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The Crisis is Changing the Executive Talent Landscape. Here’s How.

Jun 17, 2020 – by Catherine Savoca

As organizations are evolving in response to the pandemic, so too are the requirements of the executives that lead them. This incredible test of mettle is defining and highlighting new strengths and desired talent attributes as organizations work through the coronavirus.

Talent acquisition during this time may seem too forward thinking. Ambiguity abounds, teams are remote, and the decision-making process has been turned on its head. Yet amidst the uncertainties, it is critical to remember that it is the people making the decisions that have the biggest impact on an organization’s health and continued growth.

This crisis has created a unique opportunity for CEOs to examine all aspects of business and make swift and lasting changes in a relatively low-risk environment while expectations are leveled. For those that are contemplating executive management changes, here’s what to expect:

Evolving Functional Value Chain

Many companies are reappraising critical functions and leaders. People who may have been getting by, pre-pandemic, as contributing team members have been put to the test in new ways as they’ve had to pivot and re-imagine processes that no longer work. Some have stepped up while others have fallen short, resulting in a thorough inventory of strengths and weaknesses that expose the needs for new talent where necessary. For example:

The chaos-tested CEO: The crisis has accelerated the need for CEOs who are depended on to have a broader range of functional experience to build and lead a team of digitally-fluent, fast-acting experts. The ability to lead with decisiveness, intellect and compassion is being scrutinized internally and externally to ensure that troubled organizations land on the positive side of massive change.

  • All eyes on eCommerce: Many digital leaders who were meeting needs in Q1 experienced an unprecedented spike in demand in Q2 as consumer spending migrated online. Companies that fell short during this transition may consider enhancing digital leadership for the ‘new normal.’ eCommerce and digital leaders who excelled during this period may feel ready to step into bigger opportunities.

  • Agile marketing required: The crisis required marketing and communications leaders to abandon long-term plans and reinvent customer engagement strategies to respond in real time. In many cases this was paired with a significant reduction in spend, creating a need for inventive leadership that could pivot quickly to ensure proper tonality and strengthen the emotional connection with customers during a turbulent time, uncovering strengths in some and vulnerabilities in others.

  • An upheaval in human resources: Nothing in this lifetime prepared HR leaders to layoff or furlough tens/hundreds of thousands of people in one day and transition the remainder of the workforce to remote working overnight. These executives have faced an unprecedented time of turmoil, and their ability to be an expert advisor and chief compassion officer are tested hourly to balance the conscience of an organization. As one HR executive said, “IQ is the price of admission for HR leaders, but EQ is the currency you trade on.” That currency has never been more valuable and has been exposed as a weakness in some and a competitive advantage in others across senior management.

Greater Candidate Engagement

During periods of great uncertainty, people tend to take stock. Top talent shines and, while they are valued at their current organizations, industry conditions may leave them questioning their long-term viability at a time when the industry as a whole faces a reckoning. This results in a broad spectrum of talent that is now open to listening to opportunities where they previously would have passed.

Add the fact that many executives are still sitting at home during business hours, and organizations have a unique window of time to engage with a curious, more accessible candidate pool as they explore options at companies that are competing for people who can make an impact.

Additionally, businesses that have implemented lasting measures to increase flexibility around relocation and working from home have unlocked access to previously-unavailable talent that may be worth revisiting.

Changing Demand for New Leadership Qualities

Every business has changed in the last 90 days, and the qualities that defined a great leader last year may not be what an organization needs today and going forward.

Agile, resourceful, multi-skilled leaders who are both strategic and tactical to execute versus contemplate are in high demand. As organizations trim down, leaders have been called on to step in and create impact beyond their functional expertise. Initiatives that were projected to take 12 weeks to implement have been accelerated to 12 days. The talent that can handle that effectively is the talent that’s needed now.

The investment in strong management of critical business functions will never have a bigger payoff as leaner organizations are defined. Competition for multifaceted utility players will increase.

Increased Tolerance for Risk

Given the high stakes and level of uncertainty that leaders have had to manage during this crisis, they are paradoxically positioned with open ‘air space’ to take chances with lesser revenue risk and execute long-thought-about changes in a more forgiving environment.

With many leading corporations withdrawing FY 2020 guidance, this period of uncertainly has given leaders certain freedom to try something new and pivot if needed. This has provided an environment where the complications of re-invention are somehow less of an obstacle and more just another part of change to figure out quickly leading to some fascinating outcomes.


If there was ever a time to be courageous it is now. An investment in talent now can be one of the most impactful decisions leaders can make during an extraordinary time where those that learn to adapt will survive and thrive. The ‘new normal’ is here, and it may be just the time to evaluate leadership, resolve weaknesses, engage with new talent, and take risks. The rewards of doing so may be the best investment leaders make.

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