Re-Inventing Executive Search in Pakistan

Double Spiral Staircase Inside Vatican MuseumsThe time has come to re-invent Executive Search in Pakistan as the current way of doing executive search is detrimental for all parties involved; companies, candidates and search agencies.

Executive search was booming in 2006 and 2007. Opportunities in Pakistan were exploding. Banks discovered personal loans and credit cards as the new frontier. Telecoms were creeping into every nook and corner of the country and other industries were using the slip stream of a fast growing economy and a new emerging middle class. In addition the Middle East had an unquenchable thirst for relatively cheap Pakistani professionals creating a perfect storm for aspiring Pakistani career seekers. Companies didn’t know where to find the candidates to fill their vacancies. Salaries were skyrocketing and executive search companies had become very busy and began reaping solid returns. 

It was also the beginning of the end. Everybody jumped on the band wagon trying to cash in on the boom. The number of companies and individuals offering ‘executive search’ in Pakistan at some count reached more than 100. With so many people vested in this business segment the competition started its race to end at the proverbial bottom the moment the economy tanked and the number of vacancies dried up. Fees in the mid ’00’s at 2 months of the placed individuals annual salary dropped to as low as 1/2 month salary for the successful placement of a candidate in the space of a couple of months. 

With an over supply of talent,  companies started to use other sources and channels to identify candidates as well as ‘farmed’ out their vacancies to multiple search agencies, all fighting for the remaining crumbs. As a result the chance for a search agency to close a position and earn a meager success fee dropped close to zero. Search agencies in response were only willing to make a minimal effort to find a candidate which affected the quality of the search, impacting how companies would value the service and increase the number of channels further reducing the chance of a fee etc. A vicious circle was created. 

As a consequence I hear companies complain about the lack of quality of search firms, I hear search firms complain about their lack of revenue and I hear candidates complain that search firms and companies alike show little professionalism in the selection and courting process. In others words a lose-lose-lose situation. 

How to turn this around? The obvious solution lies in breaking this downward spiral and creating a situation where everybody wins. The company finds the right talented resource at the right time, the candidate is approached, selected and placed in a professional manner and the executive search firms earns a decent income. 

To turn this around the ball is in the court of the search agencies. They have to make a first step and commit themselves to significantly improving the quality of the search service and:

  • Adhere to a professional code of conduct highlighting their responsibility and guide their actions towards clients and candidates
  • Truly understand the clients requirements and translate that into search criteria (skills, competencies and fit)
  • Use every channel possible to search candidates (database, social media, referrals etc.)
  • Ensure appropriate due diligence on and permission from the candidate before presenting them to the client
  • Guarantee quick response times to both clients and candidates

The next step is for executive search firms to convince clients that a successful search assignment requires a partnership between the client and search agency. A partnership in which both parties win, a company finds a quality candidate and the agency earns a decent living. For this to work you have to create a mutual commitment towards the search in which both parties have ‘skin in the game’. The best way to create this is by complementing the successful placement fee with an upfront ‘effort fee’ through which both of them commit each other to completing a successful placement. Of course this is not new and is the only way executive search firms in other parts of the world work. In fact some executive search firms have switched to a 100% of upfront fee guaranteeing a successful placement.

Companies have to realize that for them to receive a decent quality service they have to make a commitment and pay for that service whilst search agencies have to commit themselves to providing a quality service. This goes hand in hand and only when both make a move forward will we be able to stop the downward trend in which everybody loses. 

What are the issues that you have faced with either companies or search firms and how do you think can we re-invent executive search in Pakistan?

– Paul Keijzer

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Management Trainees: The Special Ones

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Many companies have got a management trainee scheme in place in which they recruit the ‘creme-de-la-creme’ from top universities, announce their arrival with much aplomb in the organization, give them a two year rotation program, provide them with all the ‘trendy’ training courses, promote them upon completing the two years and then put them on a career fast track. They are the ‘Special Ones’.

Whenever I have conversations with ‘battle-hardened’ middle managers on management trainees they understand why the company is doing it, but that they have two problems with it.

Firstly they tell me that this is all well but their concern is that this kid is going to be with them for a couple of months max and his / her special treatment will create a lot of resentment with other team members whom they count on for the delivery of year-on-year results and the company can’t afford to jeopardize that. Absolutely true and I can feel the dichotomy between the need for short term (prime responsibility of middle managers) and long term development of talent. 

My answer in these situations has always been that being a top talent is not a genetic implant. Everybody has the opportunity for a career. As long as you deliver outstanding results and do it in a way that is compatible with the companies culture you can become a top talent. It’s an aspiration that everybody can have and should be able to achieve. 

And that is where middle manager can play a role, helping their solid performers to acquire skills / experiences and providing them with opportunities to show to the world that they are also capable of delivering outstanding results. So they are then recognized as top talent and being pushed up in the organization. 

The other objection middle managers raise is that putting someone on such a pedestal only sets him up for failure as they become over confident and big headed. This one I feel is much more difficult to answer and I have seen examples where giving your graduates special attention and making them feel they are the ‘special one’ is counter-productive. 

Scientific research backs up this concern. Studies primarily focused on the effect of ‘praise on children’, especially adolescents, have delivered similar insights.

