People & Culture Brunch Series: Designing Culture for a New World of Work

We were delighted to host a select group of senior HR professionals from the Romanian business community at our most recent People & Culture Brunch Series. This event series aims to spotlight innovative and inspiring HR topics; providing insightful thinking around the latest trends, and also room for discussion & best-practice sharing amongst the local community.

The topic of this event was ‘Intentionally Designing Culture for a New World of Work’. According to a recent survey of job seekers, 9/10 people look at Company Culture whilst looking for a job, 73% would not apply at an organisation that did not share the same values as their own, and 60% say that a healthy company culture is paramount.

Participants came from across the country to learn and share experiences around intentionally designing and embedding company culture. The event was facilitated by Rike Stein, Signium-Stein & Partner’s Head of Leadership Consulting. Rike brought her passion, expertise and belief in shaping organizational culture to share with participants, highlighting the importance of authenticity in designing cultures and living the true values that are crucial to organisational success.

Meeting in Maison 13 in Bucharest, this casual modern location in the centre of town was a great setting for generating ideas, innovation and connecting with other like-minded professionals. We explored questions around how do you intentionally design healthy & engaging cultures in the face of a changing world of work? How do you create the kind of cultures that not only engage, motivate and inspire employees but also those that lead to business success in an unstable operating environment?

There was an extremely vivid, open discussion with lots of involvement, energy and enthusiasm! Key takeaways included:

  • There is opportunity to intentionally design culture; culture can be shaped and designed. Culture should support both your purpose as a company, and also your business strategy.
  • It is key to make sure your culture is authentic and resonates with employees in the business. It needs to be lived; people need to know about it, believe in it and then also behave accordingly.
  • Culture is the responsibility of everyone in the business, but we in HR can play a powerful role in co-designing and creating a meaningful human-centred people experience.

If you would like to know more about this topic, or be a part of future events, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Business2Society Event: Circular Economy Leads to New Business Culture

Signium – Stein & Partner were delighted to recently welcome CEOs, Heads of Institutions & Universities to discuss how the concept of a circular economy can lead to new business culture and opportunities. This was part of the Business2Society Event Series; whereby members of the business community are invited to discuss and engage on pertinent issues around leading into the world of tomorrow.

The event, held at Casa Vlasia, was opened by Werner E. Stein (founder of Stein & Partner) who articulated the growing need for change and driving purpose-led cultures. We were then thrilled to have Prof. Dr. Peter Heck (Founder and CEO of the IfaS Institute in Trier, Germany)  lead the group through what actually is the Circular Economy and how to drive individual organisations towards a circular business model. After ample time for networking and connecting, Ms. Friederike Stein (Partner at Signium – Stein & Partner in Vienna, Austria) presented on how to transform towards purpose-led & progressive company culture. Detailing how to intentionally design company culture in order to drive employee happiness & performance, as well as business results.

There were a number of key takeaways from the event, highlights included:

  • Understanding that the Circular economy is a global economic model that decouples economic growth and development from the consumption of finite resources
  • Looking at managing materials more intelligently and through systems based thinking; breaking away from a linear model to ideally a closed-loop economy.
  • Authenticity is key when it comes to designing culture. Your culture needs to be lived by each member of the organisation: employees need to know about it, believe in it and behave accordingly.
  • Culture is the responsibility of everyone in the business; HR can support by creating a meaningful people experience, and facilitate this process.
  • Your culture needs to fit your individual company, and support your purpose & business strategy.

We thank all our speakers and participants for the extremely fruitful and open discussions.

If you would like to know more, or attend future events, please do not hesitate to contact one of the Signium-Stein & Partner team. 


Signium – Stein & Partner welcomes new Leadership Consulting Partner

We recently welcomed Rike Stein to the Signium- Stein & Partner team. She will be the Partner responsible for Leadership Consulting across Central & Eastern Europe. We spoke to her to understand more about her background, external trends, and her aspirations for Leadership Consulting at Signium-Stein& Partner.

Welcome Rike! Please tell us a bit about yourself. 

I have spent nearly 20 years in Human Resources in various international leadership roles across different industries. I have always enjoyed helping leaders at all levels to shape culture and develop self-awareness in order to elevate their leadership to the next level. I am passionate about developing talent and rewarding company cultures, which I believe fundamentally drives business success.

