Very often in my daily work, I encounter the question of whether it’s really not possible to recruit someone for a high managerial position, such as a board member in a large Polish company, other than through an executive search firm. Thanks to my decades of experience, the answer to this question is straightforward for me. Therefore, I thought it was the perfect topic for a blog post.
In essence, a board member or department director for a large Polish company can be recruited in four ways.
Since the answer is so simple, what is this post for, and is it worth explaining this topic further? Well, it is because each of these methods, although commonly used, has its advantages and disadvantages, which I will explain in detail. The first two methods, recruiting through the HR department and using personal connections and contacts, while sometimes effective, are not recommended for such strategic positions as board members, CEOs, or top-level department directors. The other two, succession and an external executive search firm, can lead to success, but under certain conditions.
Recruitment through the internal HR department
One might think that recruiting through the internal HR department is the obvious way to source candidates, even for high-level positions such as department directors or board members. After all, the HR department exists within the company and is specifically responsible for recruitment, among other tasks. Why spend additional money on an external recruitment firm? Well, the reason is quite simple. Recruitment for such high-level positions is relatively rare, even in large companies. Consequently, those responsible for recruitment in HR departments do not have the opportunity to deal with them on a daily basis. These high-level recruitments are typically sporadic additional projects. As a result, those involved in the hiring process often lack the necessary experience and tools to efficiently, swiftly, and effectively handle such recruitment when it suddenly arises. An executive search firm specializes exclusively in recruiting for top-tier positions. Consequently, they continuously maintain the resources, market knowledge, and tools needed to launch an executive search project from one day to the next and successfully execute it.
Personal Connections and Contacts
Here, of course, we are talking about the connections and contacts of individuals for whom such recruitment is a top priority, such as business owners, members of the supervisory board, CEOs, or other members of the executive board. The problem with this method is that it relies solely on one dark horse. We must bet not on our favorite, but a candidate recommended by someone else and with no knowledge of the other horses in the race, sticking to the analogy of horse racing. Yet among them (all the horses participating in this race), there might be an individual better suited to this specific race, on this particular track, in these specific conditions, and competing with these specific competitors. The candidate who is the favorite in this race, not in another, is like someone betting on a different track. In other words, especially with this method, success is a matter of pure chance, not a well-thought-out choice. This is because when we rely on a candidate recommended by someone else, we do not have an overview of all or nearly all the candidates currently available on the market for that position. We do not know if the recommended candidate is genuinely the best candidate currently available. We cannot compare them with other available candidates. So, we choose someone who is good in the recommender’s opinion, and in the meantime, there is a significant risk that there is someone much better on the market, of whose existence we have no knowledge, and therefore, we will never offer them that position. When working with an executive search firm, we avoid such risks. An executive search firm provides a current picture of the market and information about all (or nearly all) the candidates currently available on the market for that position. Available means those who have the right qualifications and experience, not necessarily those actively seeking employment (you can read about a candidate who is not actively seeking employment in a separate blog post of mine here). Reaching them and convincing them that this position could be the perfect next step in their career at the moment is another task of the executive search firm. Unlike employees within a company, regardless of their position in the hierarchy, an executive search firm has the competences to reach these candidates, as well as the competence to select candidates with the highest likelihood of being ready for a job change and then to convince them that this is the right career move for them.
Without a doubt, internal succession is the most effective, one could say even a guaranteed method of filling top positions in large Polish companies. Besides the usually almost perfect fit of the candidate to the position, there is an additional factor here, in the form of a strong dose of motivation with which they enter their new role. The alignment is obvious in this case. The candidate knows the company and its issues perfectly because they have been working there for years, and, most importantly, thanks to a properly structured succession system, they are trained and prepared to take on the position waiting for them. This is an almost ideal situation, very rarely ending in failure. However, there is one caveat. To successfully raise a successor, the company must have a very well-functioning succession system in place that naturally prepares the candidate and, when they are ready, places them in the position. If succession is forced when the candidate is not well-prepared in terms of competence, it can end in double failure: we lose a good manager, and we don’t gain a director because returning to the previous position is usually not possible. Therefore, it is worth investing in good succession systems in Polish companies.
External executive search firm
Unfortunately, succession systems are not yet widespread in large Polish companies. Furthermore, even if such a system has been implemented in a given company, it often happens that there is no successor currently being prepared for the position that needs to be filled, or if there is a successor in preparation, they are not ready yet. In both cases, the only effective and reliable solution is to turn to an appropriate executive search firm.
In summary, an executive search firm is, apart from internal succession systems, the most effective option for recruiting individuals for executive or directorial positions in large Polish companies. It possesses up-to-date market knowledge, presents the company with all the candidates suitable for the given position (based on competencies and experience) who are currently available on the market, has the tools to reach them, select the right candidates, and persuade them to make a career change. Additionally, the firm has the resources that can be immediately mobilized to swiftly complete such projects. None of the other methods, except for internal succession under the described conditions, provide such capabilities.