Q&A with Derek Gracey: Human capital leadership in turbulent times
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Charles Aris senior associate practice leader Derek Gracey sat down with marketing colleagues Sydney Olszewski and Madison Nance to discuss his Human Capital executive search practice as well as this vital function’s impact in today’s climate.
Q: You started in our firm’s associate recruiting ranks and worked your way up to senior associate practice leader. Tell us a bit about your background in executive recruiting and your specialization in human capital.
Derek: At Charles Aris, recruiters start as generalists, which enables them to explore several industries and functional areas in the beginning of their executive search career. Over the span of a few years, you’re then able to home in on areas of interest. That was human capital for me, and I knew it early on. I noticed I was drawn more to the people side of the business and, luckily, got to work on searches in that space. I gained expertise in the human capital function and an understanding of what it looks like to recruit senior HR and talent leaders throughout corporate America and private equity. I didn’t have executive recruiting experience prior to joining Charles Aris, so getting that generalist foundation served me well in recruiting.
Q: As you work to fill clients’ mission-critical hiring needs, what are a few things those organizations are doing to attract and retain top talent?
Derek: A lot of it comes down to the organizational culture. Team members want to feel aligned with the mission of the organization, and with what the organization stands for, in addition to their own professional development and career growth. Employees have to feel the total rewards component is there and that the organization is taking care of them. Ultimately, they want to belong. Depending on how well organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example – especially in the ways team members needed to adapt – that can be really telling as to whether those same team members want to stick around and stay with that organization in the long term or even short term. Organizations need to take care of their people, especially during turbulent times.
Q: Core competencies in the human capital space can often overlap from organization to organization. What qualifications, backgrounds or skill sets stand out in today’s career marketplace?
Derek: Human capital is a functional role. From one organization to another, the requirements to be successful can often look similar even though there are nuances from industry to industry. A lot of organizations are looking for individuals who have a strong generalist background; perhaps they started to focus on certain areas over time. At the CHRO or head of HR level, we see that most, if not all, of our clients are looking for individuals who spike on the strategic side of the spectrum. This helps organizations accomplish their business objectives by way of the human capital function, and ultimately align the people strategy with the business strategy. I’d say all of our clients look for this, particularly when seeking senior HR leaders.
Q: These are unprecedented times, and many organizations have changed the way their workplaces function. As we navigate the pandemic and beyond, which recent trends will remain constant in the coming years?
Derek: A lot of the challenges in the past few months have ultimately fallen on the desks of HR leaders. We’re seeing more organizations adapt and realize that they are able to thrive more than they expected in terms of employee engagement and productivity. I think we all remain hopeful that even if organizations don’t shift to an entirely virtual workforce, they will at least allow for a little more flexibility. The other piece most leaders are thinking about is diversity and inclusion within their organizations. That certainly is rising to the forefront of the human capital conversation. Organizations are evaluating: Are we doing enough? Do we need to evolve? Do we need to rethink what this means for us? I think we all remain optimistic that this is going to stick and that we’ll see meaningful change when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
Q: We’ve seen many organizations freeze hiring during the first half of 2020. What advice do you have for them as those freezes thaw out?
Derek: Be selective, especially in the current climate. There are a lot of active candidates out there who have been impacted by COVID; maybe they lost their jobs or maybe their jobs are a little more unstable. Anytime we have that kind of influx of active candidates in the market, it becomes even more critical to ensure that we’re vetting candidates and that we’re really choosing the best of the best – not just taking the path of least resistance. A search partner like Charles Aris can certainly help. We conduct a full, hands-on qualifying process on behalf of our client organizations. We ensure good fits for both sides by spending several hours with potential candidates before we ever send their résumés to hiring authorities. Having those detailed conversations up front helps us put the best of the best in front of our clients in every search.