A great leader sees the company as an ecosystem

” A great leader sees the company as an ecosystem where people can evolve, develop and support each other” – David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner at Signium-Stein & Partner

 Executive Search field is defined by curiosity, patience to absorb and understand information. In other words, connecting with the stakeholders. How does it look like the Romanian HR market now, which are the benefits of being part of a global community in this field and what values needs to have a leader in 2022? All the answers and much more in an exlusive interview with David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania at Signium-Stein & Partner.

C&B: As a Managing Partner of a company with more than 27 years in the HR field, taking into consideration your German origins, how can you describe the Romanian market?

David-Sebastian Stein: That`s a great question! From my perspective, looking at the macro environment, the Romanian market is transitioning from an emerging market to a mature one, and this comes with a higher degree of competition and transparency requirements. Also, we see an increasing confidence of local companies, start-ups and investment funds expanding into more developed markets and looking beyond the borders of their own country. Another encouraging trend is that we see more and more regional and even global headquarters in Romania, so we have moved from the “Eastern European country where you can find cheap labour” into a more strategic dimension.

From a leadership and people perspective, Romania has already made big steps away from a “learn by heart and repeat” mentality, towards a solution-oriented ecosystem. However, given the educational base in Romania, this behaviour is being taught at later stages and it will probably take some time until diverse thinking will broadly be appreciated.

C&B: Which are your top entrepreneurial values always keeping in mind and applying?

David-Sebastian Stein: We strongly believe that the purpose, meaning the “why” you do things, is one of the most important aspects when it comes to entrepreneurship. If you are doing things to make money, you will invest into the wrong direction and, ultimately, your business will fail. Nevertheless, if you start a business to serve society, build an unparalleled product or service, or simply have the ambition to make things better than anybody else, then the motivation is true and eventually you might have the possibility to succeed. For us, we apply the continuous improvement theory, having the ambition to improve from project to project and trying to have measurable impact on the organizations we work with, and ultimately for society. By truly caring about the influence we have over clients’ businesses, we dare to believe that we help companies achieve or challenge their visions, by providing fitting leadership solutions, enhance engagement which drives to innovation and ultimately, all of these should lead to an increased impact on society – that`s what we hope to be our contribution.

C&B: How was 2021 for Signium – Stein & Partner and with what challenges did you deal with?

David-Sebastian Stein: As we had a record year in 2020, when the pandemic started, we noticed that the economic crisis and the effects of the pandemic really hit us in 2021. Our business is strongly affected by either foreign direct investments or local M&A activities and, looking at that data, we see that the demand was correlated to those activities with an approximate delay of one year. However, we were actually happy to have some free time to follow our growth ambitions on regional level and to further enhance and expand our services. Besides this, we have a new management team in Austria and given my election into the Global Board of Signium, we also started a very ambitious plan of initiatives on global level.

Unfortunately, some of our colleagues decided to leave the company due to the pause in business in 2021 and now, that the demand incrementally increased in the beginning of 2022, we face the needs to headhunt for ourselves. :))

C&B: Which are the business objectives for the 2022?

David-Sebastian Stein: On CEE level, our ambition is to increase the team by taking into consideration expertise and diversity, to further develop the leadership and board advisory practice and expand into new markets, as initially foreseen for 2021. On global level, we are changing the leadership model from serving to agile, focusing on engaging and connecting the partners, sharing expertise and strengthening continuous learning and development initiatives.

C&B: Stein & Partner is, for some years, member of Signium. In 2021, you decided to rebrand your business and name it Signium – Stein & Partner. With what major differences came the decision?

David-Sebastian Stein: This has been a hard decision for us, as Stein & Partner is a strong brand in Romania and has been recognized over the past 27 years as one of the top-quality service providers. Nevertheless, looking at what is best for the clients, it is important to be part of a global community which ensures collective learning and development, while sharing expertise and client commitment. And besides this, it is rewarding for us to also have the possibility to support a larger community and it makes us proud that our new ideas and initiatives are being globally appreciated.

C&B: In 2021, you were elected as Signium Global Board Director. How are you feeling in this position after almost one year? What does it imply?

David-Sebastian Stein: As mentioned in the previous point, we are thrilled to see that our ideas and initiatives are being appreciated and that our development goals align with the global trends in Executive Search. This gives us additional confirmation and strength in pursuing our direction.

After one year in the role, I can say that I am satisfied with the evolution and we continue to make strategic and administrative decisions regarding the general development and coordination plan of the network.

C&B: How were the last two years for Signium – Stein & Partner in particular, and for the HR field in general, two difficult pandemic years?

David-Sebastian Stein: As mentioned earlier, we believe the pandemic has notably hit us in 2021; 2020 has been exceptionally good and we are convinced that 2022 will be another great year for us. Looking at the market, traditionally the Executive Search industry has been very much connected to economic developments. Nonetheless, we see an increasing opportunity to support companies with leadership and board advisory services, helping to design competency models and steering change processes.

