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An Interview With Our Experts: Executive Search Trends

Associate Consultant Abi Husain sat down with Vice Presidents and executive search experts Sarah Beraki, Christian Cañas, Dan Nevez, and Colleen Rogers from Campbell & Company’s Executive Search team to discuss ongoing trends in the ever-changing landscape of talent recruitment in the nonprofit sector.

Read on to gain more insight from our experts on how organizational culture, work styles, and generational shifts are transforming the future of work as we know it.

The concept of company culture and the value of culture have become bigger factors for individuals in recent years. How do you see this impacting recruitment in the nonprofit sector?

Christian: I started my executive search career in 2015 with hospital and healthcare associations and systems. Only a few times in my five years at that firm was culture fit something people asked about. It was more about what skills, networks, and tenures people had at similar organizations. Now, more and more leaders and professionals are deliberately asking organizations about the culture, work-life balance, and dynamics of key leaders.

Colleen: The pandemic triggered this for a lot of people. People began asking questions about mission, culture, and fulfillment at work. The intersection of mission and culture has become so critically important, even in some cases taking precedence over salary; not always, but I would say they are definitely equivalent for some candidates. I’ve seen some organizations address their culture proactively, with some even reassessing mission work to identify areas where they have the most impact and expertise.

Sarah: In my experience, people have always talked about culture; it may just be the industry I came from – I’ve spent many years in people and talent acquisition-focused work. I agree with Colleen; the pandemic has brought more awareness to organizational culture, and job seekers are more mindful of this as they seek new opportunities. Employers are also sharing more about their company culture, leveraging strong or unique aspects of their culture as an advantage while they recruit, opening the door for more conversation or questions from candidates – which is great. Now more than ever, we can learn a lot about company culture through ratings, reviews, and connecting with current/former employees on LinkedIn for insight.

Dan: Since 2020, people are willing to think beyond a culture fit to a culture add, which is someone who can enrich the work culture in a different way and expand definitions around diversity. What I’ve seen in my work and why we have been so successful, we stay focused on mission fit, especially when organizational cultures are experiencing change. The whole idea of work culture is already shifting with the rise of remote and hybrid work. Having a highly qualified executive who fully aligns with the organization’s mission ensures they will be embraced by the team even if they bring new perspectives and ideas and innovative leadership.

Hybrid and remote work styles have become a critical component that is transforming the workplace environment. How are organizations’ and candidates’ expectations changing the way people work?

Colleen: The push for working remotely or working hybrid had been on the rise well before the pandemic, but the pandemic made the demand for it explode. With clients that do want a hybrid workforce or do want an in-person presence, they need to make a strong case for why. The reasoning can’t just be the organization’s preference or the CEO’s; there need to be justifiable culture-building reasons to support that. If not, candidates are pushing back much harder than we have seen in the past.

Sarah: For roles where this is applicable, there will likely be a bigger push for organizations to focus more on outcomes, and objectives and key results (OKRs) so that people can choose when they work and where. Research has shown us that productivity increases significantly when employees have the option to work remotely; so, if folks are asked to return to a fully in-person work environment, companies must be prepared to see a shift in productivity or find other ways to maintain business and retain employees. The demand for flexibility in how and where people work is high – including an increasing demand to work from international locations.

Dan: Many workers have families and expect more workplace flexibility than ever before. If this is not an option available to them, they will seek work elsewhere. Nonprofits are weakened by continuous turnover. Many nonprofits are not paying strong enough wages for staff, so we’ve seen continuing demands by staff members to be fully hybrid or even remote. There’s a push to have that flexibility embedded into the organization’s structure and culture. That puts a lot of pressure out there for organizations with long office leases, or those requiring a physical staff presence onsite.

Christian: I see the difference when hiring managers are looking to cultivate talent. For the longest time, we have seen people cultivating talent locally for in-person roles. After COVID, that shifted, and a lot of really excellent talent can be found remotely. This shifts expectations for hiring managers because they can now look nationally for talent, which can help raise the bar of excellence for the entire organization. It has resulted in elevated productivity while helping create a more diverse talent pool.

How do you see the workforce changing or shifting to accommodate different generational expectations?

