Critical Resources for Recruiting Top Leaders

How the Retained Search Process Can Add Value for Healthcare Organizations


Choosing the most effective approach to recruit talented executive healthcare leaders who will redesign care delivery is one of the most critical contributions of the human resource team. Where does the human resource team begin? 

With uncertain reimbursement and neverending financial challenges, healthcare professionals must walk a tightrope—balancing the need to cut expenses while also ensuring excellent patient care. Equally important, however, is the fact that the decisions healthcare professionals make to fill leadership positions will shape the competitive and financial future of the organization. 

The talent gap in healthcare is widening with each passing year. Further complicating the shortage is the growing need for healthcare leaders equipped with the necessary experience to assume top executive roles quickly. This is where a healthcare recruiting firm can assist. But how do you select the right search partner and what method is the best match for your organization’s unique challenges and economic constraints? 

Choosing the Type of Support: Contingent or Retained Search


Once the decision is made to engage an executive healthcare search firm, healthcare professionals must decide on the type of search support to use. The two main categories are retained and contingency recruitment firms. Misconceptions about the differences between the contingency and retained search process can result in an organization making the wrong choice that costs more in terms of time, internal resource consumption, quality of candidates, and the overall success of the executive search process. 

Difference in Methodology


One of the biggest determining factors for hiring a contingent search firm vs. a retained search firm is the perceived return-on-investment. A common perception is that a contingency search is a “free” approach to recruitment. This cost advantage only applies if the contingency search fails and no fee is paid. If a candidate is placed, a fee similar to that of a retained search is applied. While the final fees are similar, the depth and scope of the search process and the number and fit of the candidates presented may vary greatly.

The Retained Search Process


Retained search firms conduct initial work that set the process for success. By performing in depth interviews with the hiring executive, all stakeholders to understand the organization’s unique culture, challenges  and strategic direction. This information is the foundation for identifying the core competencies, leadership style and cultural fit that will ensure success in your unique environment.  Furthermore, establishing consensus among stakeholders for the criteria for success is critical to selecting the strongest panel of candidates.  

Once the search begins, the retained search consultant becomes an extension of the client in the marketplace. The critical difference with the retained sourcing approach is that it is designed to attract a panel of the most competent leaders from a broad geographic area. Based on the information obtained during the initial site visit, the retained search firm is able to develop a unique and tailored search strategy to reach qualified candidates, screening out candidates who do not meet the client’s expectations.

The candidate development process of retained search firms is extensive. In-depth screening and interviews are conducted to ensure the candidate is a high potential fit for the opportunity. Prior to presenting candidates, retained search firms review resumes, perform extensive phone screening, conduct one‐on‐one interviews, verify credentials, and complete reference checks to lift this burden off of the human resources department. The retained search team also assesses candidates’ career goals, values and personal aspirations to assure a lasting fit. The best retained search firms have inclusive processes in place to facilitate a diverse panel of candidates.

Retained search firms provide consistent and comprehensive information about each candidate to the client that facilitates “apples to apples” comparisons among candidates. The retained consultant also supports the internal selection process, to ensure alignment of expectations among stakeholders. If warranted, the search consultant may even be involved as an objective observer during the internal interviews. The retained search approach minimizes the organization’s internal staff’s time and assures decision-makers interview only candidates who meet or exceed the established requirements. 

Frequently the best candidates are passive candidates who are happy in their current role and not actively seeking a new position.  Search executives know how to reach these high performing individuals and align their career interests with the organization’s strategic direction.  

The Contingency Search Process


Contingency search is a very different process and  is likely to surface only those candidates who are actively seeking a new position or are in the local market familiar with the organization in question. These typically include those who meet the minimum qualifications versus seeking the best of the best. Given the economic incentive and competitive nature of contingency search, the firm’s objective is to forward resumes to the client, as many as possible. Due to the payment structure, contingency firms often market available candidates to multiple clients—moving from one assignment to the next fairly quickly. This approach doesn’t allow for the customized, in-depth analysis that is required to fill executive-level and increasingly challenging service line leadership positions with quality talent.  

Choosing a Search Partner


In making the decision to engage a search firm, healthcare organizations must carefully consider their internal resources, the scope of the research involved, the candidate development required, and the importance of critical competencies and cultural fit to organizational success. Starting a search with one approach and switching to another when it fails prolongs the search process—wasting valuable resources (specifically, time and money). Organizations who attempt to test the waters with contingent search and switch to retained search firm if not successful find that the marginal cost savings was not worth the additional time and resources drained in the prolonged process and the resultant confusion in the market.

In selecting a search partner, organizations should carefully evaluate the services provided by the search firm, including their research process, the depth of sourcing, their candidate development approach, their knowledge of the market, and the firm’s prior success on similar searches. It is reasonable to ask a search firm to provide examples of past successes.

What to Look for in an Executive Search Firm


For positions that are mission-critical, healthcare organizations are best served by selecting a search firm that embodies four key characteristics:

1.  Understands the current organizational needs of the client and the strategic direction of the organization

2. Demonstrates an objective and inclusive search process that is most likely to include a diverse panel of the most qualified candidates

3.  Possesses strong communication and relationship skills to work effectively with both the human resource staff and the executive decision-makers

4.  Acts as an extension of the client in the marketplace and reflects favorably on the organization

Value-Added Executive Search Services

Success in the current climate of transparency, healthcare redesign, pay for performance, and value‐based purchasing requires special emphasis on leveraging an organization’s most valuable resource—human capital. Developing a strategy that utilizes the best and most effective combination of internal staff resources and external consulting support is critical to the success of the healthcare organization as a whole. Remarkable talent is a rare commodity. Selecting the optimal search partner and best process is crucial to the advancement of your healthcare organization and your team’s ability to provide exceptional patient care and leadership excellence. 

Building the Best Healthcare Leadership Team


Kirby Bates Associates, LLC drives healthcare organizations to achieve high quality, cost-effective patient care with our comprehensive portfolio of proven leadership services. As successful COOs and CNOs, our effective approaches achieve sustainable solutions for our clients’ greatest leadership challenges. 

Want to learn even more about our executive search services? For deeper insights into our extensive retained search process, contact the Kirby Bates Associates team of experts today!