Can artificial intelligence replace executive search consultants?


This month marks one year since our lives we­­re completely transformed, both professionally as well as personally. Although we all faced the same common threat, each of us lived this experience differently, learned certain lessons, and perhaps reconsidered the priorities and path. From a professional point of view, for me this year implied a reconfiguration of the way I manage my activity, as I work in recruitment of senior management and I previously relied extensively on face-to-face interaction with clients and candidates. Whereas before the pandemic we only had online discussions with candidates from other countries (and even in that situation we always saw them in person before proposing them on the shortlist to the client), digital recruitment suddenly became the standard, the only viable option for us to continue to exist in the market. This change came with a number of challenges varying from technical issues to interviews with cats or children in the background. We moved from the formal environment of an office, to the personal space of our houses, the time spent in traffic was eliminated, and the overall dynamics changed completely. At the same time, the screen does not allow the recruiter to see the candidates as a whole, to get a real sense of them, making it much more difficult to outline a full picture.

Thus, even though digital activity has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives and we have adapted, and recruitments will certainly look different in the future from the way they were conducted before the pandemic, I wonder how it would be for the whole recruitment process to be completely replaced by technology or, more specifically, by artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a topic on everyone’s lips, a promise of a simpler future, based on increased efficiency and profitability. At the same time, it is a concept that generates fear – how will things change in the coming years? Will the labour market require the same jobs, the same people, the same skills? What happens to the professions we have prepared for at a time when no one anticipated the extraordinary evolution of technology?

AI is represented by the system or machines that mimic cognitive functions generally found only in humans, such as learning and problem solving. From the Automotive sector to Retail, Medical and Manufacturing, artificial intelligence is used in countless forms – speech recognition (e.g., Siri and Alexa), self-driving cars, customer profiling, predictive technology, or chat bots. But what happens in the area of ​​professional services, such as audit, law, consulting, recruitment? How much can you make use of technology in industries in which the capabilities and experience of employees have always determined the quality of services provided by the company?

How artificial intelligence is used in recruitment 

As companies progressively understood the value that smart recruitment and good employee retention bring to the organization, technology has found its place in human resources as well. Investments in the development of talent management tools have increased over the years, so today we see smart systems that automate significant parts of the flow being used in recruitment, such as CV screening, searching for candidates on various channels, matching candidates experience with job descriptions by using keywords, contacting them and even conducting the initial interviews.

Recruiters can use tools that analyse the job description of the open role and search the database for candidates who have applied for similar positions. They can automate reports for clients / employers, use chatbots to interact with candidates and virtual reality in simulating work situations, as well as tools which analyse in video interviews elements such as facial expressions, voice, tone, and micro-expressions.

All these and more are used in the hope that the volume of employment will increase in the labour market, the process will be simplified for all parties and there will be less administrative / routine responsibilities for recruiters. However, the risk is that, exactly in those initial stages, the company loses sight of valuable candidates.

Why artificial intelligence cannot replace people in executive search 

Before anything else, a distinction should be made between recruitment and executive search. Although both have as their ultimate goal finding the right person for a particular role, there are considerable differences in the business model, methodology and level.

Recruitment is suitable for roles from junior to mid-level managers and is based on promoting the position through different channels and targeting candidates who are actively looking for a job. The recruitment service for top level managers (executive search) represents the process of placing candidates in Board, top or middle management roles (GMs, financial directors, COOs, marketing directors, etc.), namely strategic placements in executive positions and proactive search for potentially suitable professionals. In executive search, the activity is more complex and nuanced than in recruitment and often we do not even use CVs in the first phase, because we approach people we identify through a variety of channels (using the company’s or the consultant’s network, recommendations, references from previous projects, the database, but also various platforms).

For this reason, human interaction in C-level recruitment, at top management level, is essential; people are always approached directly by consultants on the basis of a prior assessment taking into account the experience and professional skills of the candidates, the industry in which they operate, the business models to which they have been exposed and the potential fit of all these elements in the ongoing recruitment project. Thus, a human mind is needed to understand beyond titles and responsibilities – someone who knows the market and the context in which the respective candidates worked, who can read between the lines, who understands the challenges, opportunities, and trends in the industry.

As an executive search consultant, I coordinate placement projects for top and middle level managers, both in Romania and in the Eastern Europe region. Preparing for such a role takes years, and it is done through study, but especially through the contact with hundreds of clients and thousands of candidates. We are discussing an educated ability to understand the strategic impact that a person will have in the organization based on detailed knowledge of the industry and the customer, and the ability to assess the potential fit of a person in a new company, beyond skills. Because at this level we are transcending professional abilities: we evaluate alignment in terms of vision, values, ​​and culture, but also the ability to solve problems or critical thinking.

During the interview, we correlate all these aspects with the candidate’s personality, energy, and motivation, as well as with other interpersonal skills (empathy, emotional intelligence), analysing previous performances and evaluating his/her potential, so as to ensure long-term strategic collaboration between the employer and the placed candidate.

The usefulness of technology 

Artificial intelligence, as a selection tool in executive search, can be extremely useful, but only as a support for the work of consultants and the improvement of the recruitment process, not to replace the human interaction, which will always be the epicentre of our work.

