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 

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