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Executive Search from the Inside – Greig Schneider of Egon Zehnder

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Greig Schneider Managing Partner of Egon Zehnder’s U.S. practice. Greig is a core member of Egon Zehnder’s Assessment and Development and formerly led that group globally, working with senior leaders and Boards on succession, assessment and executive development projects.  Before his work at Egon Zehnder he earned an MBA from Harvard, was an officer in the US Navy, worked at McKinsey and was VP of Strategy Consulting at Michael Porter’s Foundation for Strategy Group.

The following are edited excerpts from their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us about Egon Zehnder, this premier search firm.

Greig Schneider: greig schneiderEgon Zehnder is a global firm, one of the world’s leaders in talent consulting. There’s three lines of business: Executive search which is about helping clients find the right talent for critical roles; Assessment and Development which helps our clients understand their people’s capabilities and make critical people decisions such as merger integration or helping teams align; and there’s Board Services which includes finding Board members, helping Boards align and helping them be more effective in the role.

SF: How does a typical search unfold from each parties perspective?

GS: From the client’s perspective there are a few key steps. The first one is a pretty substantial investment in understanding the role. These are C-Suite, or close to it, roles and they’re not all the same. So, if it’s for a CFO position, then what kind of CFO? Specifically, what is needed from a skills perspective? What kind of person? What kind of culture? You want to get all the detail you can to find the right fit. From the client’s perspective, once we have that brief it’s our job to go out and find people that are great fits for that. They’re paying us not just to find them but to assess them and prepare them. They’ll then interview people that they probably know already are right for the role to choose the best one.

From the candidate’s perspective you’re evaluating from the other direction. Where are you in your career? What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to go? And is this role better or worse than your current set of opportunities to advance you in your goals?

SF: How do you help candidates explore those questions?

GS: That’s where I think we earn our money. At the levels we work at, pretty senior folks, all of the pieces that you look at are in play. So they tend to have large teams, they’re usually players in their communities, often-times there are dual-career issues. We don’t get it right unless they’re successful and they’re not going to be successful unless all those piece align.

We work very hard on the skills fit, their capabilities and their potential. But it won’t be a success if they go and they’re miserable if it’s not a place that they’re going to like living, if their family isn’t supportive. It’s important to explore all this with them to help them understand this life decision.

SF: How do you address the non-work considerations?

GS: It’s not easy. We get to know these people over a series of conversations and, as you know from your own work and research, there’s differing levels of openness to sharing their family situation. Very often candidates want to come across as all about business. They don’t want to talk about family because they think that someone might find that to be a weakness. Our job is to help them think about it. Here’s an example: There’s very often a question of working remotely which is coming up more and more.  So you have someone who says, “I have kids who are going to graduate in a year and a half. I’ll just fly in and be there five days a week and fly back. And I can do that for a couple of years.”  Some people can do that. It’s always hard, but it’s not always wrong. We often see people who are overconfident in their own and their family’s ability to manage something like that.

SF: It’s often hard to know in advance until you’re actually in that situation.

GS: You’re absolutely rights. So, we ask, “Have you done this before?” Is this something your family’s used to? Do you have systems in place to make it work? If the answer’s yes, we’re going to feel better about it. If the answer’s no, we’re going to push hard to make sure to make sure that conversation has happened and that this has been fully considered. Sometimes, we’ll find an appropriate way to say it’s just not going to work and that’s not good for anybody.

SF: Because of non-work or family considerations it might not work?  And you’ll make a recommendation on that basis.

GS: Absolutely. It’s complex. In the end, if we don’t think they’re going to be successful, which includes being happy putting all these pieces together, it’s our job to tell our clients that we have that concern. We don’t make the decision. The client makes the decision. We bring them the information.

SF: From the candidate’s perspective they’re largely in selling mode. They’re trying to appear as the best possible candidate if this is a position they’re keen on. How do you get past the sell to the reality?

GS: It’s a critical part of the role – being a good assessor. Part of it is asking the right questions. Part of it is building a trusting relationship. And that’s based partly on the backgrounds we all come from. We hire people who have been in their roles – people that have been in industry, that know the same kind of decisions they’re facing. So we can have that peer-to-peer conversation.  Plus, we’ve seen it a lot of times so we can ask questions like, “I’ve seen this before and someone in your shoes often asks this…”  And that can help them consider things that maybe they hadn’t thought of.

SF: Apart from your own credibility and experience in working with others in similar situations, what else do you do to build that trust?

GS: Part of it is the incentives. Our business is built on providing great solutions that work out well for everyone. It really is in our own self-interest to really make sure that they’re going to be happy and do well.

SF: So you’re thinking years ahead for this person and if it doesn’t work out for family reasons you feel responsible?

GS: Absolutely. If someone is picking up and moving from a community they like, sometimes their kids are in schools, I have kids. We recognize the weight of these decisions and we feel it. It’s crucial that we don’t leave any stone unturned to find out what could make it great or what could make it work out badly.

SF: How do you manage the growing issue of dual careers?

GS: With respect to our clients it’s a crucially important issue we have to understand. It’s one of the first questions we ask. And then, if they have kids in HS we need to explore that. These are often the reasons that someone says ultimately, “I just can’t do it right now.” Usually if someone is consider this type of change they’ve already had a conversation with their spouse about whose career has priority right now, how are we thinking about this, what cities are options because the spouse could transfer there.

SF: Are there patterns of solutions for resolving a dual-career challenge? What’s a good process? What advice do you have?

GS: The most important thing is to have open conversations – put these issues on the table and really explore them. We encourage people to think through their priorities and that includes all the pieces – it includes family, it includes the linkage to the community, are parents in the area, support systems. And these are particularly important for dual career couples. Do you have family members that can help you if someone has to run out of town?  Do you have a nanny that you trust and like?

We also see a lot of situations with special needs kids who need special schools and this may rule out certain cities.

SF: Do you find that family and non-work issues are increasingly important as candidates consider relocation?

GS: I would say increasing, but not a marked spike. As generations evolve, priorities evolve as well. We’re certainly seeing that with some of the younger people. If you’re graphing interest in the whole person and age, we are seeing more interest in this from younger people.

To learn more about Greig Schneider and Egon Zehnder go to their web site:  www.egonzehnder.com

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

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