Executive search: (how) does COVID-19 influence the profile of C-levels?

Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operational Officer… The Chief Levels or C-levels in companies have their work cut out for them. The pandemic has been a major impetus behind evolutions that had already been going on for some time. An impetus that inspired good change for some sectors, and crises for others. Both have structural and strategic work to do for 2021 and beyond, which is why you definitely want to have the right people fulfilling C-level positions.

Different time/reality, different C-level?

C-levels are to companies what trainers are to sports clubs: there must be a fit with the players, goals, and strategy. Significant events and decisions can give that fit a new lease on life. Each period has its challenges and requires the right leader to tackle them. When a unique crisis is over, the Chief of the period before may not automatically be the most suitable Chief for the period after. For example, there are crisis C profiles and there are others. Sometimes, when a company has gone through hard times and the CEO and their team have turned the tide, their job may be done; then it may be time for other C-profiles to step in – CEOs frequently decide that the time to go has come.

Giving trust, getting reports

Will COVID-19 suddenly make us all need different C-levels? Yes and no. The C-levels do not have to be different people, but they will have to lead in a different way. Because if COVID-19 has been an impetus for anything, both in the sectors that benefited from the pandemic and in the sectors of the losing camp, it’s been an impetus for employee autonomy. There was more teleworking for many and there were constant challenges for all. Everyone has had to find solutions; everyone has discovered what it means to be flexible. The management style will have to take this into account. C-levels that think they can continue on the basis of ‘measure all, know all’ are mistaken. We will achieve more with trust between all levels.

The shelf life of C-levels, the challenges of an international search

The commitment of C-levels is usually medium-term, as a strategy must be given time to manifest itself. But it is important for companies to keep their sights open, and for C-levels to dare to question themselves. Because a change at the C-level doesn’t just happen overnight at the drop of a hat. C-levels are filled in for the years to come and you don’t necessarily find them just lying around. Executive search should not be stopped by national borders; an international network is interesting. But an international executive search doesn’t simplify the exercise. For example, you can’t ignore cultural differences. The specific corporate culture of a multinational may weigh internally, but people always have a personal cultural baggage outside as well. It is essential for a well-functioning C-level that people understand each other, literally and figuratively. Those who search internationally should be well prepared: it can be tricky!


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