Eton Bridge Partners: A Truly International Approach

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What does this mean and what is important to bear in mind when managing Search assignments internationally?

As an organisation built on the vision of being the most Trusted Partner in Executive Search, our clients are increasingly partnering with us not just in the UK but across the world. Year on year we are experiencing an increase in the demand for international search mandates and, as a business, have successfully completed executive search assignments in five continents in 2019.

Without doubt, this is, in part, down to technology enhancing our ability to tune into local networks quickly and effectively with smart technology enabling machines and humans to work together more efficiently and productively.  However, relationships remain critical to our success and, as an HR Practice, we are excited about where this has taken us and will continue to take us, in the future.

Getting the basics right

Building rapport is essential to any relationship and doing so with individuals who are, in the majority, going to be met virtually, is more important than ever. Understanding local culture, being aware of local custom, current affairs (as simple as that may sound) anything that shows a genuine interest, rather than a straightforward ‘transaction’, is crucial. Equally, practical matters such as commuting, the reality of local or regional travel, right down to how a package is constructed require focused research and preparation.

Face time in business collaboration is crucial, and for many international businesspeople, video conferencing is initially the best way for this to happen. Even though we don’t have to leave the country for an international video conference, the same rules apply as if meeting face to face, i.e. understanding cultural etiquette, body language, focus, and just as importantly, humour.

Virtual meetings are generally shorter than face-to-face meetings, reduce the carbon footprint, save travel time, reduce security risks, and, of course, cut costs.

However, even with conference and collaboration tools continually improving, being more time efficient and environmentally friendly, nothing replaces the human touch when required.

Meeting in person makes an impactful difference in building trust. Working with different nationalities and cultures, meeting face to face in somebody’s office, in their own surroundings, you do gain a greater understanding of the framework of their business, your client as a person and the nuances of the way they work.

Questions such as: What behaviours define your culture?  Are employees truly engaged?  What is the working environment like? What is the human skill set needed to fit in with the organisation and also are there other opportunities to work together?   Questions not as easily explored via video conference, some even impossible to answer. In one visit all questions can be answered with clarity and therefore further cementing a client relationship.

Understand cultural etiquette

It is also critical to be aware of any legal considerations and local legislation and to adopt a truly geocentric approach. For example, the regulation of GDPR is currently a hot topic in Europe, in cities, states, and territories around the US, some laws ban employers from asking for a job candidate’s pay history.  Equally in Latin America, packages are shared as a net value, rather than gross as we are used to here in the UK.  We must truly understand the value of a skillset, it is not a case of simply converting a currency and presuming that’s the correct pay rate for the local market – having a clear understanding of both is absolutely critical. The notion of total reward is now well understood and adopted widely in the UK but this is not always the case internationally and having the oversight to understand the variance of total reward is critical; be that 13 month pay, food vouchers or the provision of a pension contribution; all factors which help emphasise local knowledge and build trust. An awareness of all these factors, which are often country specific, is essential in not only attracting but also engaging and effectively qualifying potential candidates.

Being culturally sensitive

This is perhaps the most crucial element when speaking to individuals whose first language is not English. To ensure clarity and to gain the most from any interaction is important.  Keep your language clear and concise without the use of abbreviations or industry specific language that can so easily slip in – not always the easiest thing to avoid and therefore always best to be safe and use a more formal and consistent style. After all, a significant part of the search process will more than likely be to assess business English capability.

In the same way, it is important to position any given opportunity in the right way and not take for granted what might be considered appealing in your home market. How does the brand translate locally? Is it as recognisable and does it matter? How does it compare to other brands or portfolios who are more established in local markets? The list is endless. Being immersed in the local culture and environment is essential.  Taking the time to speak to local stakeholders, recognising the local opportunities and challenges and working to develop a localised talent strategy will help create a much more consistent approach. Going back to my earlier point, building a rounded understanding of the local environment, culture and nuances of the country in which you are working is essential to success.

Setting Expectations

Understanding the expectations of service internationally is critical as different cultures may have different expectations.

AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants) highlighted in their recent global report ‘Understanding the Process and Setting it in Motion’ the significance of different metrics for clients measuring a successful search.  Considering the level at which executive search firms work, it is somewhat surprising that many clients do not formally measure the success of an executive search assignment. The top metrics deemed the most important are:

  1. Business performance of successful candidate over time
  2. Length of tenure of successful candidate
  3. Diverse group of candidates
  4. Cost per hire
  5. Time to complete
  6. Time to first group of candidates (shortlist)

These findings indicated that clients are choosing executive search firms for the strategic value they bring to their businesses, but they also do maintain an interest in the operational side as well. While not the most important metric, speed continues to be an important factor for clients. Losing time means losing opportunity. This must be balanced with time to find the right candidate who will deliver the highest return for the organisation over time. Clients want executive search advisers who understand this balance and who will bring a strong sense of urgency to an assignment.

In conclusion

It is well documented that Brexit is encouraging an increasing number of organisations to establish an overseas footprint and this is likely to become ever more prominent. In fact, according to the Institute of Directors, nearly one in three UK companies are planning to relocate or expand operations abroad as a direct result of Brexit.

Whatever the motive, whatever the assignment and wherever in the world we recruit, at Eton Bridge, our objective remains the same – to provide an industry leading service to both our clients and candidates. As we continue to grow and diversify, we have increasing opportunity to engage with people all over the world and it is our aim to be consistent in adding genuine value to all involved.

The world may well be getting smaller, however there are still many factors that separate us all. Perhaps our job as executive search consultants, more than ever, is to embrace and understand the different markets and cultures as best we can – not only because we should, but because it makes what we do even more fascinating.