Posted by: Katrina Stewart

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What’s the latest news from the Executive HR market?

March 2017, and I was looking ahead at a new chapter in my life, a new job - motherhood. As I looked forward to a slightly different work life, in the back of mind I kept wondering what those 12 months had in store for the HR Executive Search market: "Who would be moving? Would that candidate I met 3 weeks ago secure an exciting Head of HR role? Which firms would be looking to change, make a difference and be innovative? What would I miss?" 

Coming back in January 2018, I started to find the answers to these and many other questions from candidates, clients and the team here at Oakleaf. I had also kept in touch on my return days to work, making a conscious effort to speak to my clients and candidates, making sure I was still very much knowledgeable about the senior HR marketplace. It was also respite from singing nursery rhymes!

2017/18 market trends

In many people's opinions, 2017 had been steady across both permanent and interim hiring. Brexit hadn't really caused any major problems yet for organisations, and it really was a case of "business as usual".

Many larger corporates across banking, FMCG and oil and gas saw an uplift in hiring across all levels, especially at the Divisional Director level. With this came the appetite for in-house search teams, where a handful of organisations brought the function internal by hiring Search Directors who have a book of knowledge, resulting in significant cost saving.

HR Director movement in the Asset Management space, new team structures in some of the larger FMCG houses and retailers had created a need for fresh ideas and new faces around the leadership table, and Reward still led the way in being an extremely lucrative and important role within the HR department. Oakleaf Executive continued to dominate in the Reward space in 2017, with Jamie Newton winning 10 mandates in the UK as well as expansion into international assignments in the Middle East.

Oakleaf were delighted to partner with growing start-ups, PE backed businesses and privately-owned organisations who were looking for their first commercial HR Director. We increased our mandates in the commerce and industry space, especially in Technology, Retail, Media and FMCG, winning searches across Reward, HR and Resourcing.

Since January 2018 we have secured 8 retained mandates, across Financial Services, Retail, Professional Services, Media and Technology.

Interim Management 

Oakleaf have an extremely strong track record in the senior Interim search space, and 2017 was a strong year for both fixed term contracts and day rate opportunities. Whilst our BAU work remained steady, including maternity covers and filling the gap whilst permanent candidates were waiting to start, we saw an increase in the demand people with strong change and transformation programme portfolios, as 2017 continued to pour out more and more M&A partnerships.

Organisations in 2017, and most certainly continuing the trend into 2018, are putting significant investment and resource into managing culture change, organisation design and talent management in order to drive performance. These roles do not always require a permanent member of staff, and so someone coming in to manage the project is seen as more beneficial.

As I look ahead, I see the need for interims to join many of the entrepreneurial organisations established in 2016/17, who are now at a crossroads when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. A seasoned Talent Acquisition specialist or HR generalist who has the ability to hit the ground running and develop processes and roadmaps would be ideal on an interim basis to help build their organisation.

Brexit is creeping up on us, with less than a year to go, organisations are telling me they need to plan ahead, bringing in consultants to support them on workforce planning, immigration, global mobility and offshoring.

What do organisations want from their HR leader? 

Many organisations are still looking to upskill and replace traditional HR practices with business/commercial people leaders. Many firms are currently in the spotlight because they need to adapt and be more innovative when it comes to service levels and their product. These firms are starting to realise that in order to stay ahead of the competition, they need to have a strong, diverse and capable workforce who they can attract, retain and develop.

Key topics such as diversity, gender and equal pay, and innovative talent management are now stamped on board agendas, leading the way for a HR Director to influence and lead on these initiatives. The expectations and requirements of candidates from clients were heavily focused on making sure HR Directors have a proven track record of cost saving, off-shoring, centralising, restructuring or digitalising organisations, so that they continue to deliver the results.

Having worked with many different organisations hiring Director level posts, I have noticed many organisations are now having an open mind about where their next leader comes from, choosing to interview candidates from completely different sector backgrounds. With the desire to stay ahead, companies who recruit a leader from organisations who are already further developed when it comes to technology, globalisation and growth, allows that business to learn from already made mistakes, and limit the risk of failure. I encourage this way of thinking as it allows organisations to actually change, to receive a new way of thinking, allowing innovation and creating a diverse workforce. Having worked across a wide range of sectors, I welcome the opportunity to work with forward thinking business leaders who want a different perspective, rather than the same practices within the same type of firm.

I genuinely believe that headhunting purely from the same sector is dated, and I personally always look to search further afield and think outside the box when it comes to where the ideal candidate would come from. This year so far, 6 out of the 8 mandates we have worked on have looked at talent outside their own sector. Financial Services firms are still however opting for same sector experience, many for the candidate's regulatory and compliance knowledge

Candidate experience

The process for a candidate to find the best opportunity is still extremely fragmented for any executive HR professional. Senior opportunities being directly sourced via internal recruiters or the use of LinkedIn/social media seemed to confuse some candidates, as rarely the job profile would state salary level. Senior HR job titles still mean different things to different organisations, and salary bandings differ greatly, meaning it is difficult for jobseekers to know where they are positioned, price and experience wise, in relation to the vacancy. Some of my candidates told me they were approached for positions directly, only to find out the salary level the organisation was pitching it at was far too low for their experience.

Therefore, for HR professionals actively looking for their next career move, the search firm is still very much a first port of call. The dilemma then is who to call? It seems over the last 2 years, the HR Search community has grown, with many search businesses seeing HR as a gateway for future work, and so establishing a HR search business as part of their existing specialisms seems to make sense. The problem for candidates is there are too many options, causing the market to be fragmented.

The service received from search firms also seems to vary, some proving harder to contact than others, especially if they are industry specialists rather than HR recruitment specialists.

What’s next? 

I am leading the Executive search and Interim management solutions business, separate to the contingent practice at Oakleaf. The idea behind it is to offer a concierge level of service to our customers, where we can be agile and adaptable in how we work with them. We will continue to challenge the traditional ways search firms operate.  We operate in a customer centric environment, where we have a broad established talent pool, a referral network alongside, the mapping capabilities nationally and internationally, along with market intelligence from the highly successful contingent arm of Oakleaf. We strive to work with integrity at all times, giving excellent customer service to all candidates and clients.

Please contact for further information about the Executive job market.

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