Dan: We are still seeing Baby Boomers take up a significant part of the workforce; the next biggest supply of workers is Gen Z, making up a third of the global population. The demand curve for talent will be impacted. Millennials are pushing things. They want to be very clear about how they will grow; in nonprofits, often there is no clear career pathway. Pay is also a factor. Transitions and tenures of Millennials show that they are using new opportunities to advance their careers. They are leaving much sooner for pay bumps than GenXers and Boomers, who tend to stay longer in roles. We are seeing different pressures impact generations: cost of living is high, home ownership is a factor, inflation is huge, cost of student loans, people having families. It’s not your grandfather’s days anymore. Wealth transfer isn’t happening as much between generations, and less often for generations of color.

Colleen: Generational change has led to a greater push for transparency and equity. There’s also a push for flattening the hierarchy. There has been a shift in how different generations see work. For younger Millennials and Gen Z, there is a desire for more purpose-driven work and setting better boundaries. A phenomenon we saw emerge at the end of the Great Resignation was quiet quitting. There is much more awareness of burnout and what leads to it, and there’s a desire to prevent it. There is much more awareness about mental health, as well, and trying to support that.

Sarah: People change jobs at higher rates than ever before – we just have more choices. For nonprofits, or any organization, this increases the importance of having solid succession planning, retention, and talent pipelines in place while also investigating the needs of younger employees: what is important to them? What are they asking for, and how can you provide that? What happens if you don’t? How do you prepare your organization to meet the needs of generations that haven’t entered the workforce yet, but will soon? So many important questions to ask. The last few years we’ve also noticed organizations being more intentional about participating in conversations around mental health and reminding employees about the mental health benefits they offer like employee assistance programs (EAP) and free or discounted apps that focus on improving mindfulness or physical health.

Christian: We see a significant change in the management and mentoring model within organizations. Far more places are intentionally fostering open lines of communication and professional development from older to younger generations and ensuring they are conducted as thoughtfully as possible. These models are helping to reduce the amount of intellectual property lost to departing individuals and are helping to retain younger talent.

How does executive search play into these trends?

Christian: Our clients are looking for a more consultative aspect. They know that the dynamics of our professional climate are changing at such a rate that consultants in our profession can help digest the breadth of it all. Our partners allocate a significant investment in our expertise, and we take great care in our candor with them. There will always remain something special about the way we understand the dynamics and nuance of how individuals interact with each other.

Colleen: We need to be well-informed on these topics and prepared to advise our clients on all these areas and what it will look like for recruiting candidate pools. If you want to do in-person interviews, or have staff fully in the office, here is what you can anticipate with candidates you will recruit. If you want diverse candidates, you must demonstrate your organization’s commitment to building and supporting a diverse workforce, including having a diverse search committee to lead the hiring process. Even just talking through the generational differences that we see is important. We need to be flexible while still bringing the rigor and thoroughness of our process.

Dan: As an executive search consultant, you decide who you will reach out to and focus on. That was my joy in placing leaders of color these many years. We can change what nonprofit leadership looks like today and make a difference in creating more inclusive organizations.  There is an increasing demand for high performing leaders, and a low supply for these types of leaders. It’s important to be efficient in a search process. Search consultants help keep nonprofits focused on the critical experiences and qualities needed for the role rather than extraneous factors.

Sarah: We are connecting with executives and organizations across the country daily. We have a good pulse on what the needs and demands are for executives who are hiring as well as those considering new leadership opportunities. We are always consulting with our clients based on current trends so they can make the best and most informed decisions.

Campbell & Company is a national consulting firm that helps nonprofit organizations create greater impact through executive search, fundraising, communications, and strategic information services. We have helped place exceptional leaders in all sectors, including human services, arts & culture, education, healthcare, environment, associations and membership organizations, and civic and public affairs.

Underlying all our work is a shared focus on the Campbell & Company mission: to collaborate and innovate with people who change lives through philanthropic vision and action.

Explore for more information or to engage the Campbell & Company Executive Search team for your organization.

About the Author

Abi is a Certified Diversity Recruiter and regularly implements DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility) practices when sourcing, screening, and partnering with candidates and clients. Abigail is also a member of the firm’s DEIA Council which continues to improve the firm’s inclusive culture and advance the firm’s DEIA initiatives.


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