For example, we use systems such as ATS (Applicant Tracking System), which helps us monitor the correspondence with our candidates, the stage of recruitment processes, but also to record details about the professionals we interview. This type of tool allows us to provide better services and manage data efficiently, without diluting the essence of our business, namely the important knowledge about the market, the relationships we develop with candidates and customers, and the vast experience in working with people for people.

I estimate that the future of top management recruitment will include an important component of technology, but the most important input will remain that of the consultant, who can put in context all the elements, from the candidates’ experience, to their skills and personality, to the overall matching with the role and organisation of the future employer.

© Alexandra Ene

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste

This month marks a year since the Covid-19 pandemic caused the fastest and largest shift in human behaviour change at scale. Such an unprecedented upheaval completely challenged the dynamics of the collective, and it pushed most of us to reflect on concepts such as purpose, mission, values, both from a personal and professional perspective.

The dictum “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” creates momentum for analysing organizational practices and tests the hypothesis about leadership, adequacy of existing governance structures and also requires deployment of new ad hoc initiatives.

In the light of our upcoming Webinar on March 23rd: Transforming HR: How to translate Purpose into People Strategies, we, at Signium – Stein & Partner, considered an opportune moment to sit down with our speakers Andreea Mihnea – Chief People Officer at First Bank Romania,  Daniel Reisenauer – Managing Director at Visma Software Romania & Ireland and Sorin Banulescu – People & Culture Director at Heineken and harvest some reflections from them, in an attempt to pave the way for a meaningful event interaction.

What was the most valuable take away for you as Leader from the past 12 months?

Andreea Mihnea: Last year asked for a complete reprioritization of the people agenda. It did not mean that we stopped doing what we planned for our people. The pandemic was a wake-up call for the “why” we do what we do and if the business as usual still made sense for people. When employees begun having to compensate on the life areas that they were taking for granted such as childcare, education, availability of services and even personal care, some of the things they used to vocally demand from their employer became “nice to haves” or even obsolete.

Before the pandemic, expectations for a more meaningful work, the possibility to advance quicker, being exposed to multiple experiences and being provided space for socializing and experimenting were the norm. As the pandemic progressed, they started looking into more basic expectations such as: extensive flexibility of working schedule, remote working, access to good medical care, stability of jobs and business.

In a nutshell, the past 12 months taught us all to put our lives and work into perspective. And all of a sudden, work was no longer the playground of grown-up children but a place where grown-ups were forced to look the truth in the face: organizations too need a solid partnership with employees that demands transparency, dialogue and ownership for each side. As HR leader I focus on putting those 3 principles at work.

Daniel Reisenauer: 2020 challenged all of us in terms of how we work, think, act and interact. 

I would like to start with a huge thank you to all my colleagues, for the way we embraced change and enabled a smooth transition to work from home in less than 1 week 

We have kicked off a new era of transforming how we work, which is more flexible, employee-centric and at the same time more efficient.

Despite pandemic and global economic situations, we managed at Visma Romania to grow existing business, start new ones and increase overall team to almost 600 people

Priorities have changed and safety of our people and taking care also of our communities became suddenly amongst the top priorities

Sorin Banulescu: The most important take away during the last 12 months was that old beliefs we all have, that most times appear undoubtable in the context you are at a specific moment, actually can be changed easily and rapidly if you really want it. This is especially the case if you are more or less obliged to accept the novelty of a different context. I am considering here the way the pandemic made us rethink most of our activities.

What has helped you personally to keep the balance through uncertainty?

Andreea Mihnea: It was a return to the human condition that we had been spoiled to forget recently. Life is unpredictable and all the more valuable for it. Focusing on the present paid off as well as the assurance that it is just a phase. Humanity has been through much worse and this too, will pass. I take the long lens when things get difficult.

Daniel Reisenauer: The support of my family, manager, acceptance, embracing change, being able to help local communities.

Sorin Banulescu: Well, first of all, I have to admit I was “luckier”, as I was trained in crisis management. In my last 2 assignments in The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti, I’ve been exposed to a continuous context of poverty and social unrest, and to a few important epidemic outbreaks and that influenced heavily my agenda. So, all in all, I had a different perspective on things. Personally, my family, the virtual drinks with colleagues and friends and doing sports regularly (even if at home) helped me keep mental balance.

We feel empowered by our guests’ leadership commitment that comes from challenging the process, enabling others to act, modelling the way, and encouraging the heart. But beyond all these, we heavily appreciate them for acknowledging their humanity as this creates a safe space for their teams to experiment, take risks and revise the thinking.

We’ll be delighted to have you with us for more reflections on Purpose and People on Wednesday, March 23rd, 14:00 EET.


Content by Ana Maria Popescu


Leading for Recovery – Mutual trust and support will matter even more

Raluca Modoran, Senior Leadership & People Advisor at Signium – Stein & Partner, invited by Mr. Viorel Panaite, Managing Partner at Human Invest & Ken Blanchard Romania, for the following interview.


Viorel Panainte: Raluca Modoran is now Senior Leadership & People Advisor at Signium – Stein & Partner. We started working together more than 5 years ago on projects we were building for Vodafone Shared Services, where Raluca was Global Talent & Development Manager. Always active, with ideas and initiative, she sought to connect our programs with the company’s strategic priorities. The main themes of an organization are clear to her and that is why she was invited to do the next interview.


