May 1, 2020

Executive Search in Lockdown – some observations

Nearly six weeks into lockdown, the UK is seeing unprecedented changes to our economy, our ways of working and our way of life. As a director of an international executive search company, I have a privileged view of our clients’ leadership and hiring challenges – as well as those facing my own company. So I thought it might be helpful to share some observations.

1) Crisis duration and the ‘new normal’

Inevitably, comparisons are being drawn with the global financial crisis of 2008. However, most of our clients are viewing this pandemic as a temporary crisis. They are not anticipating a recession like the one which followed the 2008 crash, with negative impacts cross-sector that lasted for as long as 5 or 6 years. So, although this current crisis has become more severe more quickly, the general mindset is that this severity of impact will not have the same long tail. In other words, the economic trough of the Coronavirus crisis will be measured in months rather than years. That said, the pandemic will leave us with a ‘new normal’, including more agile/remote working, less travel and more video conferencing – and these working practices are likely to continue long after the crisis has passed.

2) Navigating the crisis as executive search consultants

It is still possible to start and conclude executive search assignments while in lockdown. This requires more effective project management to ensure clear communication lines to fully meet the needs of both clients and candidates. There is therefore a clear and enhanced role for the executive search consultant/adviser to step into.

3) Virtual onboarding and integration

It is also entirely possible to successfully manage virtual onboarding processes for senior executives who are about to assume a new role with a new employer. At Edward Drummond & Co., we can help you implement an effective executive onboarding and integration programme, so please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

4) Completing new and existing search assignments

We are finding that while new executive search instructions are declining, most ongoing assignments are continuing. Generally, our clients still need to make key hires and although there has been some reticence to conclude the process without a final face-to-face interview, this is changing; employers are increasingly accepting that final interviews can be conducted effectively via a video platform.

5) The upside of remote working

At Edward Drummond & Co, we have found that social distancing and remote working has not, on the whole, compromised our ability to maintain operational capability. For us and indeed many of our clients, team communication and collaboration has actually improved in some ways, through the use of video tools such as Teams and Zoom.

6) Developing our communities and business culture

A really positive facet of the difficult business conditions we are all working under is the increased sense of unity and community across our client and supplier bases. We are proud to be connected to so many companies and people who are doing great things in the fight against COVID-19. For example, many of our manufacturing clients have pivoted remarkably quickly into producing medical devices and PPE for hospitals. Other clients and suppliers have turned their resources towards helping local charities and community-based projects. This sense of ‘giving back’ has engendered a greater sense of humanity and kindness in our business networks which is inspirational – this I’m sure will in some way inform the post-pandemic business culture.

7) Sectors that are doing well

Although the overall level of new executive search instructions is decreasing, companies are still hiring – and some sectors are thriving. These include e-commerce, shipping/logistics, remote comms/tech, healthcare, life sciences, online gaming and entertainment, along with some areas of professional services such as Restructuring and Insolvency.

8) The need for strong and flexible leadership

At Edward Drummond & Co, our leadership team is working hard to achieve the right balance between cutting costs and retaining the necessary resource and capability for both our ongoing work-in-progress and areas of increased demand. For example, our Consulting practice remains busier than we anticipated and as our clients pivot into new areas of demand, we will ensure we are properly resourced to support them.

9) Preparing to bounce back

Finally, our clients are generally looking to return to previous growth agendas and development strategies once we are over the peak of this pandemic. We hear constant reference to a ‘bounceback’ later in the year, although no one is clear on when this will be. As a leadership team, our chief priority is therefore to retain our team of consultants and researchers in readiness for this bounce back in senior hiring activities, so we can support organisations in rebuilding their teams to re-align with their growth strategies.


For advice on recruiting senior talent or managing virtual onboarding programmes in this new world order, please contact us today.

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