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Weathering the Storm: How Competitive Firms are Prioritizing Hiring

Posted by Lauren Kendall on March 24, 2020
Originally published on LinkedIn by Sean Walker (Partner at The Bowdoin Group).

Well, this is certainly a period of time that we’ll be discussing for decades to come.  I’ve heard it referred to as “The Spring We Stayed Home” or “The Global Pause.”  Needless to say, what we are going through is something none of us have lived through in our lifetimes.

As a partner at an executive search firm, I’ve been staying in touch with CEOs and investors in the space to understand how leadership is managing through this extraordinary time of uncertainty.

Everyone, our clients included, is carefully evaluating their current situations: their organizational structures, cash positions, growth plans, and hiring strategies.  In turn, each of them is assessing their open positions from before COVID-19 shook everything from the world health community to the global economy.

What I’ve seen so far as it relates to hiring (in Digital Health, BioPharma, and Tech at least—the industries we specialize in) is that competitive companies are reprioritizing to come out of this situation in as strong a position as possible.  They need to get ahead of the curve because they know that what they do today will make a difference when the storm passes.

Two paths have emerged when it comes to hiring in the face of this unprecedented change:

  1. Jobs that seemed “nice to have” and opportunistic based on the bull market prior to March 2020 can now wait and are being put on hold until we know more.
  2. The roles that are critical to a company’s long term growth—leadership and strategic positions that play an important role in guiding organizations through challenging times—are still being filled.  Boards and CEOs are quite clearly saying, “We have to hire now.”

For example, in the midst of all this change, one of my Digital Health clients is proceeding with a Chief Product Officer role.  They’re prioritizing that investment over others because they know they’ll need the strategic vision and understanding of the market landscape that this role will bring to the team once the storm clouds dissipate. The CPO will be in it for the long haul with them when this is all over.

There is still a lot of PE and VC capital ($1.4 trillion[1]) that needs to be deployed, but the number of new deals considered will decrease.  This means that, although investors are going to have to be more selective and prudent about what investments they make, they are still going to fund the best and most innovative companies in the market.  Any company whose solutions are critical during this crisis, like telemedicine[2], remote communications, and cybersecurity, will likely top that list.  Startups that receive these capital infusions will need to put that money to work, and as a result, there will still be a need for key hires.  The question then becomes a matter of timing.

For Digital Health and HealthTech companies specifically, this is their moment to shine.  These companies are being called upon to help support and address some of the major challenges our healthcare system and the world is facing, like helping people access diagnostic kits, telehealth services, behavioral health support, and home monitoring solutions.  When other companies are questioning if it’s feasible to continue onwards with so much uncertainty ahead, Digital Health and HealthTech companies are trying to figure out how to address the growing demand for their services.

In any case, every company is developing an alternative strategy to attract, engage, and screen for prospective candidates.  Video conferencing is the primary means of communication (e.g., as Dow Jones has fallen 33% from its February high, Zoom’s stock went up 275%).  Work from home is our new normal.  During this time of immense uncertainty, organizations with strong leadership teams that can adjust to these new business dynamics, pivot accordingly, and weather the storm will be in the best positions after the dust settles.