Recruiting for the ‘marzipan layer’

by Iain Hopkins13 Jun 2017

Smart organisations are increasingly moving away from the traditional reactive approach to their executive hiring to one that is far more strategic

Volatile, unpredictable, complex, ambiguous – these are the words most commonly used to describe the business climate of 2017. It means that just about every business function operates with a wary eye on the lookout for disruption. Talent acquisition is no exception, especially when it comes to executive hiring.

Matthew Mellor, CEO of Armstrong Craven, suggests that when it comes to attempting a more proactive approach to talent acquisition, too many organisations have been overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change – so they opt to continue with what they’ve always done.

“Often clients want to do the right thing; they want to build strategic talent acquisition strategies, but the pace of change can lead to inertia or a focus on business as usual – simply because it’s so challenging to get a robust plan looking to the future in place,” he says.

The businesses that take a proactive approach to talent acquisition are those with a progressive board and a strong leadership team that is very clear on future directions, Mellor adds.

“What we’ve seen are some progressive organisations that really give strength and confidence to the talent acquisition team. This team is privy to the strategic direction of the business and can plan talent requirements against those plans. They are the ones that have the strongest, most robust approaches to executive hiring and are getting in place and executing on succession plans.”

Local nuances
The Singapore market has added complexities that can serve to further hamper strategic talent planning. Not only are there increasing expectations that organisations will hire locals over expats, but there is also a unique mix of competencies required.

“Singapore by its very nature is a very diverse country in many different ways, especially in terms of talent,” says Mellor. “What we see with clients in the region is that organisations need to be culturally very agile; they must understand cultural differences – and that demands skills in terms of how you build those teams and bring different leadership styles into play.”

There is a stronger focus on gender diversity, especially the hiring of female leaders in the region, which Mellor says overlays another layer of complexity in finding suitable talent.

There is also an expectation that seniorlevel talent will have, as a minimum, ASEAN or APAC experience, and even more desirable is global experience. Overlaid with this is an increasing demand for talent with digital economy experience and knowledge of emerging areas like data analytics, cloud and mobile technology, and information security. All these factors combined mean the ‘ideal’ candidate is often hard to find. “It can make for a fantastically challenging talent environment, and that’s just at the very top executive level of business,” Mellor says.

The ‘marzipan layer’ Indeed, it’s the talent that sits just beneath this top executive level that can suffer the most from reactive approaches to talent acquisition. Armstrong Craven refers to this cohort as the ‘marzipan layer’ – and Mellor says it has been overlooked for too long.

“In large organisations you’ll see executive recruitment firms handling C-suite hires, and then you’ll see RPO operating for lower-level roles, but there’s almost like a squeeze in the middle, and it’s this middle layer who I believe is underserved,” he says.

He adds that many businesses may have a divisional leadership team – if not a headquarters – based in Singapore. It means that this leadership team, as well as the senior management team, might be considered the ‘marzipan layer’. Armstrong Craven has used the term to describe this group of professionals in the UK, where typically their salary would fall between £80,000 and £200,000 (S$144,000 and S$360,000). “When you transfer that to the Singapore market, you can widen it and bring the band lower in the bottom end,” says Mellor.

Talent mapping and pipelining
To encourage a more proactive approach to talent acquisition for this marzipan layer, Armstrong Craven is urging clients to trial approaches they may have adopted when grooming internal talent for future roles – namely, talent mapping and talent pipelining. While Mellor says the terms are often used interchangeably, he describes talent mapping – the ability to map the external talent market to identify the very best talent – as being the first critical step.

“Talent mapping requires you being clear on the skills, the experience, and the quality of people who might exist on the talent market – and for that you may need to look internationally as well as locally,” Mellor says

“What does that talent look like, what is its composition, where is it clustered? It’s the ability to understand where that talent is, but then it’s knowing what it looks like that is so critical. You can then use that knowledge as a foundation for next steps.”

