Will AI impact the art and the science of Executive Search?

Identifying, attracting, and retaining talented leaders requires instinct and judgement. Blending art and science still remains the key to building a world class leadership team.


Research shows that only one in five executives hired externally are viewed as high performers at the end of their first year, and nearly half fail to deliver on all their objectives within the first 18 months. These outcomes are often due to a lack of alignment between the newly appointed executive and the way in which a business operates, rather than a lack of knowledge or ability.


We believe that this risk can be mitigated through the optimal blend of art and science during the Search process. Before exploring this in more detail, we start by clarifying the difference between art and science in the context of Search:

The art: This is the process of having an experienced human assess the soft skills, leadership style, behaviour and cultural alignment of another human. It’s about the understanding of people, building trust and applying human judgement. At Redgrave, we deliver the art through deep sector and functional experience and immediate access to the relevant talent network, blending this with strong interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, judgement and advanced competency-based interview capabilities.

The science: This involves forensic talent mapping and networking, assessing academic capabilities, verifying professional qualifications, performing psychometric testing, assessment and referencing. At Redgrave, we deliver this through robust, data-led research, hard- and soft-referencing and sophisticated psychometric testing – which involves meeting with a business psychologist rather than relying purely on the data.


Whilst mobiles phones, email, the internet and video conferencing have revolutionised the industry over the last 30 years, most of the magic still lies in the art rather than the science.

However, in light of the genuine and rapid advances in the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI), with dramatic headlines such as ‘The Robots are Coming’, are the days numbered for search professionals? Absolutely not.

The importance of talent networks, the attention paid to mapping and networking and the power of soft referencing during a search process are currently not tasks that can be performed by a machine. The main difference between the outcome of two different Searches remains the real people who are managing the Search. The soft skills that include rapport and relationship building, the ability to create a high level of trust, the skills to understand the aspirations and motivations of all the people involved, the experience to position an opportunity at the right time, in the right way and to the right person are mission critical. It’s these attributes that not only determine the success of the process but also impact the level of success delivered by the executive once they start in their new role.

The crucial task of evaluating the likely cultural, organisational and behavioural alignment of an executive during the Search process is the art in motion. The raw psychometric test data and supplementary guidance can then be used to validate instinctive evaluations to identify any areas of further exploration and to support the successful executive through their onboarding process and onward career progression – this is the science in motion.


The role of AI in business

It’s clear that AI and Robotics are disrupting business models and traditional workflows all over the world, in virtually every sector. It certainly has its benefits, with many repetitive tasks now being executed through the AI software, freeing up people to spend more time on higher-value work. While we are yet to find an AI solution capable of operating with the emotional intelligence, empathy and problem-solving capabilities required to deliver successful search outcomes, we have found a use for it in search – AI helps us with the science of search through the processes and systems that help us better leverage data.

The role of humans in search

Instinct and judgement remain vital skills for any talented search professional, along with the ability to build authentic relationships based on trust. Despite some of the world’s leading technology firms enjoying some interesting publicity with AI ‘solutions’ such as ChatGPT and Bard, these innovations are not about to replace humans. After all, these tools are reliant on humans in the first place. So it feels safe to say that humans will continue to have a place in business and within search for many decades to come.


Contact David Angel to explore our Executive Search and Executive Assessment capabilities.


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