Why does the current search model need fixing?

Simple. There’s an access deficit. Candidates don’t have access to all the roles that are most relevant to them and headhunters don’t have access to all the best candidates for any given role.

And despite the pivotal role that successful executive search plays in the fortunes of an organisation, it’s incredible that nothing has materially changed to tackle this issue in more than a century.

It’s even more curious when set against the backdrop of acclaimed thinkers like Matthew Syed, Carol Dweck and Steven Speir who highlight the importance of recognising and embracing failure as an opportunity to improve - and the power of continuous marginal gains to make transformational changes over time.

So why are we still making the same mistakes?

Again, it’s simple. Humans have a psychological tendency to wilfully ignore failure. As Matthew Syed observes in Black Box Thinking, “the more we have riding on our judgements the more we are likely to manipulate any new evidence that calls them into question”.

He cites the example of bloodletting - a common practice for a range of afflictions from the 2nd Century AD onward.

If a patient recovered after bloodletting it was used as evidence of its healing powers, and if the afflicted died it was simply confirmation to the doctor that their patient was so ill already that even bloodletting could not help them.

It wasn’t until the 19th Century that physicians challenged this practice by using a random control sample of patients. They concluded that bloodletting actually weakened patients when they were ill and the practice soon became obsolete. However, it had taken more than 1,500 years to detect failure, because the evidence suggesting failure had been manipulated to suggest success.

But such unchallenged failure still appears commonplace in the search industry. With the same mistakes still being made every day:

  • Don’t reduce the pool too soon. The current search model is fundamentally flawed because it only considers a small and relatively obvious group of candidates who are known to a headhunter. The moment the potential pool of candidates is reduced in size, so is the likelihood of finding the perfect fit for an organisation.

  • Don’t make it difficult for the best candidates. Those who are good at jobs tend to be busy doing them, so don’t necessarily have the time and inclination to stay front and centre of headhunters minds by staying in constant touch.

  • Don’t make it expensive for the firm. On average top tier companies spend more than $10,000 per placement on research costs alone.

  • Don’t make it difficult for a company to achieve diversity. A single search professional picking the longlist will always result in confirmation bias. No wonder the results often lack diversity.

So how can the executive search industry begin to address these issues?

Firstly, those in the industry need to recognise its failings. Rather than use the sort of psychological manipulation that Syed highlights to delude themselves that their own niche is exempt from the issues, industry professionals need to act to make positive changes.

Secondly, executive search needs to use the same sort of 'Black Box Thinking' described by Syed that the airline industry so successfully employs. In aviation, the meticulous study of data after a failure means there is less than one accident for every 2.4 million flights. By contrast, the healthcare industry has a less established process for assessing its failures and recent studies have suggested the number of preventable premature deaths could number 400,000 people per year in America alone.

Finally, the only way the search industry can become truly high functioning is when the access deficit is removed. Candidates need access to all the relevant roles available to them – and organisations need access to all relevant candidates, not just the most obvious.

This has historically been impossible because of the way the industry is structured. No one human headhunter has the time to stay in touch with a large and diverse enough group of people and companies to overcome this access deficit. And even if they had infinite time for coffees, phone calls and lunches, they could never filter the vast amount of information quick enough to be useful to any one search.

Nurole offers the solution to these problems. The platform uses technology to combine scale, quality and a unique candidate-led approach that connects companies with tens of thousands of brilliant and diverse executive-level professionals from more than 100 countries across the globe. It immediately overcomes the access deficit - increasing the probability of finding the right candidate quickly, offering a diverse range of options and reducing costs for organisations.

It’s time for the search industry to move into the 21st Century. Otherwise, the bloodletting will continue.