What attracted you to Leadership Consulting & Culture Development?

My personal purpose is to create better workplaces for generations to come. I get lots of energy from helping clients to create amazing workplaces through inspiring leadership and purpose-led cultures built on a strong foundation of values. That’s why I have co- founded my own business in Germany which is a boutique consultancy helping early-stage organisations to build progressive company culture from day 1. In this role at Signium, I am fortunate enough to be able to play a part in creating great workplaces for many organisations across the Central European Region where I partly grew up and feel closely connected to.

What are the leading trends you see in the market?

Although perhaps obvious, the dominant discussion is still around the ‘Great Resignation’ or ‘Great Renegotiation.’ I clearly observe that people want more than just a job and that this notion will not go away. With this in mind, I strongly believe that we need to focus more on developing leaders and shaping company culture.

Alongside this trend, the role of Human Resources has also evolved and developed. HR is now seen much more strategically in terms of developing Culture, Purpose, Principles and Values; with some people viewing them as ‘Culture Evangelists’ & ‘Purpose Guardians’. HR Leaders play a much bigger role in crafting meaningful Employee Value Propositions, focusing on Sustainability agendas, and now more than ever, they have a much bigger responsibility to actively do good and give back to society and the environment.

What qualities will successful leaders need in the future?

I believe that there are certain core leadership qualities that are timeless and will be needed now and in the future. Caring for your people, appreciating them, challenging them, and helping them to grow are central to success. Similarly, learning to set your ego aside and being able to listen and see the viewpoints of others are crucial in creating environments that allow people to grow from mistakes, contribute fully, and feel engaged at work.

Self-awareness is key in all of this: knowing your intentions but also being constantly aware of your impact on others and how you come across.

If I look ahead, I believe leaders will have to navigate a future which is only more VUCA and uncertain. We will not have all the answers, and therefore it is so important to be able to trust your people and empower them to be able to make decisions as they see best. An emerging, but powerful, school of thought around New Work advocates for leaders to lead through Purpose, Principles & Values. This enables your team members to be able to work within a framework, gives freedom & responsibility, but also to co-create and create cultures of inclusion & belonging. Get out of the Ivory Tower fast!

What is one thing organisations can do today to develop leaders /shape culture in the future?

Be intentional about ‘Culture’ and how leaders shape culture. Culture is not “soft stuff” to leave aside or a nice-to-have. Culture is key for your business to survive and to flourish.

Without the right culture you will not have the right people, and without the right people you will have very little chance to achieve your strategy. Spend time looking at your culture and be clear about what kind of culture you need to grow and develop.

What can Signium-Stein & Partner do? What kind of team do you have behind you?

We at Signium- Stein & Partner are all passionate about building culture and finding the right leaders to drive culture in your business. We have an experienced team of search and leadership consultants who have worked across several industries and countries. We have been operating in Central Eastern Europe for nearly 30 years with offices in Vienna & Bucharest.

We can measure your current culture with our unique internally developed Culture Due Diligence tool and then can also help you define the culture you aspire towards. Through workshops and co-creation, we help you get to where you see your culture needs to be, in order to move towards your vision and outperform your objectives.


Demand in High Quality Executive Search will increase significantly

Amid the recovery efforts after the Covid-19 pandemic and the prospects of the war in Ukraine, we reviewed the Executive Search and Leadership Consulting market in Romania with David Sebastian Stein, Global Board Director at Signium and Managing Partner at Signium CEE – Stein & Partner.

Tell us, please, a little bit of the Signium – Stein & Partner company, how long has it been operating in Romania, what services do you provide, etc

Signium – Stein & Partner is looking back to almost 30 years of experience in Romania and Central Eastern Europe, being established in 1994. We are a family company in its second generation, part of a global network of Executive Search and Leadership Advisory. Throughout the years, the firm has been one of the leading providers in Executive Search, Board Advisory and Leadership Consulting, as we help clients across industries form and develop leadership teams, according to their unique contexts and plans. Our ambition has always been for both our clients and candidates to have a positive experience in working with us.

How has the HR, Executive Search and Leadership Services market evolved in Romania since the beginnings till nowadays?

