Changes in Executive Search

About a year or so ago, I attended a meeting on executive search and listened especially closely to several of the speakers at the conference. One of most interesting topics addressed what some pundits are predicting regarding changes in the executive search business model as the labor pool begins to tighten. Typically, a client company/organization hires an outside firm to conduct a search for an open (and sometimes confidential) position. The business model is pretty simple: the client compensates the search firm based on a percentage of the annual salary + bonus of the individual who is successfully placed by the firm. Some agreements are milestone driven, some are performance based, while other firms require a structured payment fee over a specific period of time (I just don’t get this) regardless of the outcome. You’d be amazed at the low completion rates by some of the largest search firms in the world. Amazed!

Moving on… With the shortage of talent in the HCIT market, we already see signs of fewer highly qualified candidates for the available openings. The supply and demand equation is shifting towards the candidate side as the talent pool for some positions is becoming pretty shallow. We’ve already seen many examples where multiple healthcare organizations in the same location have multiple openings for the exact same positions, creating more pressure on candidate availability. Now what?

Some are predicting that the talent shortage in certain industries (like HCIT) will lead a number of firms to re-evaluate the way they do business. Some firms are already moving to a sports agent relationship model where the firm will represent a candidate before they ever “become available” – sort of like forbidden fruit. Top shelf talent will be confidentially shopped to key organizations that may not even have an opening but choose to hire the person anyway just to build bench strength and ensure that they have access to great talent which may otherwise take too long to find. This is an interesting situation that may materialize – or it may not. If this business model is adopted, these executive talent agents could drive the talent acquisition needs of our industry for many years to come. It’s a model that’s been around for decades and used by professional athletes and entertainers – add CIO’s and other HCIT leadership positions to the mix and now you really have a game changing event!

I’m not making any predictions here – only sharing thoughts and ideas that many in our industry are talking about. Who, knows – it may never happen. I will, however, offer some advice: you may want to develop a relationship with search professionals who truly know the HCIT market – regardless of whether or not their business model changes.

High Tide in HCIT…

I witness the shifting of the tides each day living here in Charleston. It’s profound to watch as high tide replaces the shallow waters of the Atlantic. Each tide change is significant when measured at the peak. Just look at the difference in the height of the water in today’s tide forecast:

5:47 AM EST
High Tide
6.49 feet

11:56 AM EST
Low Tide
0.25 feet

5:59 PM EST
High Tide
5.59 feet

I only wish the tides were changing in the way we approach hiring HCIT talent. So far, there does not appear to be much of a shift at all in the hiring process in this soon to be explosive space we call healthcare IT. The overall search market has already improved and the recruiter confidence levels remain high. For those that “don’t get it” it will be difficult to upgrade, add or replace much needed human capital required to keep pace with what will no doubt be a (VERY) fast moving train! What are you going to do differently in 2010 to make sure you attract the talent pool you need to execute your plan?

While we see significant increases this fall in search assignments over the summer and fall of 2008 – what we don’t see is much of a change in the hiring process. Search assignments continue to drag out far beyond timelines that are sustainable or realistic in the new HCIT world. Once “meaningful use” and the certification process have been determined – I predict the hiring in this market will change (quickly) from being steady to a full blown feeding frenzy for HCIT talent. It’s more than just a guess as this hypothesis boils down to simple supply and demand math of available HCIT talent. I can’t wait!

What that means to hiring managers and HCIT HR professionals is a major change will need to take place in the timeframe it takes to vet candidates, schedule and complete interviews to get to the offer stage. If major changes in the hiring process are not made soon you will likely see candidates move to organizations that have a much more aggressive hiring strategy. Dragging things out can also send a message to a candidate when they experience delay after delay in their interaction with a potential employer.

It will equally and perhaps even more important for HCIT vendors and healthcare providers to develop meaningful on-boarding and retention programs to help employees integrate into a new organization quickly and to keep them happy so they don’t seek greener pastures downstream. Unfortunately, many employers I speak with do not have a defined on-boarding process or a strategy to retain top talent. That will have to change. And quickly – I might add… Organizations today can license software to automate the on-boarding process. It’s a no-brainer.

The tides are changing quickly and for those that want to participate in the tsunami in waiting – changes will have to be made in the way you approach talent acquisition. If not, I’m afraid you may be stuck in shallow water and waiting for the high tide while your competition advances further downstream.