You have over 15 years’ experience as a HR manager, in several industries: FMCG, Telecommunications, and Distribution. You went through the 2009 financial crisis occupying such a role. What were the employees’ concerns then? What are the similar ones now? Which are the differences compared to the current crisis? What leadership lessons from the crisis years of 2009-2010 are now useful to you?

I perceive these 2 crises differently, both from a starting point of view as well as a subsequent manifestation.

The crisis that started in 2008 in the US generated consequences which were felt in Romania only after 6-12 months. I remember a slightly “arrogant” attitude and comments such as “it will not reach us”, “it cannot impact us”, stemming from employers and employees as well. They then continued to focus on their daily activities, few of us were actually concerned about the future, because we had no benchmarks on the reverberations that such a shock could produce. When the effects of the crisis began to be felt in Romania as well, the employers’ response was mainly to reduce the staff and costs associated with employees, without showing any particular interest for the consequences of such decisions. The employees were on their own, the impact was for everyone, at all levels and across all industries.

The crisis of 2019 came as a global wave, which was felt from China, Europe, and the US in less than 3 months, blocking the entire ecosystem. At that time, I think many of us remembered 2009 and what we noticed around us was an employer-employee coalition against this “common enemy”. I have seen much more consideration for the employees, support programs, flexibility, increased level of communication in both directions. As a natural consequence, companies that were not impacted by social distancing registered a productivity of up to 180%.

“People work for people” was a saying and I’ve seen this very present in the last year when managers were much closer to their teams, listened more, and showed understanding. In 2020, leadership really was with and about people, about authenticity, about “togetherness”, although from a distance. And this created expectations that will have to be met by leaders in the next period as well.

From your point of view, what are some of the priority systems and processes of an organization and which should be as strong as possible in this crisis?

During this crisis I’ve seen industries severely affected, but also others for which this change actually meant a huge opportunity. Each one harnessed it to their best abilities, but that’s another discussion. A crisis foresees a need to change or adjust mentalities and review practices. Therefore, I consider some directions of action important for the leadership teams and the opportune moment to ask some questions:

  • Reviewing the organization’s mission and vision, values, ​​and behaviours. Now is a good time to revisit concepts such as purpose and mission or to take the first steps towards articulating them. What is important for the company? What do we really want as a leadership team? Why do we do what we do? What do we offer to our customers? What do we offer to our employees? Are the established goal and mission still relevant? Do the established strategy and objectives help us in the new context? What new set of behaviours do we want to see in the future? What beliefs and values ​​do we need to change both at management team level as well as at the level of the entire organization to generate new behaviours? What will we do differently?
  • Organizational redesign. Do systems and processes support us in the new strategic direction? Do they respond to the new business demands and our employees’ needs? What impact will technology have on processes? What degree of adjustment do we need? How to design the new organizational structure to ensure the skills we need and the clarity of the new roles and responsibilities?
  • Constant feedback and validation from employees. The fact that change is the only constant in our lives has been a long-known fact. What is different now is the speed with which these changes are taking place and the increased need for employee involvement in decisions and much faster validations to ensure their implementation. What is the level of employee confidence in the new strategy? How does it support new initiatives? How much / how little are they willing to accept the new direction? What do they think we should aspire to?

What would now make employees be available for prolonged intense effort and contribute proactively to the constant cultivation of mutual trust, of collaboration where they work?

It is time for a paradigm shift. It’s not just about finding new ways to keep doing the same things, but I think it’s essential for employers to revisit the purpose for which we do certain things. It is possible that by prolonging the old practices we get the opposite of what we want, despite our best intentions. We can take as an example the traditional Christmas party: in the past years, employees used to meet at the office or in another location and celebrate the end of the year. In those get-togethers, they connected informally with their colleagues, they relaxed, stress was released, and this led to  building engagement. In the context of the pandemic, these Christmas parties were moved by many companies online, turning into an excruciating 4–5-hour marathon of smiling (or not!) in front of the laptop. Thus, I wonder if keeping the same habits (namely organizing a Christmas meeting) has really achieved the commitment of employees? Or is it time to reinvent ourselves and understand how to actually be close to our people and make them happy? I remember the example of a company having employees with an average age of up to 28 years that sent them complete menus for Easter and Christmas meals, because they could not be with their families.

In other words, by truly understanding the profile of our employees, listening to their opinions, and integrating their ideas into retention and development programs, we will achieve a partnership based on mutual trust and support.

From this point on, the results will come readily.

What are some of the changes you think will happen in the coming years on the labour market? How do you think labour relations will be made more flexible? What beliefs in this field will be considered outdated and will fade? What new beliefs do you think will emerge?

I think the pandemic will accelerate the trends we have already seen in the last 3-5 years in the labour market. Roles will be further impacted by automation, robotics, digitization, and many of them will disappear sooner than we expected. Companies will need to continue their plans to adjust the work schedule and conditions to the employees’ needs. I am referring here to what I used to call well-being initiatives, and which were optional, and I think they will be part of the basic offer package for attracting valuable candidates. On the other hand, employees will be even more attentive to the company’s culture, its ability to adapt to new trends and the importance given to them, and depending on these, they will choose to stay or change rather than for financial reasons.

