It’s an exciting time to be a senior executive in the staffing industry. Demand is high for business leaders who can translate human capital management best practices into business strategies that drive revenue. In 2014, I worked with several private equity firms to help them recruit staffing industry executives who could manage staffing firms recently incorporated into their portfolios. In years past, two or three searches from a private equity firm looking for staffing leadership was normal. Eight C-level searches for PE-backed staffing firms in one year is a significant surge in growth. It’s also a strong signal that demand for the skills of senior staffing leaders is up.
“Who is the Goldman Sachs of the staffing industry?” asked a client who was new to staffing recently as we discussed his executive search needs. I often field this type of question from those outside the industry seeking to understand the talent landscape across the staffing industry. Sometimes the question is “Which company is the McKinsey or the Apple of the staffing industry?” Either way, they are looking for the same information. They want to know which staffing businesses they should be poaching talent from.
These questions are more signals that the staffing industry has hit a strategic stride. Businesses are looking for more than job fulfillment from the staffing industry. They want workforce planning and solutions that shape long-term productivity and bottom-line business growth. They want answers to their business challenges and realize that excellence in human capital management often is the answer.
For staffing businesses, it has meant learning how to cultivate and retain smart, pioneering managers and leaders. Staffing leadership requires professionals who can engage with senior business executives and strategists across industries, building and delivering human capital management solutions that fuel business performance. And yet, staffing remains a business of human connections and an industry where passion for people is key to success. Is your staffing firm cultivating strategic business leaders with smarts and heart?
Just as a staffing firm advises businesses to analyze their talent acquisition, management and retention strategies, staffing firms must also do the same in order to build and retain the right kind of leaders. As I work across the industry, these are the best practices I am seeing from staffing firms that are building high-performing, highly strategic leadership teams.
Recruiting Smarts + Heart
For a long time, the mantra for recruiting staffing industry leadership was: “Find me someone who can get the job done!” The focus was on execution and action. Now, more and more I am hearing people talk about the importance of intelligence, credentials and education. “We really are looking for someone who is smart — who understands market dynamics, technology and our clients.”
What I always remind my clients is that “smarts” in staffing today are very important, but don’t forget the heart. Staffing has always been and remains a people industry. Staffing executives who understand that people and relationships are at the industry’s heart have an advantage over the rest. In my experience today, the most effective staffing leaders have a combination of proven smarts (experience, education, strategic thinking and execution) with an essential enthusiasm for the people who are the heart of the industry.
Providing Strong Executive Development and Coaching
More and more firms are going beyond management classes and making a key investment in personalized executive coaching fortheir rising leaders. Many of the best candidates I speak with have benefited from one-on-one executive coaching program and can demonstrate how it has improved their skills and performance.
Making Room for Intelligence
Staffing businesses say they are looking for “smart” leaders. Forward-thinking staffing businesses know that giving leaders opportunities to put their intelligence to use is one way to challenge, engage and retain them. Great leaders will stay and attract others to organizations that allow them be heard, have influence and put their intelligence to use.
Developing Long-term Incentives
Cultivating a team of ambitious, dedicated leaders over the long-term takes forethought and planning. Long-term incentive programs, such as phantom shares that vests over time, are one of the most effective leadership retention tools I have seen across the staffing industry. It’s extremely hard to recruit a senior leader with equity away from their employer. That equity provides a valuable sense of ownership and creates a mutually beneficial commitment to growth and success.
So you may still be wondering who the Goldman Sachs of the staffing industry is. The truth is the staffing industry doesn’t have one, and we like it that way. Our industry has a unique set of values that sets us apart from all the rest. It’s a place where IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) are equally important and where great leaders have the chance to drive bottom-line growth while making a genuine difference in peoples’ lives and careers. It’s a tough and rewarding balance that belongs to staffing and those who lead it.