The driving force behind any service industry should be to always do what is best for the client—and therefore, what is best
for the firm's long-term relationship with that client. So if a retained search firm takes the high road and gives up its
fee when it is unsuccessful, or seeks to split the fee with the firm that completes the job, the client will be likely to
remember it as an upstanding, client-friendly organization and is more likely to return to it for future recruitment needs.
It is difficult for any competitive company to give up its fee for an assignment, but in the long run, isn't one lost fee
worth the survival of a long-term, and potentially lucrative relationship?
Of course, we must overcome fear of losing revenue and control, as well as the fear of being perceived as having lost competitive
edge. But these fears must take a backseat to the mantra of every service profession: It's about the client, stupid. The focus,
from beginning to end, must be about the client's needs.
The sooner search firms learn to work in partnership for their clients' interests, the sooner we will earn confidence and
trust of clients, who will undoubtedly be delighted to find that it is in their best interests—not ours. Then clients will
begin to view search firms as partners—and all of the intrinsic rewards, professional motivation, satisfaction, and legacy
that goes along with that kind of a mutual relationship—rather than vendors or commodities. When that happens, clients and
search firms alike could realize a much higher ROI for the fees earned.
We recently met with a major pharma company in the throes of some very difficult business times. A week before a very public
fall from grace, it had launched multiple new search assignments with its search "partner." No real work had been committed
to, except for the signing of contracts. The pharma company asked the search firm for a release from those contracts, because
the positions would not be filled. The search firm offered only to settle for being paid their full fee.
These are very tough times for pharma and as partners, it's our obligation to work through painful times with our clients.
If that means we have to respond with human support, rather than contractual enforcement, so be it.
As CEO, I aim to maintain a culture marked by generosity of spirit and the belief that the more you give, the more you effectively
serve, and the more joy and professional satisfaction you receive. It's my job to train and communicate that message to my
team and to our clients, and to live it myself. By sharing, seeking, trusting, growing up, and even losing, we gain, we grow,
we enrich, we provide, and we renew. These are the lessons that must come from the top to make a difference.
The corporate sector has already begun imposing limits on how search firms serve them. Will those firms respond by striving
to earn and, therefore, to deserve the honorable title of partner? I hope so, and I hope it's in my professional lifetime.
Denise DeMan Williams is the founder, president, and CEO of Bench International, the oldest retained search firm exclusively dedicated to the pharmaceutical
and biotechnology industries. She also is a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners Hall of Fame, and
founder of ALIGN, A Management Forum™ and the S*T*A*R Solution™ (Strategic Talent Acquisition and Retention).