The leaders of the digital age through a headhunter’s (analogue) binoculars

The leaders of the digital age through a headhunter’s (analogue) binoculars

In the early 2000s, when we were envisioning with my colleagues in HR the most important competencies for the new millennium, digital affinity was high on the list. But what we certainly did not anticipate was what form the demand for digital readiness would take in the knowledge base of leaders and HR alike by 2022, as headhunting in the early years of the new millennium was still largely an analogue activity in the online space just then taking its shape.

The leaders of the digital age

Today’s leaders have “textbook” digital readiness if they understand the complex challenges and are prepared to take ownership of and provide direction for digital transformation. They lead by example, using agility and flexibility to drive the company towards digitally supported success (Oxford Leadership). But what competencies does a good “digital leader” actually need? 
Technology skills and openness toward them are high on the list. For example, big data, cloud computing, AI, e-commerce, digital communication or digital technology-based economy and society, to mention just a few keywords, have been at the centre of attention in recent years. 
But “soft”, personal and social skills also play important roles in the toolboxes of leaders in the digital age. Deloitte has highlighted 8 key critical knowledge elements: 

  • Inspiring team members during the change;
  • Encouraging innovation;
  • Strategic guidance in digital transformation;
  • Providing leadership in management’s shift toward the digital age;
  • Strategic collaboration within and outside the company;
  • Building a working business model aligned with digital transformation;
  • Effectiveness and balance between human and technological factors;
  • Finding and developing talent with a digital strategy in mind.

Digital leaders in Hungary

Fortunately, we can see great examples of digital leaders in Hungary, especially at the Hungarian subsidiaries of global companies where the local leadership can get support and help from the parent company that has already undergone the process of digital transformation. For example, at one of our clients, the global head of procurement works from Hungary, but his team members represent the company in different parts of the world. Here, even without the changes brought about by COVID-19, only a fully remote, digitised operation can bring success.

However, in 2021, Hungary was only ranked 23rd on the basis of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which is a measure of digital maturity in the European Union, so there are also plenty of counterexamples. 

There is growing openness to  remote working but even with a presumed full-fledged technological readiness the fact that some leaders still feel that they can manage effectively and efficiently only if they meet their team members face-to-face continues to be an obstacle. This is usually due to the current focus of the leadership role. As a people manager, in a leadership role responsible for the individual personal development of employees, team coherence and motivation, it is indeed difficult to find technological solutions that can completely replace face-to-face interaction, but hybrid solutions do exist. At the same time, in a delegating managerial role, functioning as a professional leader, remote working is highly adaptable and applicable, as the operational model imposed by the pandemic has provided many excellent examples.

The role of the HR service provider in the digital transformation

HR plays a central role in finding digital leaders. There is no question that the service providers supporting HR must also go digital, and indeed make the transition ahead of customer demand. This is a challenge JobGroup has faced before.

This is how we can assess and support the corporate side in finding leaders with the right digital skills. We take into account the company’s current level of digital maturity and match the profile of the leader sought. In a highly digitalised company, a leader with less strong digital skills will not feel at home. By contrast, in a company still ahead of digital transformation, a leader who is used to a markedly digital environment and digital operational processes will only feel comfortable and successful if he or she is motivated to participate in the real transformation of the company, and this also is supported by management. 

Headhunting – where full digitalisation is not the solution

JobGroup has been operating with 100% digital business compliance for years, while retaining the valuable competencies built on the bases of knowledge and experience of the profession. The effective headhunting activity of the experts of Prime by JobGroup is based on the technological methodologies provided by digitalisation but can also break away from these and effectively apply “classic” analogue methods. 

Let us look behind the scenes of headhunting in the digital world!

The analogue elements of headhunting

The innovations of the online world have brought headhunters and recruiters ever closer together, at least in the public mind, due to the digitalisation of sourcing and database techniques. However, while recruiters move almost exclusively in the digital space because of the “speed factor” inherent in this line of work, the expectations concerning headhunters are much higher. The complexity and sophistication of their searches requires them to step outside the digital world.

