To be Ethical… Liberating!

By: Patty Gallardo

April 2015

AmCham Philippines

The PAESPI – Philippine Association of Executive Search Professionals Inc. – is now on its 4th year of interesting existence since its September 2010 SEC- registration.

For 2015, PAEPSI Member Firms are certainly going to be as active in driving plans to more strongly promote advocacy on Code of Ethics for the Philippines Executive Search Industry.

“The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”

The English words “the pen is mightier than the sword” were first written by Novelist & Playwright Edward Bulwer- Lytton in 1839. The same words 176 years later could not be more apt for PAESPI since “the pen” has indeed been one of its most effective communication tools. “The pen” has enabled this association of like-minded ethical search firms to introduce its advocacy to its publics & continuously educate more specific sectors in the business world about the critical role of Ethics in the practice of executive search.

That in fact, the Code of Ethics is embedded in two important Bills of Rights:
  1. Client Bill of Rights
  2. Candidate Bill of Rights
PAESPI Website

The PAESPI website readily makes available to all who log on, all educative/feature articles about globally-accepted tenets & ethical processes of executive search. We urge you, dear Reader, to access the website for full appreciation of the industry and how much it has prospered in our country.

Educational Campaign through Media

In the past four years, PAESPI articles have seen print in major daily newspapers such as Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) & Business World (BW). More recently, the Business Mirror. Opinion Columnists from Philippine Star, PDI & BW have featured PAESPI advocacy in their regular columns. Many of PAESPI articles have likewise been published in monthly journals of such business chambers as AMCHAM, ECCP and also PMAP.

PAESPI articles have been deliberately written from several points of view by authors who are mostly incumbent Board of Directors. In general, the format has followed those of types of articles that educational if not scholastic in style & manner of approach. Said articles discuss basic processes of authentic Executive Search. Content-wise, these articles have varyingly featured the different types of internationally-accepted business models also in use in Philippines; introduced the Code of Ethics itself and its key pillars; detailed numerous & common malpractices that have unfortunately been happening due to the growing popularity of search services where barriers to new entrants are low. Other articles have taken up dos & don’ts of professional search work.

True-to-Life Story #1

This Author would like to share a true-to-life story about how one (or more than one!) experience with an unethical search firm or unethical practitioner could adversely affect a corporate professional’s perception of the whole industry. Wittingly or unwittingly, as a long-time colleague in the industry frequently says, Clients or Executive Candidates also contribute to malpractices if they remain unaware of the Code of Ethics of executive search.

For confidentiality, real persons in the first story below have been given fictitious names.

  1. “I am so glad I know you and can consult with you! This Search Consultant we happen to work with has not been of much help. And now, I find out while supposedly working for us, this person has even taken one of our executives!”

The frantic Ms. De la Cruz (or we could also refer to this person as Madame Client. Ms. De la Cruz being not real name of Client) decided to call an Executive Search Consultant whom she had known for many years and trusted. When it comes to professionalism and process orientation, Madame Client knew she could rely on the competence, knowledge of the right thing to do and wise, ethical counsel of her trusted contact.

Madame Client could not believe the Search Consultant with whom she was working out one executive-level assignment at the time did not have information on-demand about their candidate of choice. It was becoming evident to her that the so-called Search Consultant was more comfortable for client-candidate to have direct discussions with little professional consultation or assistance from their supposed search partner. It was likewise coming across to her even the executive candidate was not inclined to seek said Search Consultant’s point of view. Nor did they seem to be in touch with one another. Weren’t they supposed to be in this process together & actively collaborate, she thought to herself?

Apparently not, she again quietly murmured to herself. Did she have any business to expect such assistance from her so-called Search Consultant, Madame Client wondered further, when she had not paid any fee anyway? She thought her deal was smart & convenient being under a “no hire, no pay” term. But still, she continued her monologue, if & when the hiring is successfully concluded, so-called Search Consultant would be charging quite a hefty sum without doing much work. Madame Client mentally convinced herself there & then she would negotiate for a lower fee given the assistance she wanted “she did not receive”.

