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Emerging Issues in Executive Search

Last week I attended the annual Global Conference of the AESC – The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants – in New York City.  This is the sole organization that represents the $11 billion global executive search industry.  The mission of the AESC is to serve as the voice of excellence for executive search and leadership consultants worldwide.  This year’s conference was attended by about 200 search professionals from 23 countries, and it was organized around three themes – innovation, inclusion and intuition.

I have attended this conference for many years and served on the Americas Council of the AESC, so I have a rather good sense of where our industry has been and where it is going.  Here are some observations about things that have changed – and some that have stayed the same – over those many years.

  • When I first began to attend this conference in the late 1990s, there were only a handful of participants from outside of the US, and a handful of women attendees as well. It was truly the land of old, white men.  This year, about 40 percent of the participants were women.  The average age was far younger, and I spent time with people from Brazil, Ireland, Dubai, South Africa, Venezuela, Canada and Belgium.
  • In my 20 years in the executive search industry, the word “innovation” has rarely passed my lips when discussing our profession. Last week’s meeting didn’t change that.  The basic foundation of what we do and how we do it remains largely unchanged, although it is enabled more effectively by technology and a digital world.
  • Inclusion is a different story. I sensed a shift in presentations about diversity and inclusion from a focus on metrics and scorecards to a more sophisticated understanding of how today’s best companies and leaders know how to integrate the many different voices in their organizations to create competitive advantages.  There is a growing understanding that there isn’t much value in having a diverse management team if their ideas and experiences go largely ignored.
  • We have heard for years that as Baby Boomers exit the workforce in large numbers, America’s companies will be challenged to replace them with new leaders. It feels like this dynamic is closer than we think, and it is already beginning to increase the focus on succession planning and talent management.

I will end this post with a question designed to elicit some ideas on how our profession can become more innovative.  If there was one thing you could change about how you work with retained search firms – either as a hiring manager or candidate – what would it be?

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