As we find ourselves, professionally and personally, in unchartered waters, unknown territory, and unprecedented times due to COVID, all professions have been altered. Some will never go back to their pre-COVID “normal.” Executive Recruiting is no exception.
Based upon my personal experience and that of our firm, the Valtas Group, here are seven observations related to recruiting social sector executives in the times of COVID.
#1: Establishing trust and rapport has become more challenging
There is something unique and powerful about meeting people face-to-face – getting “three-dimensional,” as I heard it called recently. While video conferencing and telephone calls are far more convenient (no travel time), they are not a comprehensive substitute for sitting across from another person and getting acquainted.
Clients rely on our judgment and recommendations. They have to trust that we have their best interests in mind. Establishing that credibility has become much more difficult in the absence of interpersonal interaction.
#2: Garnering a full appreciation for organizations has become more challenging
This has been a hallmark of Valtas Group and my approach since starting in this business over 25 years ago. At a basic level, organizations retain us to represent them to potential candidates. As such, we need to know as much as we can about their organization. We understand their culture to better tell their story most effectively, right down to the physical space.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from candidates that I sound like I work for the organization over the years. That is high praise in my book. Right now, every organization is experiencing cultural upheaval. It is hard to know the long-term, lasting effects of COVID on how organizations operate. How do you select people to work in an organization when you cannot see what that organization may look like in six months?
#3: Organizations need to “have their house in order” to attract high-caliber candidates
With so much uncertainty and so many organizations in flux, those with solid fundamentals (sound financials: stable leadership team; clear, strategic vision and direction; a stable Board; comprehensive DEI practices) will be the organizations that attract the best candidates.
Boards need to take an in-depth, hard look at the organization and conduct an honest assessment of their current state. Then, formulate and execute a plan to address the organization’s deficiencies. In ‘normal’ times, candidates need a compelling reason to think about leaving the position and organization they know to take a chance on an unknown situation. That has become even more critical in these times.
#4: An interim leader provides even more benefit than in more ‘normal times’
There are plenty of well-documented benefits to having someone serve as an interim ED or CEO while a Board searches for a new leader. In these times, the interim can also assist the Board in the assessment and implementation mentioned above.
A short-term leader can often make difficult but necessary changes that the previous leader was reluctant to make and need to be addressed imminently. This can allow the team to get past these changes and get somewhat more accustomed to the ‘new normal’ before the next leader comes in.
#5: The recruiting process takes a little longer
In my experience, this is due to the lack of in-person meetings and the use of technology to substitute. What we could once handle in a single meeting now may take two or three meetings over multiple days. This tends to make the whole process take a little longer than before.
Also, some organizations are reluctant to make hiring decisions without ANY face-to-face meetings. We have managed this on a case by case basis, but this can also add days to the recruiting process.
#6: Clients and candidates alike must get comfortable using new technology
This far into the COVID situation, most people have some experience with Zoom or an analogous system. However, there is still a learning curve for both sides that requires patient, conscientious assistance from us to prepare clients and candidates alike to use the technology most effectively.
This can be especially challenging for organizations where broad staff participation or consensus in hiring is the norm. We have to get creative and be flexible to accommodate organizational norms and expectations.
#7: On-boarding is a whole new world in times of COVID
Establishing individual relationships and rapport early in a new leader’s tenure is key to that leader’s long-term success. There are staff relationships to develop; Board relationships to establish, donor relationships to grow; and partner relationships to form. This was already a challenge from a time and efficiency perspective, and now it is even harder to do without face-to-face interaction.
We have also been helping our clients set very clear, transparent goals and expectations for new leaders. The more transparency from both sides, the more likely the transition will be a successful one.
You are managing an unprecedented number of challenges this year.
If your organization is considering a change and needs help with an executive search for your non-profit, please contact me today.
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