I believe that the pandemic has given us the opportunity to settle down and re-evaluate why, where, and how we want to continue our activity and relationships, as well as what defines us both as employers and as employees.

To read the full interview and find out more about Human Invest, please click here.


©Raluca Modoran

Signium – Stein & Partner continues expansion in Europe

Signium – Stein & Partner becomes a key player in the international market of Executive Search and Human Capital Advisory, by continuing its expansion in Europe.


With more than 25 years of experience, the company plans to open two new offices in Ukraine and Serbia this year, as well as to focus on the performance of its Austrian office. Thus, the company will be consolidating its top position in the industry on the Romanian market, as well as at a Central and Eastern European level. This is, in fact, one of Signium – Stein & Partner’s objectives for the new year, which, albeit having navigated through a difficult time of uncertainty and declining economy, succeeded to maintain its success rate, and even exceeded the turnover of 2019.

“We have ahead of us a year with challenging premises, however, we are optimistic about our ability to deliver on our projects in the same upward trend as before. The demand for leadership and management able to deal with the given uncertainty remains high, maybe even more than before. Therefore, I can say with certainty that the pandemic has changed the manner in which companies approach candidates, but also how potential candidates address a new job. Companies seek to support management teams to cope with crises such as the current one and, consequently, continue to focus on a performance-based culture. It was not just about adjustment or delay, but about reinvention, in many cases, and I consider that this will be valid in 2021 as well”, underlined David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania for Signium – Stein & Partner.

Human capital in the labour market, marked by important changes caused by the pandemic

In an atypical 2020, the demand for services in Executive Search and Human Capital Advisory has changed the previous trends. Signium – Stein & Partner has attracted most of their new clients from the Technology industry and Private Equity investment funds as well as industrial transformation projects. Other company data show that the Consumer Goods sector had an increase in demand by 300%, while the Production & Manufacturing recorded the highest decrease, of 44%. The demand for SSC (Shared Services Centres) / BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) also decreased in 2020, compared to the Construction sector or to the Insurance and Pharma industries, which maintained their upward trend in 2020 as well.

“In 2020, twice as many candidates were placed in financial positions compared to 2019 and we could also see a 33% increase in areas such as Marketing, Sales, IT & Digital. Another important aspect to be mentioned as a new trend for 2020 and 2021 is the candidates’ skill mix. Besides the technical skills, the capabilities mix focused on collaborative virtual leadership, workplace systems and platforms, data management and digital content creation”, continued David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania for Signium – Stein & Partner.

Signium – Stein & Partner, a reliable partner in 2021 as well

Signium – Stein & Partner’s goals for the current year, in addition to further European expansion and the strengthening of the Austrian office, are to increase the success rate, which is already at over 87% even during the Covid-19 pandemic, to focus on implementing Leadership Solutions, as well as measure the long-term impact of its services in the businesses in which the company activates.

This article was published in Business Review and you can read it here as well.

New team member: Raluca Modoran, Senior Leadership & People Advisor

We are delighted to announce that Raluca Modoran, a Senior Executive with more than 19 years of experience in HR, has recently joined us at Stein & Partner. As Senior Leadership & People Advisor, she will coordinate the regional IT&C and BPO practice and will also take over the lead for Stein & Partner’s Leadership and Human Capital advisory projects.

Before joining Stein & Partner, Raluca has proven her capabilities as HR Manager both in entrepreneurial environments, route to market, and in global IT&C businesses. She successfully supported the startup of an IT Shared Service Center and has been globally responsible for Talent Acquisition and Employer Branding, serving more than 20,000 employees across three continents.

A big welcome to our new colleague!


I’m very excited to have joined Stein & Partner as a Senior People and Leadership Advisor and to continue the company’s exceptional Human Capital advisory initiatives! 

It is very important for me to be part of a company and a team who go beyond strictly professional connections in order to create value for the customers and who put trust and ethics at the center of every interaction. So, it’s great to see how we’ve been closely supporting our partners to go through the challenging year. 

Many thanks to the entire team who made me feel so welcomed even from before day 1! Really looking forward to supporting our clients to implement leadership strategies and to contribute to a healthier and sustainable business environment.”

Raluca is a Senior Executive with more than 19 years of experience as HR professional. She has been exposed to dynamic, fast-paced, multi-cultural environments, in both local and global companies, where she provided expertise on HR Strategy, Organizational Design, Cultural Change, and Performance Management and has been involved in Start-ups & Transformation projects. Throughout the years, she has partnered with businesses from diverse industries (Telecommunication, IT&C, Business Services, Pharmaceuticals, Retail, B2B).

Within Stein & Partner, Raluca is leading Human Capital advisory projects, with a focus on Organizational Design, Talent Review & Succession Planning, and Leadership Assessment & Development.

Raluca is also a Certified Coach and “Insights Discovery” practitioner, passionate about people and organizations’ development. She has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Psychology.