It is a mistake to think that everyone is visible and accessible on the world wide web today. The value of a headhunter is inherent in the fact that they can also find someone who is not on LinkedIn, uses Facebook anonymously, and has blocked their visibility in all online databases. For example, in rural areas, which are developing at an increasing pace – and therefore also show a high demand for managers with digital skills – online presence is not necessarily characteristic. This is where analogue headhunting techniques such as making cold calls, visiting events and tapping into a wide network of contacts come into play. These broaden the scope of who a headhunter can reach compared to a recruiter using only digital techniques.

Digital headhunting

The digital space also offers the opportunity for headhunters to emerge from the mystical fog that surrounds them and to become visible. This online visibility is also served by our newly launched primebyjobgroup.hu website. The website, showcasing JobGroup’s values, combines innovation and technological freshness with a classic approach – which is exactly what the headhunting profession and business sector need facing the challenges of the 21st century. 
The rise of online tools has also led to the digitalisation of certain aspects of headhunting:

  • The preparatory process (assessing the market situation, mapping the company and the corporate hierarchy, identifying the companies to target) increasingly takes place in a digital space.
  • A part of sourcing has moved to the online world.
  • Calling someone and maintaining contact by telephone are seen positively by Gen X candidates, but as a younger generation of leaders already born into technological solutions grows up, reaching out and maintaining contact takes place increasingly in digital space.
  • The first, pre-screening rounds of headhunter interviews take place online.
  • Skills and competences are measured through online mini ACs, guided questionnaires, online tasks, dedicated tests – offering easily comparable data thanks to digitalisation.
  • Headhunders can now assess personal skills, motivation, applied leadership style in person or online. The methods developed to measure these depend more on the personal experience and expertise of the headhunter than on whether the selection process is digital or not. 
  • Headhunters can work with a myriad of candidate management systems – in addition to their own, they can adapt to any ATS system of the client.
  • Candidate follow-up and the associated emailing have become almost fully automated.
  • In the digital world, personal data protection is a key issue, which headhunters need to have a solution for.
  • Headhunters’ own digital processes also serve data-driven HR with reports and analyses.

In headhunting, digitalisation allows us to save a lot of manual work, which can then be spent on the really challenging tasks, such as building human relationships and finding the “hiding” professionals. This is the part of a headhunter’s job that digital tools cannot replace, only make it easier. 

Beyond headhunting

At the stage when the client also gets involved into the selection process, their internal customs determine the extent to which the selection can continue digitally. This depends fundamentally on the internal corporate culture that is established and maintained. Some of our clients, typically global corporations, only meet new employees in person on the first day of employment – until then all contact is in the online space only. However, this is not typical in case of executive searches in Hungary. At least half of the 3 to 5 rounds of the executive search process take place in person, as “chemistry” – that is, the harmonious relationship between the company and the executive candidate, which can be best assessed in the course of a personal meeting – is central to the selection process.

One of the biggest advantages of working with headhunters who use digital tools effectively is the reduced time-to-hire. Whereas earlier it used to require 5-6 weeks to introduce a new executive, today a company can meet candidates in 3-4 weeks. We believe that in the future, the fastest headhunting service in the Hungarian labour market can be reduced to 2-3 weeks, taking into account the combination of analogue and digital solutions. It is not possible to implement a faster process, which is due to the lack of openness of the candidates – the interest of the typically passive candidates needs to be raised and their motivation to switch must be assessed, which is a time-consuming process. We must always remember that at the end of the day, there are people on both the employees’ and employers’ sides. 

The evolution of digitalisation offers several positive, forward-looking and innovative solutions which – if used wisely – will clearly increase operational efficiency. However, we cannot sacrifice on the altar of digitalisation the time-tested analogue tools that, for the time being, complement our online capabilities. At Prime by JobGroup, we believe that the secret to long-term sustainable success lies in the combination of digital and personal elements.

More on this subject