Are You Putting Foxes in Your Chicken Coop?

Chicken in public market, Mazatlan, Sinaloa, M...

Chicken in a Public Market

Recusal – one of my favorite 50¢ words – is the act of a judge (or anyone else) removing themselves from a process as a participant because of a conflict of interest.

While there’s no bright line, there is still a line; step over it and you’re conflicted, stay on the “right” side and you’re ethical. And when you’re conflicted, recusal is the smart and right thing to do if you’re able.

I thought of this issue of conflict and recusal when a recent Wall Street Journal articleTalent Poachers Raid Their Rivals – surfaced regarding search firm Korn Ferry’s poaching of tens of executive search talent from rival Heidrick & Struggles.

There are lots of reasons people move, and having worked extensively with Heidrick I have tremendous respect for the firm.

What caught my eye though is the shift that both Korn/Ferry and Heidrick are making in the nature of the executive search consultant job.

The Journal article notes, “Like Korn/Ferry, Heidrick wants to beef up its leadership consulting services, which involve helping employers to assess and groom executives over a longer period than a single search.”

What’s the rub?

Unless you have a no-touch provision for your talent (e.g. your search firm contractually agrees not to recruit anyone from your firm), you don’t want the same people who are coaching (and assessing) your folks to have recruiting as part of their responsibility. It’s inherently conflicting; like insider trading, the temptations are great, the rewards are greater, and yet there is not much downside to sharing “tips on talent” that might be recruit bait.

Fundamentally executive search consultants doing coaching work – provided their firm gets paid to source and recruit people – are conflicted. Assess someone as a star, and note the deficiencies that point toward replacing them? Keep somebody’s talent a secret, or mention it to a colleague looking for exactly that talent mix in a search they’re conducting?

In the end, I think it’s makes the most sense for you to hire recruiters to recruit and coaches to coach, whether it be traditional exec coaching or new hire coaching for high risk or critical hires.

Executive recruiting is largely a transactional business; surface candidates, get them hired, and move on to the next round. Coaching is relationship and analytical based; what’s going on, what are the best ways to change or reinforce behavior, and the most effective way to communicate and make those changes. The skill sets generally don’t complement each other.

Good recruiters seldom make great coaches. Great coaches seldom make great recruiters.

Having exec recruiters coach and assess your talent is as smart as putting your foxes with your chickens; might seem like a convenient way to use your space but the only ones who end up satisfied – with mouths filled with feathers – are your foxes.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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