Employment brokers are the new personnel officers, writes Diana Clement

Once upon a time, recruitment was black and white. You advertised a job, found the right candidate, informed them of the pay and conditions, and they stuck the job out for a decade or even their working lives.

The 21st century is technicoloured in comparison. If a middle-aged recruitment consultant was teleported from 1960 to the 21st century, he (because there were few shes in those days) would hardly recognise the work processes of his modern-day colleagues.

Even the language has changed. Those involved in recruitment and related professions talk of authenticity, reflective thinking, blended learning, constructive dismissal, knowledge management, employee engagement, organisational effectiveness, garden leave, HR audits and other unheard-of concepts.


It's an evolution that executive search, recruitment and organisational development consultancy Sheffield has both watched and participated in.

Sheffield's directors, Christien Winter and Ian Taylor, highlight a few major trends during the lifetime of their business, which began in 1961 when personnel was an administrative function and training was largely on-the-job.

The first big change, says Winter, is that human resources (HR) has emerged as a function. "HR emerged 20 to 25 years ago and it came out of personnel. HR is now a very important strategic function and has matured."

Within HR itself, the biggest change, she adds, has been the development of formal organisational development (OD) functions in organisations, which emerged in the 1990s.

OD, says Winter, grew out of the old training function, morphed into learning and development and finally OD.

At the same time that HR has evolved, matured and taken a strategic role in organisations, search and selection firms such as Sheffield have seen their roles change, says Winter. "It is a much more sophisticated function now and has a much more proactive role helping organisations build their talent."

McKinsey & Company's 1997 survey on the "war for talent" changed forever the way recruiters viewed their business. McKinsey warned prophetically that the most important corporate resource over the following 20 years would be talent and that enterprises would have to fight for their fair share.

As Fast Company wrote at that time: "In the boardroom bunkers and in the cubicle-filled trenches, the early skirmishes of the next war are being fought. Ultimately, though, the war will be global, and for businesses, the stakes will be success and perhaps even survival."


Organisations and search professionals have had to evolve to face that challenge, says Taylor. "Fifteen to 20 years ago, advertising was the most common method for identifying candidates and attracting them." These days the search methodology is multi-pronged.

Over the years, Sheffield has been involved in some of the largest recruitment contracts in New Zealand, which included Kinleith Mill, Marsden Point Refinery, the merger that created Fonterra, and the staffing of the new Auckland Council.

The world of work is changing at an accelerating pace. Taylor and Winter cite the annual IBM CEO study, which has seen a new threat emerge for CEOs in the past 18 months.

For the first time in the history of the survey, the number one challenge confronting them, say CEOs, is the escalation of "complexity". It's a trend that they expect to continue.

The report goes on to cite "creativity" as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises worldwide.

On the ground in New Zealand, creativity and flexibility are skills that organisations are looking for more and more in their leaders, says Winter.


"[Old-style] leaders don't tend to be creative." Yet that is the management style that leaders of the future will need.

Taylor cites one client who will not employ staff unless they have the ability to listen, integrate knowledge and consult and collaborate. Leaders with autocratic styles were not given the job, regardless of their other skills.

Up until 2010, the IBM survey found that the biggest challenge for CEOs was coping with change. "In 2010, our conversations identified a new primary challenge: complexity," the authors wrote. "CEOs told us they operate in a world that is substantially more volatile, uncertain and complex.

"Many shared the view that incremental changes are no longer sufficient in a world that is operating in fundamentally different ways."

While executives may worry about the threats from overseas, which they can't even anticipate, the global economy has opened a world of opportunity for search consultancies. "We have developed global recruitment networks," says Winter.

These days, recruitment consultants and search professionals track Kiwis through their career progression in London, Dubai, New York or wherever else they land in the world.


Now the focus is on not only how to attract talent, but to retain and develop critical leadership talent, says Winter.

Employee expectations have also changed over Sheffield's 50-year life, says Winter. Job-seekers are now much more focused on managing their own career. "More often than not, we are interacting with candidates who are much more discerning in how they do their due diligence [on an employer]." It is much more a "two-way" street with the search industry, she adds.

"We need to facilitate a much more complex conversation with the candidate. We are in the middle and operate as a broker."

Remuneration is part of that matrix approach. Jobs, at least at executive level, don't come with simply a dollar figure attached, says Taylor. "An example of that is how remuneration and benefits are negotiated."

In times gone by the formula was: "You work 8.30am to 5pm and have 20 hours' holiday". The negotiation has become much more employee-centred. There is more flexibility. They may work 8.30am to 2pm, but be prepared to work at home and be rewarded with a fulltime remuneration package.

Organisations in the United States now offer a range of options to achieve a remuneration package to the tune of $X.


Even that's not enough these days. When employees are considering a job, they are more focused on employers' brands, their values and commitment to social responsibility - aka the "triple bottom line" says Winter.

That comes through typically with younger candidates who make more robust decisions about their career moves.