How To Lead A Successful Executive Search

Smooch Repovich Rosenberg Headshot
Photo Courtesy of Smooch Repovich Rosenberg
Bringing the right leadership on board can be an organization's most critical hiring decision. Here are tips to hone your strategy.

Finding the right talent for your C-Suite—and then successfully recruiting them to your organization—is crucial, and becoming more and more complex.

Smooch Repovich Rosenberg, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based search firm Smooch Unplugged, outlines some of the latest trends in the quests for key executives, and how HR leaders can best find the right talent for their organization’s growth.

In your opinion, what are the most significant trends affecting executive searches today, and how should companies adapt?

Executive searches are being dramatically transformed by three key trends: digital innovation, a deeper commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and a shift in what modern leadership looks like.

The digital wave—particularly the use of AI—is revolutionizing how we connect with, understand and measure potential candidates. For candidates, this means that it’s no longer just about who you know, but also what data says about you. This digital transformation demands that companies stay ahead of the curve, utilizing new tools and platforms not just to find talent, but to understand what drives them, screen them quickly and efficiently and discover how their leadership style will impact the future of the company they support.

As for DE&I, it’s become clear that this isn’t just a box to tick—it’s a core strategic advantage. Companies that embrace a truly diverse leadership team are the ones setting the pace in innovation and corporate strategy, and this shows in a company’s market cap valuation.

Lastly, when it comes to the evolving role of leaders, we’re seeing a demand for those who can blend traditional leadership with emotional intelligence and an ability to inspire both hybrid and remote teams. I’ve been preaching this for decades and it’s great to see that companies are recognizing the need to rethink their leadership models and truly embrace soft skills and intangible leadership attributes as essential rather than optional.

Can you share advice for HR leaders looking to more effectively align their executive talent strategy with their company’s long-term goals?

For HR leaders aiming to sync their executive talent strategy with their company’s broader vision, I would recommend starting by evaluating the bedrock of your business strategy. Understand deeply not just where your company is now, but where it’s heading. This understanding is your compass in identifying the leadership qualities critical for driving the future of your organization.

Remember, the goal for your HR team isn’t just to fill a position but to find a leader who can steer your company through both calm and stormy waters. This means creating a culture where development and succession planning are not just tick-box exercises but pathways that build a strong reservoir of talent that is ready to lead.

What emerging trends do you believe will most challenge traditional executive search practices, and how should companies prepare?

The rise of a more transparent and candidate-driven market is flipping traditional executive search on its head. Today, with platforms like LinkedIn or the 24-hour news cycle, candidates have unprecedented access to information and opportunities, empowering them to be more selective with where they want to end up––this is particularly true for the C-suite executives that are categorized as the top 20 percent of leaders.

This shift challenges companies to move beyond passive recruitment strategies to actively engage potential leaders, building relationships and dialogues well before an open role need becomes apparent. Companies should start more than two years in advance of a C-suite role turning over, ensuring they’re not just filling a position with the first person who comes through their door.

Companies should constantly evaluate their brand, ensuring it resonates not just loudly but authentically. By doing so, they’ll ensure that any C-Suiters looking to make their next move have a good understanding of what the company does, its value, and how they could potentially fit into the equation if they were to take the reins. This proactive and strategic approach will be key in attracting top-tier talent in a candidate’s choice market.

On a broader scale, are there ways HR leaders can leverage these trends to enhance their recruitment processes and overall talent management strategy?

There are powerful ways HR leaders can tap into the trends I’ve noted to not just refine their recruitment processes but also supercharge their broader talent management strategies.

First, I would encourage HR professionals to really unpack what DE&I looks like for their company—this requires actively seeking out and fostering a diverse leadership team to directly impact their company’s competitive edge and valuation in the market. HR leaders must foster a genuine commitment to creating inclusive environments where a wide array of perspectives and experiences are not just welcomed but seen as critical to strategic decision-making. We’re done ticking DE&I boxes for the sake of it looking good on paper.

Second, the shift in modern leadership demands softer skills, such as emotional intelligence and the ability to lead hybrid and remote teams, which suggests HR leaders need to rethink their assessment frameworks so they’re recruiting the right type of people and valuing intangible leadership attributes in the recruitment process. You can do this by putting a stronger emphasis on these competencies during the recruitment and development phases, ensuring that leadership training programs are holistic and address these critical areas.

And third, I would recommend two elements: I would craft a strategy that allows you to start building relationships with potential candidates long before a role becomes available, and second, don’t be afraid to engage with a specialty search firm when there is an unusual role to be filled that requires very specific knowledge that is beyond what most internal corporate recruiters understand or have experience.

This involves communicating your brand’s values and mission clearly and authentically, ensuring your organization stands out as a place where top talent can thrive and make a meaningful impact. It also involves reaching out to candidates that aren’t necessarily actively seeking new roles if you think they would be a good fit for your organization. By building these relationships, you’ll stay top of mind for talent when they are finally ready to make the jump to a new workplace.

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