Importantly, external talent mapping can also be used as a way to compare and contrast internal talent bench strength. It can help leaders think about where they wish their talent to be located. Alternatively, it can be used to see the profiles of people performing particular roles and perhaps show that some people may not have the ideal background or experience for such a role – but may in fact be excellent candidates. “It can actually be a beginning point for succession planning,” Mellor says.

It’s also logical to assume that talent pipelining is the next phase. Armstrong Craven defines talent pipelining as engaging that identified talent and building a relationship with them with a view towards bringing them on board in the future.

“You’re reaching out to a passive talent pool and beginning to open up engagement, building a relationship according to the needs of a client,” says Mellor. “When you get that right it can be very powerful.”

TALENT MAPPING FOR NICHE ROLES
Matthew Mellor says that, in addition to the ‘marzipan layer’, talent mapping for niche, hard-to-fill roles is a “perfect fit”. “Talent mapping is less suitable for more generic roles, but when you’ve got a very specific need and your client is looking to understand where that talent is located, it plays extremely well. For example, talent in life sciences. What do they look like in terms of qualifications and experience? Is that talent clustered or is it scattered across different geographic regions? Talent mapping in that early phase can help a client understand and progress their thinking around how they want to shape roles, where they want to locate roles, and so on, according to that scarce talent.”

All about relationships
Successful pipelining is all about relationship-building with potential new hires as well as client organisations. Heather Travis, Armstrong Craven’s Director Asia Pacific, says the Armstrong Craven model is about a partnership with internal acquisition teams and taking the time to learn their challenges, their strengths and capabilities. “It’s about being a window to the market for them,” she says.

Such a partnership allows the Armstrong Craven team to identify open vacancies and the talent requirements needed in the short term, as well as longer-term talent requirements.

“Sometimes the terms talent mapping and talent pipelining can conjure up images of hundreds of people, but actually if you’ve identified the five to 10 people externally with particular skills and the ability to develop that you’re very interested in, that’s often a better option. We prefer to focus on smaller numbers and pockets of individuals,” says Travis.

From there it’s about managing expectations and continuing the relationship through.

Mellor is aware of statistics showing the high number of senior hires who come through an executive search fi rm and fail within six to 12 months, but says the Armstrong Craven approach minimises this risk.

“When you have a candidate who is very open about their own aspirations, their own position in their existing careers, it’s not about a rush to fill a role. It’s the whole experience of onboarding. Our business is all about ensuring those people can progress quickly and successfully in an organisation.”

Mellor concedes it can sometimes be a challenge to keep external candidates ‘warm’, especially as circumstances – both for the individual and for the client organisation – can change rapidly. “A more mature, grown-up approach always wins over a clandestine sort of approach,” he says, when asked about how much should be revealed to a potential hire at the outset of the relationship.

“For the external market it’s about managing expectations and timeframes. If you’re open with individuals, to the extent you can be about the exact nature of a role, you must manage that. Sometimes the timing isn’t right for an individual, but they want to stay in touch – that’s great. The contact has still been positive.”

WHY PASSIVE CANDIDATES MATTER
LinkedIn research shows that three quarters of the fully employed workforce around the world consider themselves passive candidates, or not actively looking for their next job. In Singapore, the statistics generally follow the global trends:
13% – actively looking(12% global)
14% – casually looking a few times a week (13%)
20% – reaching out to personal network (15%)
40% – open to talking to a recruiter (45%)
13% – completely satisfi ed; don’t want to move (15%)

Source: LinkedIn Talent Trends 2014

ARMSTRONG CRAVEN
Armstrong Craven is a global talent mapping and pipelining business working with some of the world’s biggest and fastestgrowing companies and brands. The company focuses on a number of key sectors, including Technology, Healthcare and Life Sciences, Professional and Financial Services, Consumer and Industrial.

Clients are able to benefit from AC’s deep knowledge of markets, organisations and individual motivations and aspirations. Contact: Heather Travis, Director Asia Pacific – heather.travis@armstrongcraven.com or + 65 8869 7728.