Coronavirus Diary: how the crisis is changing c-suite tech recruitment

C-suite tech recruitment is a nuanced process. On the one side, there’s the candidate and on the other there’s the stakeholders, including members of the Board. Both parties want to get to know each other as intimately as possible before they commit. The interview process is an assessment for both sides and to achieve this, they’ll read each other’s body language, watch for visible cues and scrutinise how the other reacts physically when challenged on difficult or sensitive subjects.

Finding common ground and building the bridge of trust and respect has always been achieved in person, and it’s been the foundation of modern interviewing for a long time. Within the space of roughly three months however, coronavirus changed the rules of engagement on a fundamental level as lockdowns prevented any in-person meetings.

The key word here is ‘change’; because coronavirus hasn’t prevented c-suite interviews from happening, it’s simply changed how c-suite tech recruitment is being conducted.

Going into this period we had three tech sector leadership searches commence. As the UK ‘locked-down’, these processes were conducted exclusively using video technology with zero face–to–face meetings.

Globally, we’ve had nearly 25 c-suite searches fall into the same category, which were all likewise carried out virtually. Of the three UK searches, two are CEO appointments and are now at advanced stages of the search process and the third (a VP of EMEA) was recently completed, having not met anyone face-to-face throughout both the interview process and now their on boarding.

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What’s clear is that you can still appoint critical leaders without the physical interaction associated with in-person meetings, but interviewing is now different. The entire process has become even more forensic than before. Without the option to meet face-to-face, both parties want more time to assess the other.

We’re seeing boards bring in more stakeholders to interview candidates in both small groups and on a one-to-one basis, whilst candidates are asking to speak to more individuals around the business; they want more check points and a greater understanding of the individuals they’ll be working with. There’s an understanding — from both parties — that they’re in a novel situation; there’s no playbook for how this is carried out and so they’re slowing down the whole process.

A real positive that has emerged is the Board’s focus on the candidate experience. This is something we’ve always advised on but there’s now real impetus from the client to get this right — they know that the candidate is taking a risk and want to ensure they don’t miss out on the best talent due to a poor recruitment process.

That’s not to say the processes are any less rigorous. Boards are acutely assessing potential CEOs on their post-Covid 19 strategies — they want an individual who is resilient, courageous, innovative, entrepreneurial, and most importantly someone who is agile enough to change their leadership style in response to changing climates. They know that in six months’ time we’ll be looking at the tail end of the virus and a world which is different but will be even more different six months’ after that, when that world takes shape. The ability to manage constant and dramatic change is now the number one leadership trait — both on a personal level and as a business leadership ability.

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As well as changing the recruitment process, coronavirus is also changing the broader c-suite tech talent landscape. Household names in Silicon Valley are more frequently considering non-US based executives. Remote working has set in motion the true globalisation of talent and I expect will drive greater diversity across leadership appointments, particularly for multinational tech businesses.

Alongside ongoing CEO appointments, there’s been an increase in chief human resources officer (CHRO) and chief people officer (CPO) roles within tech companies of all sizes. Boards are looking for people leaders who can prepare their companies for a world in which the practicalities of work, the way people are rewarded and recognised, and the way businesses engage with their employees is very different to what it is now. Likewise, the number of chief security officer (CSO) and chief information officer (CIO) roles has also increased in line with the widespread digitisation that Covid-19 is fuelling.

Almost all other roles have however, been negatively affected. If it’s non-revenue generating or not a business critical position then it’s been put on hold until the global economic landscape starts to show some signs of stability. Areas such as internal talent acquisition, operations and certain parts of marketing have had a recruitment freeze at nearly every level.

When exactly these roles will start to re-emerge is still uncertain, but what is certain is the changing requirements of all leadership roles. C-suite individuals in particular will need to be ‘chameleon-like’ in their ability manage a mix of remote and on-site workforces; they will need high levels of empathy to lead and manage employees through periods of heightened anxiety, and will need a genuinely entrepreneurial mindset to drive value in post-Covid 19 markets — whatever those markets happen to look like.

Written by Mike Drew, partner and head of the global technology and IT services practice at Odgers Berndtson

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