Madame Client could not rest easy with so many questions in her mind. She instead decided to alert her trusted contact that they needed to have a long chat regarding accepted search standards. She was re-assured there was every reason to demand so-called Search Consultant to be a pro-active partner.

Due to the high level executive involved, her trusted contact informed her that Madame Client & the executive clearly needed an experienced go-between to help the process through as well as provide important suggestions that could aid them to arrive at win-win hiring. Madame Client was sufficiently affirmed by her trusted contact that she needed to make her so-called Search Consultant “earn” the payment she will receive once the recruitment is concluded.

Unfortunately, while she was in the process of doing so, Madame Client came across some very disturbing information.

One of the company’s senior executive spoke with her in confidence & turned in a letter of resignation. Given her probing nature, Madame Client shockingly discovered the same so-called Search Consultant with whom she was working to fill up a company requirement on the one hand, was actually head-hunting one of their own on the other hand! Was this allowed? she annoyingly asked herself.

Madame Client confirmed the disturbing, clearly conflict-of-interest information with their outgoing executive. She probed how he got the new job & latter disclosed he was invited by another search firm but that the referral was done through the back door, i.e. the company he was going to join worked with another search firm but had run out of talents to recommend. He learned afterwards that their so-called Search Consultant was the one who proposed the name of said executive to the other search firm. For a fee. It was talent-sharing & fee-sharing.

Madame Client could not believe what she learned & the unethical situation in which she found herself neck-deep. Upset, she got in touch with her trusted contact & almost accusingly asked why such unprofessionalism was allowed in the industry. Her trusted contact listened quietly but intently to Madame Client’s fast-growing saga of an unpleasant experiences with the so-called Search Consultant.

Once the entire story was fully told, the trusted contact painstakingly explained to Madame Client ethical practices versus malpractices that sadly co-exist today in the world of Executive Search. Her trusted contact advised Madame Client to set up a meeting with her so-called Search Consultant so that in a direct, one-on-one discussion, they can verify data, agree on establishing the right thing to do & clear the path to move forward ethically.

Madame Client needed to be pacified; but, being the professional herself, she agreed a sit-down discussion with her so-called Search Consultant was in order. She thought to herself she was certain one of her main take-away learnings is that she would not ever want to work with the same unethical Search Consultant again. She would in future make sure a Search Consultant lives & breathes the Code of Ethics and have the code contained in their engagement contract and practiced.

Madame Client is foremost grateful her trusted contact is available for her to consult anytime. For her, in the matter of finding the right executive for a senior assignment, she will place ethics & professionalism and seasoned competence at the top of the reasons why she would work with one firm over another. Her trusted contact would serve as benchmark. It pays to partner with the ethical Search Consultant for it means doing the right thing.

It is good to share with readers that our Client in this story is actually quite knowledgeable in the use of executive search services. The Client has in fact worked with many different firms in the Philippines and has adequate basis to tell the difference between ethical & professional firms versus those which are not. The Client has thus been a strong supporter of Code of Ethics and PAESPI.

Take heart! This same article will likewise be able to convey to the reader that the industry is as well populated by highly ethical practitioners, especially PAESPI Member Firms. And our message is clear: as you decide to partner with or be professionally handled by an executive search consultant/firm, choose one that is governed by the industry Code of Ethics. A firm or Consultant whom you yourself could say consistently lives by ethical and high integrity practices/processes. You will be able to say too that anyone who “short-cuts” the search process and/or clearly commoditizes the service search firms are duty-bound to provide, is NOT ethical.

It is highly recommended for the reader to reference available publications in the website in as much as the material provides excellent background to understand nuances of executive search. Especially if the reader is a corporate executive who has not personally experienced hiring through a search firm; or, been a “candidate” of a search firm, the website is good reference. To the reader with direct & personal experience, what this Author hopes to write and publish would be a series of true-to-life stories that would surely be serious eye-openers. The hope is that many more in the business world will be truly convinced to deal only with ethical search firms.