Historically, the Executive Search industry has been focused prominently on identifying and reaching the special talent, while today, also given the technology development, the industry has shifted towards a more complex contribution, namely an advisory role. This implies that our jobs do not limit to recruiting, searching for candidates, and placing them. Other more strategic components have an increased importance: the market research, the information made available, and the analysis of which competencies the leadership teams should comprise and what the development gaps are.

What impact has the position in the Signium board at global level for the local market and how has it changed your activity of the Signium-Stein & Partner?

Our responsibility in the global Board is significant to us and probably also to Romania. As more and more regional and global positions are being steered from Romania, it also means that the quality of the professional services industry is significantly increasing, and that the competition is at a very healthy level. Our activity in the Board also gives us additional insights on how colleagues around the globe are conducting their business, what the latest trends are, and ultimately on how we can improve our services. Furthermore, Signium being a founding member of the AESC as well, we are also able to have a look at the entire sector and contribute to improving internationally developed standards. We treat this responsibility with utmost respect and are excited about the possibility to share new ideas and perspectives.

You have a unique background, coming from Germany and knowing the Central & East European market very well, after leading for many years the offices in Romania. What is your input in the Signium board, how do you feel you bring added value to the board’s activity?

Having had the opportunity to take over the business from my father, I naturally came into business with the ambition to make things different and hopefully better. As we have been a standalone organization in the last 10 years, it was difficult to validate our ideas and initiatives. Since we are now again part of a global partnership, it is very rewarding to see that our direction has been right and that our ideas are being appreciated at global level.

Personally, as a board member, I hope that my experience in the Eastern and Central European market is a strength, knowing its specificities and its opportunities.

You are the youngest member of the Signium board and, as all of them, you have a 3-year term. What do you plan to accomplish in this term, as a team and personally?

We have to admit that we were able to implement already a lot of initiatives and we hope to achieve at least 75% of our plan, that’s because we have a set of milestones harder to achieve in 3 years. But we are doing all that depends on us to have it more completed and implemented.

Signium has been historically a conservative business environment with a high focus on quality and service delivery, and our aim is to preserve the focus on quality, yet to modernize the way of supporting and engaging with each other.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the HR and financial services local market and the activity of your company?

In what concerns us, the effects of Covid have hit us in 2021 and not in 2020 as expected. There were hard times, as for many other companies.

This year, the outlook is again very positive, however, we need to see the impact of the Ukraine crisis on Eastern Europe. Besides this, the way of conducting our business has shifted to almost a virtual environment, which comes with plusses and minuses.

In regards to the HR market, the effects of the pandemic are very visible across industries and definitely long-term. We have seen a renewed focus on employees, an increased awareness of their mental health, an acceleration of digital HR, a change in processes, even reimagining the structure and impact of this role. Things are not still settled, some are still looking for the best options to perform in the “new normal”, but we believe that, overall, this pandemic period has brough on important lessons for everyone.

How does the recruitment sector look like now and how do you think it will look like on medium and long term, considering all the Covid impact on the labour/workforce market and other factors?

We believe that the demand in high quality Executive Search and in particularly Leadership Consulting will increase significantly, mainly also because the talent acquisition is progressively more difficult, and the corporate culture often steps in as the main differentiator. The Covid crisis has accelerated these trends, especially due to the difficulties/ discrepancies of living values in a hybrid or completely remote set up, these circumstances requiring different skills and competencies, and not all organizations are still open to embrace the new context.

What is your clients’ feedback regarding the Romanian employees? What is the local job seekers’ profile nowadays? What challenges do employers have ahead from this perspective?

Firs of all, being active in the Executive Search industry, we mostly contact C- level/ top management profiles and usually they are not job seeking. However, most of the placements we conducted were highly appreciated and most of them remain for at least 5 years in the respective companies. Challenges are mostly surfacing in more entrepreneurial environments, where processes are not yet too well defined. Traditionally, the educational system is rather focused on a “learn by heart and repeat” mentality than on a new creation/ solution-oriented approach. Sometimes, this comes with challenges as entrepreneurial environments are less structured and the organization is in permanent change.

