Insights

How Transparency Is Transforming Relationships in Executive Search

Posted by Reed Flesher

The update call. That weekly or bi-weekly meeting with your client where you go over candidates in play. It’s an opportunity to get feedback, adjust search specs, and re-establish trust with your client. 

But more often than not, you’re put on the defensive. Your client wonders why the search is taking so long. “What are you doing between the times we talk, anyway?” You can hear the question, even if they don’t say it aloud.

Until recently, the weekly call was the industry’s best answer to building transparency between firm and client. But technology is changing, and with that change comes an expectation of permanent connectedness, of visibility into how you operate. 

A few firms have tried this new level of transparency — and it seems to be working.

Transparency: The opportunity gap

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report notes that businesses face acute pressures to move faster and adapt to a far more diverse workforce. 

They found transparency was one of the biggest gaps that organizations must overcome to find success today. Across businesses of all sectors, only 18% believe their business model is transparent and open, according to Deloitte. Furthermore, 27% realize that this lack of transparency makes them less competitive.

Consider the executive search industry, where relationships have been built on confidentiality, discretion, and closely guarded information tied tightly to individual recruiters. It’s easy to see why executive recruiting may be even farther behind than other sectors when it comes to openly sharing information and processes.

So, what gives for those firms proclaiming transparency on their websites? No doubt, transparency can mean different things to different people. For most executive search firms, it probably refers to regular meetings and reports on progress. 

But that model is quickly being left in the dust as modern ideas of what transparency looks like enter the scene.

What transparency looks like in executive search today

A new breed of executive search firms is using technology and the transparency that comes with it to tap into a sore spot for clients, where many of the more traditional firms have failed to deliver. 

Executive search startup TritonExec represents that new breed of firms. A foot in the door with a large client gave them initial liftoff, and since then, they’ve catapulted to 32 employees and $11.3 million in annual earnings. They continue to lure clients away from the ‘big five’ firms.

How are they doing it? According to Forbes, it’s by “forging deeper and more meaningful client relationships.” Co-founder Jonathan Morris points to changing expectations, thanks to the technology that younger companies and startupsembrace. He says, for example, that weekly status updates don’t cut it anymore, as “PowerPoint presentations are being replaced by client interface platforms.”

Technology has now made it easier for firms to draw back the curtain and show what they’re working on at any point. Cloud-based search management tools let firms provide a dashboard that offers a continuous window into their activities. This dashboard lets clients log in at their leisure to watch the search unfold as your recruiters go about their work. 

Firms can decide what information to share with clients based on permissions settings, so there’s no worry of oversharing or providing information prematurely.

How greater transparency benefits the executive search process

Significant benefits may await those who pull back the curtain. The British Journal of Management reported that transparency improves performance by developing the client relationship and removing waste or “noise.” With a closer look, we can see this translates to five powerful benefits in executive search.

1. Trust

Trust develops when clients see action that backs up promises.

As a piece on operational efficiency from HBR says, “Uncertainty about our status makes our skin crawl.” According to the research, voluntarily providing operational transparency increases people’s trust and satisfaction, as well as sales. 

Jonathan Edwards, vice president of executive search at WilsonHCG, gives clients direct access to his firm’s portal, where his recruiters work. He notes that this builds trust between his firm and its clients. This transparency paves the way for his recruiters to work hand-in-hand with the client, which he says lets his firm make better and faster placements. “Our most successful client partnerships are those that collaborate in the system,” he says.

2. Speed

Transparency fuels collaboration between search firm and client, which, in turn, helps work progress faster.

Speed is critical in executive search. And the transparency afforded by modern technology helps teams move faster than ever before. Executive search firm Polachi sets up a dashboard for each search where clients can log in and view the progress or contribute when needed. Partner Karen Burke D’Agostino says that this access to always-up-to-date information has sped up the search process considerably. Clients no longer have to wait weeks to see her team’s progress when they can watch the search unfold 24/7. 

Tasks can move ahead faster because clients can add comments and feedback on their own time, rather than waiting for the weekly status report.

3. Accountability

When you know people can see your work, it encourages you to do your best.

This applies both to search firms and their clients in a transparent search process. Greater accountability is a welcome byproduct of transparency, according to D’Agostino. She says, “It makes you more accountable as a firm to know that your client is looking into your progress at any time, day or night.” And transparency also helps keep your clients accountable for the role they play because they can see what your firm is waiting on. 

It becomes apparent why a search has stalled if the firm needs client input before proceeding, for example.

4. Alignment

Transparency makes for stronger teams by keeping people on the same page.

Alignment with your client makes it more likely you’ll produce stellar candidates for them. And alignment among your own team members keeps operations flowing efficiently toward your goals. Olivia Heath, a consultant at global executive search firm Longbottom, notes that transparency has helped her firm’s people work together as a team. They use a dashboard to let all partners and consultants see an overview of the entire search and its progression as well as where individual candidates stand. She says that having an overview of what everyone is working on has allowed her firm to run smoother, keeping their London and New York offices aligned. 

She also adds, “As a small global firm, this transparency is vital as it reduces our workload in regard to seeing what other partners are doing, and enables us to now use this time for our clients and candidates rather than day-to-day administrative work.”

5. Productivity

A central access point for search information can cut out a lot of busywork. 

The effort of reporting virtually disappears, for example. With access to a system that automatically gives constant visibility into progress, there’s no need to produce reports manually. True, one of the fastest-growing executive search firms, found it was spending too much time pulling together information for clients. Clients wanted information on market compensation, candidate outreach, target companies, references, and so on. “We found ourselves constantly scrambling to cobble this information together – basically in fire drill mode – to address a client question or to support one of our recommendations,” says Joe Riggione, one of True’s founding partners.

True now gives clients access to its work and research directly. This has cut down on the time his team spends managing the search process. He says, “Now, we can really focus on the strategic work of developing candidates and providing insight, leveraging our extensive expertise to help clients translate market and candidate data into the best possible hiring decisions.”

Clients also save time with the added visibility, as one of True’s clients, Amy Spartz, notes. In her work as head of human resources at Gravie, she noticed that access to True’s dashboard freed her from “spending so much time on search admin.” 

Today, a powerful differentiator. Tomorrow, expected.

Transparency can be a powerful way for executive search firms to differentiate themselves from other firms. While many know transparency is important to their clients, few provide always-accessible views into their work. This leaves opportunities wide open for those with the mindset to use transparency to collaborate more, build stronger relationships, and cut down on the noise in their search operations.

But don’t expect transparency to remain a nice-to-have. The technology is already here, and the firms embracing that technology are already riding the wave.

As WilsonHCG’s Edwards says, “It’s no longer about hierarchy and service providers. I think it’s about collaboration and partnership and flattening the playing field.” 

Learn more about streamlining your executive search process. Read our definitive guide: How Effective Search Management Delivers the Right Candidate Faster.