Companies & Industries

What Executives Want Now


Today's sought-after leaders are asking for more work/life balance and want, among other things, to protect themselves against real estate losses

The business of executive headhunting is growing increasingly complicated.

The issues that motivate today's top management talent to pursue new career opportunities have themselves grown more complex, in large part because of leaders' desire for more work/life balance and/or the need to protect their assets.

Many headhunters say search assignments used to be considerably easier to orchestrate when more management-level career climbers were willing to commit—with little or no hesitation—to do whatever it might take to succeed in a new job if it promised big career opportunity.

But executive recruiters now see a significant shift in how talented business managers qualify and assess new career opportunities. Indeed, there is now a myriad of personal issues that they and client hiring organizations need to explore as they court so-called A players.

Bargaining Advantage

The truth is that in today's market for executive talent, sought-after leaders hold the bargaining advantage because they're facing a resilient economy, multiple job offers, and likely a steady stream of calls from headhunters who want to move them.

Just consider what headhunters are seeing as they recruit for senior-management talent:

A division president of a biotech global conglomerate who is restricting his professional exposure to new opportunities by demanding a limit to business travel. The reason: His wife of 25 years wants to pursue her own career.

A vice-president of marketing for a global supplier of health-care equipment who insists the location of his next management role be in proximity to an Olympic ice rink because he is also the father of a junior Olympian.

A financial-services executive earning $500,000 (and whose courtship includes a weekend tour of real estate in a new city) who rejected an offer of $750,000 from a prospective employer because his wife didn't like the hiring company's location.

Desire for Balance Grows

There is now a veritable laundry list of knockout factors that can determine whether a talented individual would even consider an offer from a new employer. In addition to those already cited, these include having to care for ailing parents, considerations about the cost of in-state and out-of-state college tuition, and not wanting to sell a home at a loss if a new employer doesn't include a "make whole" provision for that potential loss in the employment contract.

And these don't really even scratch the surface of the desire among a growing number of executives for more balance between their careers and their personal lives. Take the case of a senior human resources executive who acknowledged that, if he were to accept one company's $300,000 salary offer, "They're essentially going to own me."

And consider the words of one headhunting icon: "The very best executives have a sense of balance in their lives, but they have to work especially hard to maintain it."

Yet another potential hurdle for the executive search these days is the need for more executives to know (sooner and more deeply) exactly which company finds them attractive and whether they should bother investing any energy exploring a headhunter's employment overture.

Recruiting Changes

Even just a few years ago, one headhunter friend tells me, candidates were far more willing to explore new career opportunities with less information about the client hiring organization. Today, management executives can learn—on their own—much more about the challenges and market issues potential employers are facing and whether moving to that organization would make any sense.

This new environment requires that executive headhunters and companies' human resources and business leaders delve deeper into what's really important to senior-management candidates and calibrate the recruitment process accordingly.

True, many of the same issues that executives must now consider about the implications of a big career move have indeed been there already, but they were previously kept hidden for fear that they might not be taken seriously at the executive level. Today, explains one management recruiter, "They have become much more critical, key drivers in major professional decisions."

The question of whether anyone at the executive level can and should realistically expect to achieve a measure of work/life balance—especially given the demands of the role and what they're earning these days—is a subject worthy of its own exploration. But as long as candidates are perceived to be holding the cards, hiring companies and recruiters will have to be creative and patient when wooing top talent.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as "one of the 30 best business books of 2008" by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

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