Interview with Sebastian Stein – HR Business Forum



We are very grateful to have had our Managing Partner, Sebastian Stein, invited to speak at the DeBizz HR Business Forum webinar, held on the 16th of September.

In you are interested in finding out more about his perspective and expertise on the Executive Search market, Transformational Leadership and Employment challenges in the current context, please find below some highlights from the conference.


Through the lens of the Executive Search market 


An outlook on the Executive Search market during the present context

Regardless of the fact that most people are still working remotely, the demand for Leadership and Management is still extremely high; maybe even more so than before. Especially during these challenging times in the market companies are looking very much into identifying leadership teams who are able to deal with this uncertainty and to endorse a new leadership style, a new working culture driven by empowerment.

When we don’t have direct access to our people, we need to reinvent ourselves and to learn how to effectively distribute tasks and responsibilities and doing this remotely is definitely more challenging than it used to be before.

Nevertheless, this context also provides a big chance and we believe that companies should now intend for a longer-term vision by not only focusing on what is, but also by utilizing the intricacies of a crisis for what could be.

Considering that we are dealing with a global pandemic, we have noticed that organizations are having the tendency to go regional, in order for them to discern how the direct impact affects the structure dynamic. It seems that the markets in CEE are consolidating, with a lot of M&A processes and those who have invested in Eastern Europe are making use of the prospect to enlarge their businesses and to become stronger players in the future. This market consolidation is also a big asset for new entries, for investors coming into the region.

Due to the current unpredictability, we, as an Executive Search company, have to constantly reinvent ourselves by diving deeper into what our clients’ real needs are and what Leadership solutions we need to implement. Therefore, Management placing is not enough anymore because we need to understand what the pain points of an organization are in order to integrate the most appropriate solutions for the future development of the company.

At the same time, we believe that Leadership and people will remain in the focus of each company, especially in Eastern Europe where agility is lived to a much higher extent in comparison with the Western markets.

Changes following the global pandemic

We had to adjust to the context and moved in the virtual environment, conducting searches entirely online, sometimes not meeting face-to-face neither the clients nor the candidates, which was atypical for us in the beginning because we were used to feeling the pulse of one-on-one interactions. Moreover, we even conducted online assessment and development centers and concluded that cross border searches are made easier and more efficient.

Surprisingly, until now, we noticed no deficit in the quality of selection, having almost 100% closing rate for our projects, except those which stopped due to the hiring freeze.

What are the new requirements towards Leadership teams? Do we continue to work remotely, or do we return back to the office?

Since the law of change is the only constant in this universe, we can be certain about the fact that uncertainty will prevail and our attitude in the face of it should be beneficial to our wellbeing.

We will continue to work remotely or at least by having the possibility of a flexible agenda, because it seems that this pandemic has only fostered the mega trend of freelance economy and flexible working schedules.

A good example on how the public system, but also the private economy are struggling to find the right proportion between digital and physical would be with the latest changes in the schooling system, where there is ambiguity about the modus operandi, but in the end it only emphasizes even more the idea that we need to permanently adapt.

Of course, this uncertainty has also an impact on Leadership and we have observed a further shift in its approach. In the past, and especially in Eastern Europe with state owned companies, we used to have a type of Management focused on the directive Leadership style and we all have seen the deficiencies of such style.

Now, the servant Leadership style is taking the stage, putting people into the spotlight of the company, which means that the employees are getting more and more recognized as being the most valuable assets and that managers have to become servant leaders.

The aspiration for the future is in Agile Leadership, a style which sees the organization as a community or a city where you can do what you want as long as you allow the community to benefit from your work.

In conclusion, adjusting Leadership styles has to be put in context and is not an easy process, which is also reflected in the many changes and responses we see around us.

Webinar – Transformational Leadership

We are delighted to have hosted the webinar “Transformational Leadership in Central Eastern Europe” on the 15th of September. Having as guest speakers Mrs. Friederike Rissing, HR Director DACH & NORDICS of Reckitt Benckiser, Mr. Ron Egli, Phd. in Transformational Leadership, Mr. Peter Muller, CEO of Heidi Chocolate Romania, Mr. Markus Wirth, former CEO of Holcim and Ameropa Grains Romania and Mr. Frank Hajdinjak, former CEO of E.ON Romania, we emphasized the principles and challenges of Transformational Leadership, especially during times of change.

If you are interested in finding out more, please find below some learnings from the speakers:


Transformational Leadership in Central Eastern Europe

“The job of the management is to design and run the systems that support the company in achieving its purpose” – Dave Gray, The Connected Company


Principles of Transformational Leadership

In 1985, the concept of Transformational Leadership was the first time introduced in organizations. Ideally, this approach creates valuable and positive change in individuals and social systems, with the main goal of creating great leaders who are able to inspire, motivate and encourage their teams.

There are four main components positively correlated to individual and organizational performance:

  • Individualized Consideration
  • Intellectual Stimulation
  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Idealized Influence

But more important are the five key principles of Leadership:

  • Self-esteem
  • Planning
  • Motivation
  • Delegation
  • Empowerment

Also, communication plays a huge role, because without it all the other aspects may not meet their purpose. Communication needs to capture hearts and minds. During times of change, many of us may be wrongly focusing on the speaking part of the communication and wholly neglecting the listening part of the equation. Communication is both ways and active listening should be done to understand and not to say something back in return.

