The business of recruiting for C-suite roles has a reputation for being pretty traditional and very secretive. It’s a world of fiercely guarded contacts, carefully nurtured through discreet telephone calls and covert lunch appointments.
But, at the same time, an executive search process requires a flurry of documents to be shared between candidates, companies and the professional recruiters acting as their intermediaries.
These documents include candidate shortlists, resumes, references, job specifications and contracts. Many will be shared among board members and with hiring committees; some will require collaborative editing or, at the very least, collaborative feedback. These requirements are driving a significant shift in demand among clients, according to Alwin Brunner, CIO at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles:
Clients are asking for more and more electronic collaboration. That’s especially true when we think of young companies, run by digital natives and millennials, because these leaders want to interact with something that is ‘of their era’, if you will. Other companies want to do business with us in the same ways they always have – and that’s fine, we can do that – but we know that, over time, needs will migrate towards this more modern style of document sharing and collaboration.
Mobility, too, is a major issue, he adds:
Our partners spend a lot of time on the move, as do their clients, so access to information and documents from smartphones and tablets is increasingly vital, but needs to be achieved in a way that is device-agnostic.
Even in a traditional sector like executive search, then, this kind of cloud-based, on-the-go collaboration could become an important point of competitive differentiation over time. After all, corporate high-fliers have little time or inclination to get involved in complex paper chases, whether they’re top-level candidates or board-level directors on the hunt for new team members.
Heidrick & Struggles, which has 1,500 employees and 50 offices worldwide, enjoys a solid reputation in its field (it placed Satya Nadella in the top spot at Microsoft back in 2011, for example), and has net revenues of $494.3 million annually, but still lags competitors such as Korn Ferry, Spencer Stuart and Egon Zhender.
In order to promote more efficient – but secure – collaboration between colleagues and clients, Brunner has begun to roll out cloud services from Box. Some employees are already using Box internally, enabling Brunner and his team to decommission network drives. Others have started using it to share documents with their clients, and are proving pretty adept at applying user permissions and access rights to content, as well as managing version control for frequently-changed documents. Says Brunner:
The controls on offer are quite sophisticated but straightforward to understand and apply. This is one of the things that made Box a very elegant solution for us, compared to other solutions we looked at.
Over time, we plan to offer fully tailored client portals, where we can share with clients on a more formal basis all the documentation relating to a specific role, including the background research we do on individual candidates before they’re even shortlisted for interview.
The development of these client portals will likely rely on add-on tools and published APIs, says Brunner, and one of the things that attracted him to Box was the well-developed third-party ecosystem of partners and tools growing up around its platform. APIs, he adds, will also be a boon if he decides to proceed with a plan to integrate Box with Heidrick & Struggles’ existing Saleforce.com CRM implementation.
As CIO, what I like about the [SaaS] approach is that vendors work more closely with you as partners, taking into account current business needs and your tools roadmap. So with Box, we got a contract formula where we still get an enterprise agreement but didn’t have to commit to a
particular volume over time. Where we are today is that we’ve implemented pieces for certain business functions, as needed, but we have desires and ambitions that go way beyond the current footprint.
Much of this work is about creating a positive impression with clients. After all, Heidrick & Struggles commands an average fee of $116,000 for every search it successfully concludes, so a great client experience from the start counts for a great deal. Says Brunner:
We want our customer to experience Heidrick & Struggles in the very best way possible. As CIO, it’s important to me that whatever tools we expose to our clients and candidates should be the very best we can offer. The look and feel should be professional, the functionality should be slick. It’s taken a while for this industry to equip itself with the latest technology but I’m determined that Heidrick & Struggles should be leading this movement.