C&B: What do you think makes a leader to be a great one?

David-Sebastian Stein: For me personally, being a big fan of agile leadership theories, a great leader sees the company as an ecosystem where people can evolve, develop, and support each other. In this environment, the leader is responsible for creating and protecting the structure which ensures that each member of the community can unfold their full potential and has the space to contribute. However, when applying leadership strategies, you always need to take into consideration the development stage of the company, meaning if it is a start-up, a growth environment, a mature establishment or a restructuring / turnaround case. Furthermore, you need to understand the strategy and the team competency model the company requires to achieve.

What I’ve learned so far in life is that there is no right and wrong, only more or less suitable solutions given the circumstances. You can have the most brilliant ideas and theories, but you need to listen, pick up the stakeholders and wait for the right moment or educate the organization. This, by the way, applies not only for leadership strategies, but for any situation of change.

C&B: Which are the top values of a leader in 2022? Is there maybe any value which was not so important before the pandemic context which now stands out?

David-Sebastian Stein: The pandemic has shown us that we are not alone on this planet and that we need to learn how to live and integrate with nature. Therefore, I believe the trend around ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) will be the driver of new economic development and a key value of leaders to be taken into consideration. The 20th century has brought humanity a tremendous living standard and we must accelerate the development into the direction of finding harmony with nature. We are strong believers that technology can help us move into this direction, but we need to tackle all aspects of social and economic development, which includes animal breeding, energy and all members of the economic system.

C&B: Any advice for people who want to become consultants for top executive firms, like Signium – Stein & Partner? What can make them stand out?

David-Sebastian Stein: Be curious! Our job can only be done well, if you are eager to absorb, to analyse information and find genuine pleasure in supporting companies and professionals. Our industry, and professional services in general, is a very absorbing sector as it`s project based. You need to be able to easily switch between completely different topics and stakeholders and it takes a long time to do this swiftly. If you are not driven by curiosity and have the patience to absorb and understand information, or if you are not genuinely interested in serving your stakeholders, it is almost impossible to succeed in executive search.

To access the full English version of the article, click here.

Change and innovation in the recruiting process

I would like to talk first and foremost about creativity and innovation. That’s why my first question is about recruiting in the creative industries, namely in advertising, design, or architecture. Can we still talk about talent, native inclination, or the main qualities of a candidate, even in these fields? Are these are acquired through study and experience?

In any field, performance requires a combination of native inclination and effort. I see people who strive hard to be good in a particular industry or role because it seems like they are making a lot of money from “there” or that “there” is the future, but if things don’t also come naturally, the results won’t measure up to the mental and physical consumption. All the same, talent without work is also not enough, especially in such competitive times. Anyways, I’m a fan of the growth mentality – I think we should be guided by innate preferences and constantly build on them so that we can always improve. And we look for this feature in our candidates as well; more and more, we and our clients being wary of “fixed-minded” candidates, such as “this is me, this is what I can, this is good for me and this is not, take it or leave it”. We want to see people who, as I said, know their native abilities, but want to support them through study, experience, and effort, who are able and willing to adapt to unexpected situations, outside the comfort zone, and who can perform in different contexts, where predictability lacks.

How do you find an ideal candidate when innovation appears in the job description, regardless of the field of business? What qualities do you look for in a leader who brings innovation?

Innovation means much more than the classic “thinking outside the box”, for it implies transforming ideas into actions / strategies that are really useful for the company and create value, bring real improvements for the organisation and the business sector. Starting from this idea, we try to find out from the candidates concrete examples about situations in which they have identified better ways to do a certain thing in business, how they implemented it, but also how they presented and supported their ideas in front of all stakeholders (Board, teams, suppliers, etc.). Unfortunately, in many organisations we see massive resistance to change, so a leader who aims for innovation must be able to persuade others to follow suit.

On the other hand, we know that there can be no question of innovation in a field that you do not understand and without dedication, it is a false impression that people simply wake up with good ideas that change the face of the industry. Therefore, we check how well they know the sector in which they operate, how connected they are to trends, to consumers / customers, to their expressed and unexpressed needs, how they see the evolution and what external factors they consider will influence it.

We also want to see how the leader with whom we discuss the innovation process grasps the vision and approach, how he encourages creativity and innovation among the teams he leads, strategic steps in identifying new solutions, resources, opportunities, how he evaluates Potential ROI. Another point is how he aligns his innovation strategy with the business one. Usually, when we look at this topic, we find out if we are talking to someone who is really pushing things or is only innovative on a declarative, theoretical, aspirational level.

Artificial intelligence, digitisation, work from home: in recent years, the work environment has changed at a dizzying pace. How is the Executive Search market affected by these paradigm shifts?

