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Brightwater Executive Market Insights

09 Dec 2020

Estelle Davis, Managing Partner of Brightwater Executive and Board Director of the Brightwater Group offers her insights on the Executive level hiring market for 2021 and reviews the year of 2020.

An overview of Brightwater Executive

Here at BW Executive, we cover senior leadership roles, namely Head of Functions, director roles and C-Suite positions. We work with a lovely eclectic mix of clients from SMEs to multinationals, semi-state and public sector bodies as well. It covers every single sector from telco to pharmaceuticals, financial services, IT, tech and engineering and many more sectors.

We’re supported by a team of 5 that specialise across all the vertical disciplines; eg. finance, risk, legal, HR, operations, marketing, sales. For every functional role that you have in the operating model, we have a partner that will specialise in that area and that sector.


What sectors saw strong activity during the pandemic?


Over the course of 2020, many sectors have been really hit quite badly unfortunately. On the flip side, there have been some sectors that have remained strong and robust and have held their own throughout COvid-19 and the whole pandemic. Those sectors cover the likes of financial services, pharma, medtech, IT and data science along with other areas like the public sector and semi-state bodies. I would suggest that on the backdrop of Covid, probably 50% of our clients have maintained and retained a strong momentum and the others have had to change quite dramatically their hiring strategies.  


What sectors struggled during the pandemic?


Over the pandemic, it’s well noted in the news and we hear it from our colleagues and those in the industry that notably the hospitality, travel and retail sectors. What is not as acknowledged as much in the media and amongst the industry are those ancillary services / businesses that feed into those key sectors that are also hit just as badly. Often they are SMEs and they feed into those industries in terms of facilities support, outsourced IT, consulting, HR or marketing. There has been quite a dramatic and really unfortunate knock on and ripple effect that have impacted a lot of the sectors negatively this year.

What changes has the pandemic brought about in terms of work culture?

Work culture is very unique for each organisation. Every organisation defines its own culture. When it comes to how they’ve managed and coped during Covid-19, work culture has distinctly changed. Most notably is the remote and virtual office, the creation of that culture and ensuring everyone is working together for the one organisation despite being in completely different locations around the country or around Europe.

There is the hybrid workforce that we see as well that has come through where you have the luxury of working 2 or 3 days at home and the other days in the office where perhaps it’s a critical workforce that’s needed there in the office. The whole dynamic and rapport building has really changed from physical to virtual. Overall, I think a lot of businesses have coped really well with that challenge and having to put in place that support and platform very quickly in March of 2020.


What key leadership skills were vital during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, a lot of the key skills that have been sought or redrilled down on to ascertain how good leaders are coming into the firms are very much focused around crisis management. We went through one recession and crisis management was well adapted at that stage. This has been a different scenario altogether with the speed and the nature of it, so crisis management has been a huge focus.

Decisive decision-making management is also key and obviously when it comes to business continuity, ensuring workforces were remotely enabled very quickly. Those have been key skills that have really determined the ability and agility of a leader coming in.

Obviously, management cost containment has gone to a different level; making sure that the business that they’re leading is sustainable and that they can maintain and retain through the pace of Covid 19 and into 2021.  So those have been the key skills that we have noticed the most.


What executive level roles are in demand in last 12 months?

Depending on the sectors and the disciplines, we’re seeing different gear shifts changes in role types, particularly around financial services and the outcome of Brexit. We’ve seen a lot of subsidiary setups turn into group headquarters so through that, group roles have become a lot more prevalent with the hiring strategies of firms. There is also an additional layer in governance and oversight roles so risk in general has maintained a good healthy steady flow of roles.

When it comes to the industry sectors, we’ve seen the demand grow in finance and finance functions so a lot of M&A activity across key sectors. Skillsets around finance professionals, legal professionals and particularly sales and commercial strategic professionals are all in demand. Employers want to make sure that those skillsets are in tandem with the core role so that kind of project and financing management core skillset is very sought after at the moment.

When it comes to new market entry and on the backdrop of Brexit, skills where businesses or professionals in those businesses have opened or driven new market entries will always be in demand and hugely sought after as well.

What are the changes in the executive level interview processes?

The key changes we’re seeing in the interview process for executive level hires are around the competency-based approach. This has fundamentally remained very similar to previous years but has been tweaked to really adapt to include the leaders or incoming leaders’ ability to deal with and work through Covid-19. The processes that may have taken 4 or 5 steps are now elongated to 6 or 7 steps. There are a lot more decision makers involved, a lot more time invested in the new hire coming through and the focus of that competency based interview have circled around business continuity, cash flow management and ability to deal through multiple crises. We have gone through a crisis at the moment, but the business sector and the general market sectors are continuing to go through different waves. The ability of internal and external communications is really key with the new leader and that style and that ability to connect virtually, not only with the workforce but with their client base and also with stakeholders and regulators depending on the sector.

They really are driving through those questions in the interview process and what remains consistent from 2019 is the adaptability and agility codiant so the EQ, IQ and AQ (Emotional Quotient, Intelligence Quotient and Adversity Quotient) all carry equal weighting and are a huge focus for businesses as well.


Have salaries / remuneration packages changed at the executive level?

When it comes to remuneration packages and what we foretell on going into 2021, it’s a tale of two halves in some respects. Some sectors and markets will be very different. When we look at the cohort of companies and sectors that have stood their ground and done well this year, (which is a great news story for the economy, the businesses and general sentiment / confidence) we would predict that when it comes to salary increases and bonus pay-outs and LTI payments, they will remain good, steady and encouraging.

Your typical increase for different levels can vary anywhere in base salary increases from 3 – 5% to 8% depending on the markets. If those individuals are making moves in the markets, they can realise increases of anywhere between 8% and 15%. It really depends on their niche areas and their niche roles.

When it comes to the organisations and sectors that have suffered quite badly, it is like any organisation in crisis mode and in self-preservation. When it comes to base salaries, they’ll maintain the same. Often in many cases, people will take decreases for a certain period of time until things recuperate and the economy recovers. It’s a tale of two halves, one sector continues as is and another sector where people have been hit on base salaries, accrued bonuses and LTIs are naturally impacted. Leaders of organisations in different sectors will do what they need to do to make sure that everything is retained and sustained, enabling them to go into 2021 in a better and safer mindset and structure.


Advice to organisations taking on executive level hires?

I think that any organisation going out considering their next executive level hire has to understand that not only is it a huge investment in people’s time and budgets, I think the first thing to ensure is that the executive partner or search partner that you work alongside is very much the correct partner for your organisation. That partner has to feel that they are part of the extended family of that business for the duration of that process be it 2,3 or 4 months of the search. It’s critical that you’re all working as one part of the team. When it comes to whoever the lead sponsor of that executive hire is, whether it’s the CEO, the HRD or the CFO, it’s important to have a healthy, open and challenging dialogue when it comes to everything from the initial stages of the job spec right through to the weighting of scorecards around how you’re going to weight the interview and selection process of the ideal candidate.

The time spent on those early stages is really key and the invested time that people have to put into it cannot be underestimated. First and foremost, it’s about getting the right partner. I know with Brightwater Executive, from the firms we’ve partnered with throughout this year and in previous years through a lot of the repeat business that has come through that, it’s very telling how great that relationship and partnership can work when done correctly from the outset.

My advice would be to choose wisely but also choose an organisation that you feel corresponds well with your people, your culture and your understanding of the goal and the ultimate roadmap of where you’re trying to get to as well as an understanding of the skillsets needed and the track record of finding those people.