Taking into account that sometimes people do not see a reason for change, especially when there are risks involved, it is important for them to be shown the purpose and motives of the changing strategy, so that they can understand the bigger picture and therefore support the vision.

Followers in transformation respond to:

  • Trust
  • Admiration
  • Loyalty
  • Respect

Currently, 70% of Transformational Leadership projects fail, because we deal with human beings, with emotions, with followers and blockers. When there is a consensus for changes in an organization, all managers and employees must be engaged on different processes with full transparency and by active involvement, with leaders setting up workshops or other development initiatives and guide the teams with compassion. People need to understand the sense of urgency and the need for change, so that they can understand the issue and consequences associated with it, making it easier for everyone to respond with full understanding and not out of fear.


Leadership Challenges during times of change

“If you don’t deliver on your culture in a crisis, then your culture meant nothing to start with. And when you stand on the other side, your culture will be why.” – Didier Elzinger, Culture AMP CEO.

This basically means that especially during tough times, it is important to live up to your culture, your values of the company, your behaviors. Feedback is also a key component, because we have to give it to our people in order for them to develop and the same applies vice versa: we can learn from the employees by listening to them and by giving them accountability.

Transformational Leadership in times of uncertainty:

  • Listen to and encourage feedback
  • Guidance through facilitation
  • Inspiration & motivation
  • Serving leadership

Implementation is the key, but in Central European countries, additional challenges, such as the cultural differences and employees not being used to the concept of development, need to be considered. Also, no real exchange of opinions has been observed and managers are used to making the decisions themselves.

Command-oriented, low-freedom management is common because it’s profitable. It requires less effort, and most managers are terrified of the alternative.” – Laszlo Bock, Work Rules!

But what do managers actually have to do in order to engage, motivate or inspire especially through a change process?

How the concepts of Leadership and Management evolved in time:

Management 1.0

For many organizations, a common practice is that they are managed like machines. In this style of management, leaders assume that improvement of the whole requires monitoring, repairing, and replacing the parts.

Management 2.0

In a Management 2.0 organization, everyone recognizes that “people are the most valuable asset” and that managers have to become “servant leaders”. But, at the same time, managers prefer to stick to the hierarchy.

Agile Leadership

Some people think of an organization as a community or a city. We can do what we want, as long as we allow the community to benefit from our work.


What is Leadership about then?

Energize people:

People are the most important part of an organization and managers must do all they can to keep people active, creative, and motivated.

Empower Teams:

Teams can self-organize, and this requires empowerment, authorization and trust from management.

Align Constraints:

Self-organization can lead to anything, and it is therefore necessary to protect people and shared resources and to give people clear purpose and defined goals.

Develop Competence:

Teams cannot achieve their goals if team members are not capable enough; managers must therefore contribute to the development of competences and skills.

Grow Structure:

Many teams operate within the context of a complex organization, and thus it is important to consider structures that enhance communication

Improve Everything:

People, teams, and organizations need to improve continuously to avoid failure as much as possible.


Furthermore, the role of HR is changing with an emphasis on the following competences:

Commercial Acumen – understanding of the business and applying knowledge effectively, the need to support decisions or getting involved;

Coach – listening and asking, challenging leaders;

Courage – the need to stand up or take unpopular stands, have a different opinion or give feedback;

Connection – connecting and bringing people together to achieve a common goal;

Creating a movement – communication is the key especially if we talk about creating a movement, understanding the behavior or the stages of change, uniting people under a common purpose, storytelling (how the message is brought across), and inspiring them.


Key learnings

  • If we want a change in our organization, we have to take into consideration the employee behavior and the organizational culture;
  • Communication with full transparency and by active listening enables understanding and support of the vision;
  • Listen to understand and actively ask for feedback;
  • The processes in Change Management have to be fair! The employees have to be satisfied with the outcome and it’s the leader’s job to make them aware of it, even when it’s a negative outcome, although the messages have to be passed on;
  • Leadership is not management, the latter being more of a coordinating style focused on figures;
  • Awareness of the business, generating profit and making strong decisions especially in complex situations are necessary prerequisites in leadership and prove personal commitment;
  • The leader has to act as a role model by inspiring, motivating, influencing and serving people in their professional and personal development in order to achieve great results;
  • People follow leaders they can trust and who have the practical skills and the understanding of the business. Competence builds confidence;
  • We have to leave behind the misconception that the leader has to know everything;
  • Most creative workers don’t realize that they are also responsible for management stuff. Management is too important to put it only in the managers’ hands; it belongs to everyone;
  • We have to strive for performance and try to understand what the problems in an organization are;
  • Building the team around means supporting and learning together on the solution and implementation;
  • Transformational Leadership encounters blockers! People need to be shown the purpose and motives of the changing strategy;
  • During crises it is necessary for leaders to provide guidance, even more than before;
  • Give more accountability to the people so that everyone in the organization is also a leader;
  • We have to remember that in the end we deal with human emotions, with different attitudes and different egos! Empathy and sympathy are desired attributes;
  • The wellbeing of the employees plays a huge role in transformation, so it’s important for people to actually have fun while navigating through change.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Stein & Partner announces partnership with Culture Amp

We are delighted to announce our newest strategic partnership for Austria and Romania with Culture Amp, incorporating our Executive Search and Human Capital Advisory services with Culture Amp’s technology for diagnosing and increasing engagement.

