Case Study III

How we handle confidential replacements

We were engaged on a Regional Commercial Director search following the decision that the incumbent was to be confidentially replaced.  Approximately 50% of the searches we are engaged on are highly confidential.

We met our client, both the HR Director for the Region and the General Manager to whom the role reports, to brief on the position. We aligned on the strategy and how we were to communicate the situation to potential candidates. Due to the fact that this client has a very specialized product offering and very few direct competitors, the situation was highly sensitive and the repercussions of the incumbent finding out that their boss was actively sourcing their replacement were potentially very damaging.

Something we offered our client in this situation, which they eventually decided against, was that we actually contact the incumbent about the vacancy. Therefore, if the incumbent were to speak with their counterparts in other organizations, or meet people at conferences and discuss Accelerate’s contact, they would not be aware that they were the only person not to be contacted and therefore draw the conclusion that they were the person being replaced. Our client was open to seeing people from outside their direct competitors so we did not use this strategy in this case but it is something we have done before.

As we approached candidates in the market, we explained the sensitivity of the situation and most candidates were happy to participate despite not knowing who we were representing. Most people put themselves in the shoes of the GM or the incumbent and understood the situation. There is a clear mutual respect of confidentiality in these cases as the candidate does not want their participation in the process disclosed to anybody aside from the key decision makers and the client does not want the fact that the process is even ongoing disclosed to anybody in the market. In certain situations, both parties sign non-disclosure agreements but this is typically understood and respected without signing paperwork.

Within one week, we presented seven strong candidates and discussed them with are client. They selected five people to interview, leaving two behind because of their salary expectations, which had been confirmed prior to presentation. Our client decided to confidentially interview our candidates, keeping the company name confidential. They explained to the candidates that “Richard”, the HR Director, was going to call them and run 30-45 minute introductory phone calls. The candidates proceeded and following these phone calls, they selected four candidates to have non-confidential face to face interviews in a hotel close to our clients offices with the GM and the HRD. Thankfully, all four candidates were very attracted to the idea of joining our client and were already familiar with their business. We carefully managed the interview logistics to ensure none of the candidates crossed paths.

We are happy to report that one of these four candidates was successful in the process and is now the Regional Commercial Director for our client. Shortly after they accepted the offer, the communication to the incumbent was made and a smooth transition was managed between all parties.

The purpose of sharing this case study is to show clients the options that are available in terms of running the process confidentially and to show candidates the way they could be interviewed due to certain sensitive situations. We recommend our clients commence replacement searches prior to dismissing an incumbent to ensure they have solid replacement options available for when the time comes. We recommend our candidates move forward in processes without knowing the client as, once confidentiality is strictly maintained, they have very little to lose and potentially a lot to gain from the situation. If it gets to the point where the name is revealed and they are not interested in joining a specific organization, they can leave the process without a downside aside from a short time investment.