What is the most challenging for you, the basic positions or the top executive ones? What does the Romanian workforce look like? Romania has been struggling with the labour shortage and mostly with the lack of skilled workers/professionals…

As we predominantly focus on executive functions, the challenges are arising mostly from the research efforts. Looking for example at a functional role such as CFO or HR, where the business model is more relevant than the industry related experience, you have to screen multiple markets and companies in order to be certain that you have the best available talent. Moreover, the transition from C-1 to C level can be tricky as certain competencies need to be developed or complemented in order to successfully fill the new set of responsibilities.

I know your practice groups have a large expertise on a wide range of industries, from HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing to Industrial, Digital or Life Sciences. Which of these fields are mostly sought after by the job seekers?

As industry knowledge is very important and the ability to understand the connecting sectors as well, our practice groups are still industry focused. Indeed, in order to have a project team established that is likely to succeed, you need to pair industry knowledge with functional knowledge and also add the regional expertise to it. In Romania, the fastest developing sectors are certainly IT&C, Agribusiness, Industrial (especially after Covid and Ukraine crisis) and recently both the professional and financial services sectors.

From what you see, is Romania a destination for foreign investors more or less as before? Are further investments in the pipeline for settling in Romania, despite such factors as the proximity to the conflict in Ukraine, the rising production costs due to energy/gas challenges, or even the labour shortages?

During Covid, a lot of multinational companies realized how damaging it might be to depend so much on Asian collaborators, from production, to supply chain. At the same time, through the various crisis episodes, from lack of raw materials to transportation, the corporations have started to look for other options in Europe. Thus, even with the Ukraine crisis, as devastating as it is, we still see a large interest in Eastern Europe, especially countries which are already in European Union and NATO.

If you can provide us some pros and cons of being a HR/services consultant market in Romania? And what pros and cons do you see by being an expat living in Romania?

The service sector in Romania is not yet appreciated to the same level you see in Western markets. On the one hand, this is due to the cheaper labor market which increases the competition on services and secondly, the lack of professionalism companies have experienced in many service sectors. Educating the market and providing excellency in service is therefore our key to success and we will build on this

To access the full interview, click here.

Why do managers change jobs?

The decision to make a change professionally can derive from many situations – from the desire for a new challenge or growth, to changes or misunderstandings within the organisation, but also various personal contexts. This is true at any level. However, when it comes to top management profiles, people tend to have different motivations; if a person at the beginning of their career is rather looking for financial motivation or accessing roles where they can learn or grow, for example, an executive or manager has other challenges and expectations.

For an in-depth understanding, Alexandra Ene highlights the most common reasons in a very dynamic and insightful talk with the hosts of the show and we are happy to invite you to watch the embedded video.

Below are the main points that were covered:

  • How is the situation nowadays when top management professionals want to change jobs?
  • What exactly are they looking for or looking at in a new position?
  • What motivates them when it comes to a career change?
  • Is the increasing impact of ESG a reason to consider when taking on a new challenge?
  • What happens when a manager wants to change the industry?
  • How is meaning affecting the change of direction?
  • The importance of flexibility, adaptability, and personal time

Analysing the reasons why many executives are open to new professional opportunities, we were able to extract some common situations:

  • Changes within the organisation
  • Changes at industry level, especially decreases / contractions
  • The company enters another phase of maturity
  • The desire for a role with more impact
  • They are not supported in achieving the required results

Moreover, we had another article published on this topic that could provide additional information. If you want to explore this as well, kindly see the read here.

To access the full recording of the show, click (min 1:17:40) here.

Employee wellbeing in Romania


The probability of a higher stress increased during the pandemic, when work-life balance became more important than ever. As the transition to remote or hybrid work programs has brought unprecedented challenges to employees, there has been a growing need for organizations to implement solutions to help them manage the challenges they face individually or as a team.

The companies acted quickly by implementing integrated programs covering psychological counseling sessions, mental well-being workshops, emotional, spiritual balance and physical invigoration, as well as financial well-being.

For a deeper dive into the subject, our colleague, Alexandra Ene, has concrete examples on such initiatives and explains how these should be based on the real needs of the employees when implementing them.

You are invited to our Youtube channel to watch her live intervention or you can access the full show (min 22:10) here.


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.