With the work environment becoming more complex, especially in these challenging times, technology makes an increasingly significant contribution to numerous business facets, and companies that want to be at the forefront of their industries know that embedding a more digital approach is complementary to efficiency and long-term success.

Given our mission to identify and implement lasting leadership solutions for our partners in CEE, we strongly believe in organizational feedback and agile responses. The tool we are endorsing helps to diagnose organizational needs and to define action plans based on best practice benchmarks.

Culture Amp is an Australian company and the leading People & Culture Platform helping companies take action to improve employee engagement, retention and performance. Culture Amp is a Culture First certified B Corporation used by more than 2,750 customers. The platform helps to identify opportunities for impact by surfacing drivers of engagement and hotspots across teams and demographics with a main focus on employee wellbeing, diversity & inclusion, and change readiness.


Interview with Werner Stein : Navigating amidst Uncertainty- Endings & Rebirth


Rethinking the purpose during times of great turmoil

In an analogy with the song “The wind of change” from the Scorpions, which for me represents the leitmotif of times immemorial, we are now entering a phase where the wind is coming and is starting as a storm. And the corona story is inviting us to heighten our awareness that we have to change the world, by first and foremost transforming ourselves, because otherwise the planet will be more doomed.

In addition to the need for change, another question emerges dramatically, and it relates to the purpose. How can we change if we don’t have a clear purpose? What is the mission of our lives, of our doing, of a company? The answer might not come easy, but both on a collective and individual level we cannot ignore the feeling that something has to transmute. We may ask ourselves every hour of everyday what is our direction, but only a long-term answer will be profoundly meaningful. Eventually, it’s an individual journey, something we need to seek to answer for ourselves by shifting the perspective inward in order to manifest change outward.

And the same applies with the economy and companies today, which need to reevaluate their purpose, culture, values, mission and this moment should bring more clarity, because we cannot go further with the same old habits, causing harm to our planet.

We’ve seen that the quarantine time period, which put the economic activity to a halt, restored the nature’s equilibrium, with bluer skies, less pollution and animals returning to their natural environment.

Indeed, it is normal to want to go back to how things used to be before, to our comfort, to our jobs, to our money, but at the same time how can we go back without a new healthy purpose for the future?

Even before this period, I had experienced many cases where very successful people in their 40s or 50s came to our consulting firm looking for a new purpose in life, and not a new job. It seems that material abundance and status are not a condition for that sense of fulfillment we are all longing for.

From a business point of view, I would like to outline some key points which I deem as being mandatory for a new way of life.

Quality over Quantity

First of all, we need to discard the idea that financial growth is a long-term condition and that it should be regarded as the sole purpose. Why do we have to grow as a company every year? Who tells us that? Sure, growth is important in the first stages to lay the foundation, but a company needs to grow in values, in character, in quality, in supporting the people and only then the material abundance is implicit.

Healthy Motivation

Why do we do something? What is our motivation as organizations, as individuals?

Now, more than ever, companies need to reflect on that. Our incentive should strive towards supporting the community, the people, the employees, with a focus on quality. Industries also need to think in terms of ecosystems, adapting their production methods and locking in practices in respect to a more sustainable environment.

Cancer is one of the most spread illnesses in the world, and businesses do create cancer in a metaphorical way, which only serves as a mirror which reflects back a dysfunctional growth pattern. Growing and motivation go hand in hand, as long as the intention and impact are aligned with a healthy core set of values.

Competition vs. Collaboration

Then, another key aspect is competition. We need to find ways to work together as a whole, rather than separate units, during and after times of crisis, developing relationships built on trust, not only on transactions. The adaptability for the future lies in cooperation, not competition and the best model to find solutions for our planet, for our organizations, for ourselves is to support one another, laying out the design of a new mindset for the future.

So, without the need for materialistic growth, without competition and with the right kind of motivation we can build the foundation.

Every cloud has a silver lining

With all the unemployment that keeps on rising, we also need to reconsider adaptability when it comes to achieving financial security. The situation is a critical one and it will not be easy to find solutions for unemployment – but the possibility of considering non-traditional collaborations, as well as embracing a more digitalized approach, could generate a new outcome.

We should also start focusing on leadership, a new type of leader needs to arise, a leader with courage to approach things differently, a leader who takes responsibility, who can reassess the targets of a company and who knows how to create social value as opposed to generating financial value. But this implies qualities such as character, ethics, empathy, compassion, flexibility.

Consumer habits need to change, by addressing them more in green terms, embedding sustainability and making environmental management a core business/individual strategy. By setting targets to reduce the use of natural resources we could end up saving significant amounts of money.

Businesses with a strong culture, a shared sensed of purpose, with a clear set of values that work together to be good individuals create superior value and they can weather the storm better than most. The focus is on collaboration, flexibility and accountability and the massive change associated with the COVID-19 crisis should accelerate changes that foster these attributes.

This is my message, and it is not something new, it’s something that I have been already discussing with people for a very long time.

