible. A diverse psychological personality assessment tailored for the position in question provides information on the top candidates’ competence but also on what motivates them and how they will fit into the culture of the business.

Change 2:

Candidates for key personnel need security and continuity.

The COVID-19 situation has made candidates more security-oriented; people are looking for a good, safe job and a guaranteed income.

There are risks involved in transitioning to a new position in a new company. Due to the crisis, businesses have seen an increase in refusals at the end of their own recruitment processes, especially if the process has been prolonged.

Change 3:

Successful recruitment is still the sum of many parts.

If the company is well-known and has a positive employer image and interesting operations, it most likely will not suffer from a lack of candidates, even in trying times. A relatively unknown company with a less appealing reputation or employer image, however, may not be able to attract the most sought-after individuals on its own.

The security offered by the employer affects the candidates’ choices

Uncertain times affect the choices made by candidates. That is why hiring companies must pay attention to the candidates’ sense of security and offer them support in changing circumstances. The employer image built by the recruitment processes should also be kept in mind.

As positions and searches become international, finding the best candidate beyond the borders of your own country is becoming increasingly common.

The best candidate may be a returning migrant with a spouse, in which case the spouse’s career opportunities will influence the candidate’s decision on switching jobs and returning to their native country. Family relocation support and levelling the threshold of making a transition are currently of particular importance.

Participating in a headhunting process and assessing aptitude should also create value for the candidate.

Regardless of whether the process results in employment, the best type of recruitment process supports a positive employer image by offering the candidate personal feedback from the headhunter. The feedback should cover an analysis of the candidate’s interviews and a report on the aptitude assessment.

Such elements leave a positive image of the hiring company while supporting the professional development of the candidate.

How to ensure a successful recruitment process?         

A successful recruitment process has an efficient schedule and open communications and does not involve unpleasant surprises at the last minute.

These three tips enable you to ensure the best recruitment results, hold on to the best candidates and allow the key employee to start their work according to schedule:

  1. Do not delay in your recruitment decisions. Choose the top candidates quickly after interviewing the main candidates. If the decision-making process is slow, the candidate may start to feel like the company is not interested in them and that changing jobs might be a mistake – or that they might be able to negotiate better terms for their current position.
  2. Be open about the steps in the recruitment process. Keep both of your top candidates up to date about the process and ready for further discussion. Do not expect the candidates to simply wait patiently for your decisions.
  3. Keep your word in the agreement negotiations. Once you have discussed the candidate’s salary expectations and start date, you should not introduce any unpleasant surprises when negotiating their agreement.

An experienced headhunting partner will help you in uncertain times

In the middle of a crisis, such as COVID-19, an experienced headhunting partner can help you avoid any pitfalls and hold on to your candidates throughout the process.

Despite the pandemic, Friisberg Finland has seen excellent success in its headhunting processes; our customer and candidate experiences are at a very high level. Last year (2020), the NPS measurement of our customers’ and candidates’ satisfaction and their willingness to recommend our services to others was +77 among customers and +87 among candidates.

Mika Rossi


Despite the impact of Covid-19, and a slowing economy, executive search activities are still brisk in South Africa.

Friisberg South Africa has observed:
Friisberg South Africa seeing high demand
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