Changing jobs at top management level. The most common reasons

The decision to make a change professionally can derive from many situations – from the desire for a new challenge or growth, to changes or misunderstandings within the organisation, but also various personal contexts. This is true at any level. However, I have noticed over time that people tend to have different motivations depending on the level of seniority; if a person at the beginning of their career is rather looking for financial motivation or accessing roles where they can learn or grow, for example, an executive or manager has other challenges and expectations.

Working in top management recruitment for over 10 years, both locally and internationally, I had the opportunity to talk to many managers, from different industries and in different professional contexts. Analysing the reasons why many of them are open to new professional opportunities, I was able to extract some common situations:

Changes within the organisation. It can happen that during the term of an executive director, major changes at the level of shareholders or Board to arise, and this influences the overall strategy or even the purpose of the CEO’s role. The direction in which the company goes after these changes may contradict his/her vision, he/she may feel that he/she no longer aligns with the values ​​or approach, he/she feels that he/she would compromise professionally if he/she continued in the new structure or that he/she cannot use his/hers experience and skills at true value.

Changes at industry level, especially decreases / contractions. If the CEO works in an area where he/she can no longer grow, the company is at a loss, and no solutions to rectify the situation are implemented, he/she will probably consider options to go to a sector in which he/she can have better results. Another situation is when the field changes, digitises or the goods or services sold are commoditized, and the current executive director is not suitable or prepared to lead the company in the new context.

The company enters another phase of maturity. The most efficient executives have a multitude of skills, from adaptability, vision, to the ability to relate to diverse people, to leadership skills (especially). They manage to connect the dots and identify the best ways to address the challenges and opportunities in business and industry, but also the needs of the community at large. That being said, in every phase of a company’s development (business lifecycle), its needs are different. Certainly, another approach is needed in the phase of entering a new market versus increasing or maintaining market share, and when the organisation moves to another stage, sometimes the existing CEO is not suitable to handle the new challenges.

The desire for a role with more impact. As they advance in their careers, many professionals become less interested in their title and money (because they have already obtained them in many cases) and seek to go for roles with greater impact. This desire can go in two directions. Some are looking for positions in which they can have substantial challenges; they are interested in ambitious projects, to be able to design strategies, to develop new markets, to change the business model, transformation processes, restructuring, integrations, streamlining processes and structures. Others rather look at the environmental / societal / governance (ESG) impact, move away from the transactional area and move towards companies with a sustainability strategy. Many executives today want a balance between the ambition to deliver better financial results and making a significant contribution to the environment and society (e.g. carbon footprint, diversity and inclusion, human rights concerns, social activism). The reality is that financial indicators currently remain the dominant decision engine for most managers, which is why they are open to opportunities that would allow them to have a greater impact beyond the profit of the company they run, or to run a company that addresses the needs of civil society.

They are not supported in achieving the required results. Mega-trends disrupt existing business models; the rapid development of technology in all areas, combined with the increasingly demanding requests of customers, the emergence of new competitors, new generations of employees joining the workforce, but also pressure from shareholders, wearies executives, who must constantly innovate. To keep up, they need funds, freedom of decision and support. Whether it is a refusal to invest or a lack of availability to support the company’s top management with potential solutions or ideas, but also a lack of top-down transparency, CEOs may have limited results when they do not receive support from shareholders and the Executive Board.

They have no power, freedom of decision, autonomy, and control. There are companies in which the Group or the majority shareholders establish the strategy, and locally the CEO has only the role of implementation / execution. For experienced professionals, who can add value if given this freedom, this can be frustrating.

What managers consider when analysing an opportunity

In most cases, although financial packages are fiercely negotiated, they are not the reason for the change. Good and experienced executives know their value well, they know they can bring results and a lot of money to shareholders, and that’s why it’s normal for them to want to be rewarded accordingly. However, they are attracted to other things as well: to use their skills and knowledge in new projects or markets, to develop business lines, to transform organisations, in short to have an impact and leave something behind. The challenge is what motivates them and the potential to contribute, no matter how much it sounds like a cliché.

CEOs are putting more and more emphasis on people. They want to grow teams, put people in the most appropriate roles, make them more efficient, delegate and stop the micro-management approach. For example, they avoid going to organisations where the founders are very authoritarian, refuse to let go of the business, and people are under constant and unproductive pressure. It is important for them to join a company in which employees are put forward, supported, grown.

