In the one of the classic scenes from the BBC comedy series ‘Only Fools and Horses’, Trigger, a gormless and dim-witted friend of Del-Boy Trotter, claims that he’s had his road sweeper’s broom for 20 years. But then he adds that the broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles. “So how can it be the same bloody broom then?” asks his friend Sid.
Sometimes the same logic can apply to headhunters’ track record…
This is a modern variant of an old philosophical thought puzzle called ‘The Ship of Theseus’, discussed by ancient philosophers from Heraclitis to Plutarch, who wrote:
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places.
And he questioned whether the ship would remain the same if it were entirely replaced, piece by piece, such than none of the original timbers remained.
This problem seems to me relevant when talking about some headhunters’ Track Record. In the absence of knowing what questions they need to ask to select a potential Search provider, the first (and sometimes only) question hiring companies usually ask is: ‘What’s your Track Record in this area?’.
Leaving aside for the moment that track record, in isolation, is a very poor indicator of competence in a headhunter, you need to be careful to clearly define what that track record comprises.
I remember several years ago being shown a competitor’s pitch deck for a senior Emerging Markets Debt Portfolio Manager role, which listed five or six relevant searches for previous clients. They won the pitch partly on the basis of the firm’s strong track record. The only problem was, like Trigger’s broom, over time, all the people in the team who had actually worked on those searches, one by one had left the firm and had been replaced by new consultants and researchers. So that, by the time the pitch deck was submitted, no one currently at the firm had worked on any of the searches listed. So, just as you might ask, was Trigger’s broom really his broom: was their track record really their track record?
If you are a company thinking of choosing a Search firm make sure you get to grips with what track record really comprises. Better still, check out this list of questions we have written up to help prospective Search Firms to select their Search provider.