In a new report, The Bowdoin Group shares four fundamental and long-lasting shifts that should be front and center when hiring your next round of leaders. Look for new boxes on your check-off list, the rise of symbiotic leadership, smaller institutional barriers, and fearless navigators at the helm.
The pace of hiring is palpably accelerating. The problem? Longer-term vision and goals are giving way to short-term mayhem, according to a new report by The Bowdoin Group and authored by CEO Dave Melville. “Urgency of action is more important than the right action,” he says. “Because our firm works across so many fast-paced industries and organizations, we are in a unique position to share four fundamental and long-lasting shifts that should be front and center for you when hiring your next round of leaders—regardless of how quickly you must move,” Mr. Melville said. “Honestly, if you aren’t having these types of conversations with your executive search firm, you should be concerned.”
Mr. Dave Melville shared four fundamental and long-lasting shifts that should be front and center for you when hiring your next round of leaders:
Shift No. 1: Check boxes are out. Inventing new boxes is in.
One of the companies The Bowdoin Group is working with is urgently evaluating leaders for a role: one female candidate and one white male. “Diversity, equity and inclusion has risen to the top of their priority list, having become a new check box requirement,” said Mr. Melville. “Their C-suite and board are 80 percent white men. The female candidate has high potential but is deficient in certain areas and would require mentoring. The male candidate checks all the standard boxes but sets the company back on their stated diversity, equity and inclusion goal.”
Last year, it might have been easier to simply choose the white male candidate who checks all the standard boxes,” Mr. Melville said. “Now, it’s no longer about simply filling the role, it’s about building an integrated, future-proof team.” He says clients often come to the firm saying, “I need your help finding a CXO.” Instead of simply responding, “OK,” the recruiters ask, “What are your business goals in the next two years?” Then, The Bowdoin Group has what it needs to figure out the right role or roles and talent that will get them there. “We don’t pre-suppose or introduce bias that might be steering a company in the wrong direction,” Mr. Melville said. “Executive search needs to be more about building a company instead of filling a role. It’s the only way to stay ahead—period.”
Shift No. 2: One single leader is obsolete. Symbiotic leadership is now mandatory.
This past year highlighted all the weaknesses of the systems and leaders that were in place. It was unprecedented, fast-moving, and unavoidable. Organizations fixed what they could, but a lot of those cracks remain, eating at foundations.
What is the lesson one should be carrying forward? “No one person can see a company through challenging times,” Mr. Melville said. “The demand for speed, creativity, and innovation across leadership teams was more than any single CXO could (or should) handle alone. The go-forward plan better focuses on how teams must be built on diverse perspectives and talents. Take the stronger together message as gospel.” This past year completely redefined what will now be table-stakes for leadership teams. “Success in 2021 will rely on a team’s ability to come together to operate seamlessly and effectively, leveraging all of its strengths and absorbing all of its weaknesses to make real progress,” said Mr. Melville. “It will require an approach to executive search that looks for the right puzzle piece for the particular team being built—not a nail that can be hammered into place. (In a nod to Shift No. 1, this is also a new checkbox!)”
Shift No. 3: Institutional barriers have been reduced to speed bumps.
Barriers were shattered last year. Mr. Melville asks how else do you explain a vaccine, developed in a short period of time, then manufactured, and partially distributed in a timeline of 10 months that previously would have taken 10 years? Pivots in products and services happened on a dime. We scaled walls like superhumans because we had to…so, to keep pace now, companies will need to be unbound to the standard operating procedures of the past.
“In 2021, companies are thinking differently about the status quo and what’s truly possible within their industries,” said Mr. Melville. “Because the perception of what can be done has changed, they’ll start to question the existing limitations they’ve operated under for years—and they’ll bring in executive candidates who have figured out how to break through. When it comes to innovation, the question has moved from if to when.”
To paraphrase hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “You need to head to where the puck will be, not where it is.” When a company decides to be the architect and driver of its success, instead of accepting barriers, it will look for candidates who do not allow themselves to be limited, Mr. Melville said. “Candidates who are willing to be challenged with aggressive, out-of-reach goals. Candidates who, when presented with an impossible challenge, think yes first, instead of no. Your search firm better know that these traits need to be on the list,” he said.
Shift No. 4: Goodbye status quo leadership types, hello fearless navigators.
The past year’s uncertainty did an amazing job of revealing the leadership talent in our midst. “At all levels of an organization, we got to see the next generation of leaders rise to the occasion,” Mr. Melville said. “Who emerged as surprise leaders? I’m willing to bet it wasn’t always the most perfect, cookie-cutter candidate who took the lead. This cannot be ignored and had better figure into how we vet and choose executive talent moving forward.”
Prior to 2020, a proven track record was frequently viewed as the best indicator of future success. Now, Mr. Melville said, “let’s shine a spotlight on potential. Experience is important, but executive search professionals should be actively figuring out who demonstrated initiative, out-of-the-box thinking, and drove calculated risks that paid off. These are the leaders who will be successful through ups and downs.”
“As organizations navigate the classic K-shaped recovery pattern we’ll experience in 2021 where different parts of the economy recover at different speeds, we’ll see many of these fundamental shifts become deeply ingrained,” Mr. Melville said. “Some organizations will navigate 2021 stronger than ever. It all comes down to the talent brought in to steer the organization through this moment of influx and into a post-COVID-19 world—and the talent we continue to choose that fit and shape our vision for the future.”
Dave Melville founded The Bowdoin Group over 25 years ago. His focus is on providing superior service through a strategic business approach, exceptional industry expertise, and an obsessive pursuit of excellence. Mr. Melville’s passion for biopharma and healthcare stems from his work and personal experiences, seeing firsthand what innovations in biotech can provide. His expertise includes executive and strategic searches within the clinical/scientific, medical affairs, commercial roles, and finance & GA fields, in addition to large-scale commercial team expansions and build-outs for pre-clinical trial biopharma companies.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media