Undeniably the Executive Search market has always been in constant dynamics because it is closely linked to both business and people. This is the beauty of the field, you can’t get bored, you always have to stay connected with everything that happens, you have to set and reset your speech and expectations, so that you can properly mediate the relationship between clients and candidates. We are in a permanent dialogue with both sides, we share perspectives, realities, and trends, because if we do not understand exactly what is happening in the work environment, we cannot make successful placements.

What is the biggest challenge for you, as a recruiter, in this difficult context? Has anything fundamentally changed in the recruitment process, in the way the candidate is approached?

Unfortunately, in the last year we have seen an increase in the lack of seriousness on the part of the candidates. We see absurd situations, they withdraw from the process without announcing, they do not appear at interviews, they give up after signing the job offers, things that did not happen so often before the pandemic. People are confused, they don’t know which way to go, they are afraid to make changes as they are mentally tired of this unfavourable context. More than ever, we spend hours in discussions and debates with candidates, as we care a lot about transparency and dialogue, and we want to keep them close and help them make the best professional decision. Even if this means that sometimes we advise them to not continue the recruiting process initially started with us.

How do you evaluate a candidate for a leadership role today, in unpredictable times?

Things have not changed considerably in this respect, we are looking for the same matters, namely the right capabilities for our client, depending on the context in which the business objectives are, and we evaluate the candidates according to the competency matrix set at the beginning of project. As before, we want to really get to know our candidates, to understand both what they can bring to an organisation and what would be a good step for them, what they like to do, what they want, what motivates them. In any case, assessing a candidate is difficult, but at the management level, the responsibility to place the right person is huge because a correct placement or not affects the future of the company, as well as that of all the people who work there.

Have new areas of interest and recruitment for CEOs emerged as a result of the pandemic? Accelerated growth in a particular sector? If so, which one? (maybe an area you didn’t have before the pandemic)

We have seen in the pandemic an increase in the demand for profiles oriented towards transformation, digitisation, because many companies obviously could not continue with the same business model they had before 2020 and then they needed leaders that could guide them to a new stage. Otherwise, things did not look much different, this year we had clients from production, FMCG, SSC, Energy, Oil & Gas, Transport & Logistics, Financial & Professional services, both top and middle management roles.

In the age of speed, how long does it take to research /document for a new project and what is the process? Does social media play an important role?

The documentation process for a new project is divided into several stages. In the first phase, we seek to understand as much as possible the company we recruit for, their business model and the industry, and we gather this information both from clients and through discussions with the connections we have in that field, brainstorming with colleagues or online research.

Even though we deal with a client we have worked with before, we do not rely on the information we had from the previous project, because things change very quickly, especially in the field in which I specialise, namely Consumer Goods & Retail, so we need to constantly check that we have up-to-date information. Then, we try to draw as well as possible the desired profile, responsibilities, objectives, competencies, interpersonal skills, and we calibrate with what the market offers, and this requires another in-depth documentation work. With all these details, we prepare a list of companies (competition or companies with business models similar to our client’s) and look for suitable candidates in these organisations. These steps, together with the administrative part (job descriptions, project briefs, etc.), take us about a week before we actually start contacting, but during a project, the work of documenting and searching for candidates is constant.

Social media, especially LinkedIn, plays a very important role because it is another channel where we can identify and contact candidates, but also where we can search for information about them and observe them in a less regulated environment than in interviews with us (for example, what and how they post and comment), to get a clearer picture of the profile.

In the almost 5 years of experience in Executive Search, how would you describe the evolution of the Executive Search market and what changes do you estimate will occur in the next period?

Although five years is not a long time (I have more years of experience in another industry in which I have previously worked), things have changed incredibly much. We are clearly witnessing a time when candidates have more power, and they know it, which is why they use all the leverage to position themselves better and get more. It is more difficult to bring good people to the discussion and keep them engaged in the recruitment process, because they receive many such requests, and in this context, they do not even bother to make changes before weighing them very, very well. It’s not easy for us, but I think things will balance out. The important thing is to stay in a setting where we respect each other, we are transparent and we all have the best intentions.

What do you think will be the main quality of a CEO in the future, let’s say, in 10 years?

Generally speaking, I think there are a lot of skills needed to be a good CEO, obviously depending on the maturity of the company, the development plans, etc. But, beyond vision, adaptability, growth mentality, ethics, etc., the most important quality is and will be the area of leadership and people management. Regardless of the industry, no matter how automated and digitised a business may be, the people are the ones who bring good results, and if the CEO does not know how to create an environment in which employees are raised, motivated, developed and involved in decisions, with autonomy and responsibilities that match their abilities and desires, then the commitment and productivity are low and things are just not going to get well.

And with the coming generations, the need for good managers is even more obvious, because they no longer want to be robots or to accept to be just a “workforce”, so clearly in 10 years managers will have to adapt to their expectations, not the other way around.

Read the full interview in Romanian here.