Finally, my last piece of advice would be to reflect on the interconnectedness of all that is, because everything is spiritual and we have a responsibility towards nature, and maybe when we would stop letting fear guide our choices, we would truly manifest a new consciousness.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Key learnings: Webinar

The Importance of Organizational Feedback during Times of Change

If you don’t deliver on your culture in a crisis, then your culture meant nothing to start with. And when you stand successful on the other side, your culture will be why” – Didier Elzinga, Culture AMP CEO

We are delighted to have hosted the webinar “The Importance of Organizational Feedback During Times of Change” on the 24th of June. Having as guest speakers Mrs. Charlotte Burt, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp UK and Mrs. Friederike Rissing, HR Director DACH & NORDICS of Reckitt Benckiser, we emphasized the importance of gathering feedback, especially during times of change and we also analyzed the impact the crisis had on leadership and culture.

If you are interested in finding out more, please find below some learnings from the speakers:

Employee experience and long-term success

It is in these very challenging times that companies are finding out what their culture really is and what kind of environment they created for their employees and leaders, as well.

Successful businesses know the impact of gathering people data and putting their culture first when making important decisions. Typically, when we think about surveying through organizational change, we consider it to be the most crucial time to gather on employee feedback, but if we are being really honest, we usually feel that these moments are not the ones when we are putting culture first. Many companies fear that now is not the right time to ask for feedback, especially when there is a tendency in times of crisis to focus on more pressing issues.

Why are we so reluctant to seek feedback? Mostly because there is a concern at management level that engagement scores will decline during times of change, or that results will be unfavorable, or even that by the time the results of the surveys arrive, line managers would have already changed. This is also due to:

  • Lack of growth mindset: this means the organization misses the chance to hear honest feedback from which it can learn and adapt;
  • Learned helplessness: companies perceive they do not have control to influence a situation. This belief can lead organizations to consider they cannot influence how employees feel about a change; hence, this undermines their willingness to gain a true picture of their employee sentiment.

The key thing to know here is that our organizational behavior may be influenced by the same kind of thinking that hijacks our individual emotions, influencing our behavior and willingness to seek out employee feedback.

1. The principles of why you should continue to gather feedback

Closing the loop is crucial

Communication should be done even more in times of crisis, by being able to address all issues and perceptions clearly and absorb the fear of your team, so that they can drive towards a plan in the face of uncertainty.  This is a two-way process, and the focus should not be on the speaking part, neglecting the crucial component that is listening. As a leader you do not always need to have the answer, but you should always pay attention.

Feedback can drive the change

Gathering feedback pre-change to understand the readiness of the employees, but also gathering it during a crisis, can be immensely valuable and can help organizations to better direct resources and understand where employees may need more support. Knowing what they are going through, we can then learn and develop, and consequently improve the performance.

Understand what employees are actually hearing

Management often communicates the business rationale and the corporate strategy, but people really want to hear the story and not an explanation of the business.

None of us know what it is like for others in very different circumstances during change, and as much as we try to put ourselves in others’ shoes, the best way of knowing how people interpret our messages is by asking them.

2. The importance of gathering feedback

Company reputations are fragile

Employees keep track of how they are treated and are not afraid to share that information publicly.

Commitment is easily lost

When employees don’t feel well treated during times of crisis or uncertainty, employee commitment can also be damaged.

Retaining top talent is crucial

Even before COVID-19, top talent could be scarce and in high demand. COVID-19 marks a whole new era on the wall of talent; therefore, it is important to demonstrate a culture which values employees and takes the steps required to maintain quality staff.

Sometimes, leaders feel they know how to do things. But they need to listen. If they want to attract, engage and retain talent, they need to create a great environment and a great employee experience. So why not ask those they are doing this for? Ask what they think, feel, need. Then it can be so easy to adapt.

Avoid the recovery collapse

There are times that define the character of a company, and those that want to stay on top, prioritize the employee experience, because they know that people want to work for an employer that cares.

Key Learnings

  • Putting culture first can be difficult for change
  • The culture you build day to day, especially the culture you build in good times, will help you through the bad ones
  • Everyone has the accountability to form culture, not just leaders
  • Many of us can be guilty during times of change, only focusing on the speaking part of the communication and ignoring the active listening. Communication is both ways
  • If you work in Europe and you start conducting surveys, always have the privacy aspect in mind
  • Leaders should have a service to others mindset
  • Leaders need to create an environment where employees can really develop
  • Leaders don’t need to know everything, they can actually learn from the employees, developing collective learning- the entire organization needs to identify the way forward
  • Don’t shy away from conducting surveys
  • Listen before, during and after change, and also keep the dialogue
  • Feedback is not only about surveys, but also about face-to-face interaction
  • Everyone needs to be opened to and prepared for sincere feedback
  • Feedback should be neither positive nor negative- don’t confuse it with criticism
  • Employees will keep on completing surveys if they understand where their feedback goes to and if they have seen some kind of tangible action
  • It is important to address fear and acknowledge that there is also power in vulnerability
  • Leaders should enable, remove road blockers, give space and create an environment where their employees/ colleagues can thrive and achieve the desired success

Content by Ana Maria Popescu