In a scientific study from Mueller and Dweck in 1998 randomly selected students from a  wide range of socio economic backgrounds were provided with problems to solve, after which they were praised for either (1) their intelligence and score, (2) their effort and score or simply (3) the score they received. When provided a second and third set of problems of increasing difficulty the children who received praise for their efforts constantly improved their scores whereas the children praised for their intelligence did the worst and overall declined in score from the first to the third round. 

Ed Wiseman in 59 Seconds states that “praising children on their traits (intelligence, talents) can actually have a detrimental effect as it encourages them to avoid challenging situations, not try so hard and quickly become demotivated. In contrast praising efforts encourages people to stretch themselves, work hard and persist in the face of difficulties.”

So when you praise your ‘Special Ones’ don’t compliment on their abilities or talents. You need to focus on their effort, concentration, ability to overcome obstacles, ability to learn, the way they interacted with people, built a team and the new ideas that they put forward. Make it as practical as possible and make them feel special about the things that matter, not about the traits that they are gifted with. 


– Paul Keijzer

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Number 100 and the Half-Life of Knowledge

oceanex-100-years‘Half Life’ is normally associated with science, where it indicates the time required for a quantity to fall to half its value as measured at the beginning of the time period. In physics this is normally related to the time it takes for an object to lose half of its radiation levels. However Half-Life has inspired many and taken all kinds of new forms from a video game, to a comic character, movie, novel and even the title of a song.

Half-Life is also associated with knowledge where it generally indicates the time required for the knowledge of facts to have been proven wrong or lose its relevance. Samual Arbesman in his book the Half-Life of Facts argues that everything we know has an expiry date and goes on to explain that often what we think is true now, is proven wrong at some point in the future. 

In business and certainly in business literature this also seems to be holding true. Ponzi and Koenig argue that if after 3–5 years the number of articles on the idea in a given year decreases significantly then the idea is most likely a “management fad”. Who doesn’t remember the infallibility of topics like Total Quality Management, Japanese Kaizen, One Minute Management, ISO 9000, Business Process Re-engineering, Delayering, Management by Walking Around, Matrix Structures and my all time favorite ‘FISH!’ philosophy?

The moral of the story: Whatever you think holds true today doesn’t necessarily hold true in the future.

For me as a consultant this realization holds even more relevance as companies and leaders pay me for the specific skills and knowledge I have on, in my case, transforming top teams, top talent and organizations. I realize that the value I have for an organization also has a half-life. I can only add value for a certain period or activity for which the organization doesn’t have the knowledge and skills in house. Over time the need for that skill decreases or if it doesn’t the company develops it in house. The only way for me to stay in business is to keep myself relevant to current customers by always re-inventing myself and to stay ahead of the knowledge curve.

And this is where Engage Asia and my blogs come in. Forcing myself to write and engage you has given me the opportunity to:

  1. Explore new ideas, concepts and opinions through other people’s books, blogs and articles on the most eclectic topics possible
  2. Share this knowledge with others and
  3. Learn (the best way to learn is to teach others)

This is my 100th blog post and you reading (some of) them has given me not only the opportunity to do the above but also made it worthwhile. I wanted to thank you for your readership, comments and encouragement. It has been an amazing journey so far and I am looking forward to your continued readership.

Happy Reading but above all Keep on Learning – you never know which half of your knowledge will expire.

– Paul Keijzer

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Love Diversity!

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Photo credits: Chris Luttrel

Just back from Toronto. Had a great time taking a group of 25 sales and marketing team members out on a Leadership Outbreak journey. The most fascinating element was that these 25 individuals consisted of 8 different nationalities and were from 4 different continents. Woah now that is a diverse group! What fascinated me even more was how this group got along. Specific cultural idiosyncrasies were taken for granted and laughed upon whereas when the going got tough the group really gelled together and delivered results.

Research shows that multi-cultural groups perform when:

  • There is a long-term commitment
  • There is a focus on a range of issues of shared concern
  • They share core values of mutual respect, valuing of difference, and a high level of trust.

All elements were present in this team and it was beautiful to see it working together.

So how do you lead diverse teams? It might sound a bit counterintuitive but research shows that to successfully lead diverse teams you have to focus on task orientation when a team is newly formed to ensure all members are clear about what is expected of them, the roles they have and the structure in which they operate. When this is established the leader can switch to relationship orientation and focus on building trust, commitment to the team and shared values.

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Couple of tips on how to lead diverse teams:

Misconceptions and Misunderstandings
Language is essential to communication yet it can cause many misunderstandings. There are thousands of differences in how people might interpret American and UK English. Just because people speak the same language doesn’t mean that it’s as easy for them to communicate as it is for native speakers.

Behaving Differently
Understand, be considerate and tolerant of cultural differences. These can be habits, or beliefs, body language, ways of speaking or the amount of personal space that people want. What may seem strange in South Asia is totally normal in China and completely unacceptable in the United States of America.

Be Self Aware
Think about how your own background, education, upbringing clouds your way of thinking and working style: what you consider normal may not seem normal to others.

Appreciate People as Individuals
The worse you can do is to treat everybody the same. People want to be recognized as individuals, who they are, what they stand for and what they have achieved. Don’t fall into the stereotyping trap.

Leading teams of people that are like you is so much easier. It takes an effort to get out of your comfort zone and make a diverse team work. The advantages however are bountiful. For me the single most advantage is that working in diverse and multi cultural teams is that they make you so much richer.

– Paul Keijzer

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