Financial performance and shareholder value remain the dominant indicators for CEOs, but many want to lead their Boards into a new business era that prioritises innovation, digitalisation, long-term growth, but also offer better protection of all stakeholders’ interests, including the community. Especially in the context of the pandemic, we have noticed that many want this situation to accelerate the transition to a more goal-oriented, but also to a more employee-centered way of leading the business.

If you would like to access the full Romanian article, click here.

©Cristina Popa-Bochis

Behind the scenes of top management recruitment

The headhunting process, especially when it comes to searching for top management positions, the so-called Executive Search, finding the right person for the role is far from “staff placement”. We are dealing with a complex and refined process that few understand.

This is also the reason for which we talked to David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania and Austria for Signium-Stein & Partner. We emphasise that Signium is a leader in its area of ​​expertise.

What does the top recruitment market in Romania look like today?

Undeniably, over the years, our recruitment market has improved – from customer involvement up to the level of understanding a consultant’s / recruiter’s role. “There were periods when it was believed that you can find good people everywhere, others when good people were not available for a role in Romania, because they were looking for opportunities in foreign markets, others in which supply and demand were balanced,” says David-Sebastian Stein. Obviously, we are dealing with a very dynamic field, in continuous adaptation and evolution. “I think we have reached a point where more and more people understand that recruitment is no longer just about placing staff, but it is a process in which both parties, the employer and the employee, weigh well to what extent they fit. People are no longer just looking for a place to earn a salary from, and companies are no longer only interested in clerks and people who just execute tasks,” said Signium’s Managing Partner for Capital.

“If in the past our focus was on identifying and recruiting exceptional leaders, now we have evolved from providing Executive Search services to more complex Leadership Advisory services, which imply a much deeper relationship between us and our customers”, Stein continued. Basically, this means exploring the business strategy and medium and long-term plans, to better identify the skills that each company needs to meet its objectives. “The fact that we present them with an objective and documented perspective, that we are involved in aligning the stakeholders’ visions, that we provide them with valuable market information, which is obtained during Executive Search processes, are aspects that add value to our customers today.”, David-Sebastian Stein points out

Executive Search. Precisely, how does it happen?

From what we’ve understood, the Executive Search process is about the same for all service providers in the industry and covers an identification of available talents in a defined field, business model, in a certain market or in several, the second phase being much more complex. “In the second phase, we approach the potentially fitting candidates, evaluating their suitability, but also their interest. Depending on the result, we may need to adjust the search strategy and repeat the process – if circumstances allow, we prefer to work with agile working methods, meaning that we are in constant communication with our clients “, David-Sebastian Stein stresses.

“Differences between suppliers can come from several aspects: from attention to detail, knowledge of the market and the ability to align them with the needs of stakeholders, from the experience of the project teams to translate the organisational context into a matrix of necessary skills, the ability of the Consultants and Partners to match the culture and values ​​of the company with those of the candidates and, last but not least, from the communication with the client throughout the project“, the manager also tells us.

What is essential in choosing the best candidates in Executive Search

Generally, companies say that there is no standard recipe because each project is unique. Signium says it has a very high success rate, due to initial efforts to understand the organisational context of its customers, the ability to understand different perceptions of competencies and the expertise to identify solutions that support the vision of the leadership team. “For example, many times, the market does not offer exactly what is initially wanted. In these situations, our role is to analyse different alternatives and calibrate ourselves to look into other industries with similar business models, to search for candidates with development potential, or to help the client redesign the role, covering responsibilities with internal resources, and adapting the search strategy for a modified role”, Stein points out.

We owe our success to putting as much emphasis on the candidate as on the client. We also wish the best for the people we place and to offer them a good recruitment experience, but also to make sure that the role we propose is a good step for their career “, Signium’s Managing Partner continued

Tips for a possible candidate

“We are trying to support our candidates in preparing for the next stage in their careers. We advise them to have their homework done, that is, to carefully and honestly assess their skills and development aspirations; the better done this analysis is, the more likely they are to find the right job,” says David-Sebastian Stein. He also advises them to pay attention to the projects that brought them satisfaction, to the contexts in which they felt they performed best, but also to the less pleasant responsibilities. It is also important for them to be active, to connect with Executive Search consultants working in the industry they are targeting and to express their intention to change jobs in advance.