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Executive trends: above-average professionals

In Search of Above-Average Professionals

Companies aiming to grow are facing a significant challenge: a shortage of talent. EMA Partners’ leaders point out paths to overcome the issue.


Impeccable services and products, efficiency, the ability to innovate, and generating desire in customers and professionals aspiring to be a part of it all. These are some common traits among the world’s most admired companies. And behind each of these attributes are people. From the brightest talents to the skilled workers who inspire to go beyond the basics, always people.

It’s these individuals we should think about when confronted with a harsh reality: Brazil is one of the least efficient countries in the world. It ranks 60th in the 2023 Competitiveness Yearbook, ahead only of South Africa, Mongolia, Argentina, and Venezuela. Considered one of the foremost global studies on the topic, this ranking that analyzed 64 countries is conducted by the Swiss institute IMD Competitiveness Center in partnership with Brazil’s Fundação Dom Cabral.

According to the research, the reasons Brazil ranks so low on the list are tied to difficulties in retaining talent, unproductive workforce, and low educational levels. To reverse this situation: heavy investment in human development. This is the most effective path to halt the brain drain (which typically ends up in other nations on the ranking) and bridge the significant gap of above-average professionals.

Where is the skills gap?

It’s a consensus among employers that the biggest gap among professionals isn’t technical knowledge but behavioral skills such as communication, collaboration, and social acumen. According to Adriana Prates, CEO of Dasein EMA Partners Brazil, it’s important to add a much-needed yet scarce skill to this list: the ability to process complex situations and make judgments about them.

Adriana Prates – CEO of Dasein EMA Partners Brazil.

“Companies cannot develop talent if they do not possess it, but they can support the development of the entire team, continuously encouraging them to surpass limits and expand attitudinal dimensions,” she says. Dealing effectively with the complexities and ambiguities of the corporate landscape are skills that can be jointly developed by both the company and the employee.

There are various possibilities to enhance workforce training and evolution, to identify or refine talents, as Prates explains. “One of these lies in the strategy to understand the potential capacity of each individual and make individual forays, mapping, providing feedback, elaborating specific development plans, and supporting the entire team’s evolution process.”

Global Impasse

Despite the severity of the problem in Brazil, it’s not exclusive to the country. International studies conducted by Harvard University, Mercer, and ManpowerGroup have shown a growing gap in above-average professionals. According to recent research across 41 countries, 80% of companies claim to face difficulties in finding talents – the highest percentage in the last 17 years.

For Clara Vitalini, CEO of EMA Partners Italy, the lack of behavioral skills programs and self-awareness among employees is an issue within companies. “Senior management must endorse these initiatives as a way to awaken individuals to desired behaviors, in addition to offering access to training paths or mentoring to incorporate these behaviors into practice.”

As a solution to this problem, Vitalini emphasizes the importance of a joint effort between the company’s senior leadership and people executives. “People leaders can influence organizational choices, competency development, and the hiring of the right employees who will impact the company today and in the future. Our task as consultants is to ensure that organizations have business and people leaders with the right mindset, striking a proper balance between business vision and human development.”

Looking Inward

Mismanagement of talent and the difficulty in identifying promising minds within the company also contribute to the shortage of above-average professionals. Adriana Prates states that great talents are lost within companies due to a lack of challenges that match their abilities.

“Many of them are not properly valued and, without growth opportunities, they fall into the process of underutilization. The solution to this problem is to assess and monitor employees’ performance to meticulously identify the potential of each individual. But this requires advanced methodologies and expert support: ‘above-average methods’ are needed to identify above-average professionals.”

Demotivated Individuals or Demotivating Structures?

If we look at the market, there’s a general recognition of leaders who teach, engage, inspire, and above all, leave legacies. These professionals have a fundamental role in inspiring people, creating efficient processes, and fostering environments conducive to growth. However, in practice, companies don’t adequately invest in identifying and developing their leaders.

“The scholar of labor relations and Canadian physician Elliott Jaques was precise when he said, ‘there are no unmotivated people, only demotivating structures.’ For over 25 years, we’ve been working on raising awareness about the importance of identifying the right leaders – the first step for the entire workforce to be properly allocated,” says Prates.

However, making wrong hires remains a recurring mistake. “After this happens, very little can be done, only palliative actions. It has a devastating effect on all points of relation that the new professional will establish. And usually, the person chosen gets the bad reputation because they ‘knew very little about the company, its challenges, and its corporate culture.’

But why do they continue hiring wrongly if they know this? According to Prates, a significant portion of companies still focuses exclusively on results, experience, and qualifications as the most valuable requirements, overshadowing the set of competencies a good professional needs to have. Additionally, many organizations forego specialists to assist in identification and opt for shallow instant tests that don’t analyze important factors such as the growth potential and adaptability each professional will have in that organization.

Continuously Hiring and Developing

Corroborating with Prates, the CEO of EMA Partners in the UK, James Parr, reinforces that the right leader is essential for developing culture and teams. “They are responsible for defining the vision, motivating the team, and creating a positive work environment. However, a study from the Center for Creative Leadership shows that only 30% of companies have a formal leadership development program. This means that most companies are relying on luck to identify and develop their leaders.”

James Parr – CEO of EMA Partners in the UK.

According to him, there are several reasons why companies don’t invest adequately in leadership development. One of them is cost, and they only see the expenses. These programs have both their direct cost and the cost of productivity, the commitment of time which can range from months to even years. This can be a challenge for companies under pressure to produce short-term results. But there are also organizations that don’t see the value in leadership development. They believe leaders are born ready and can learn simply through practice.

“From our experience, however, formal leadership development is a worthwhile investment. Benefits can include higher levels of employee engagement, greater customer satisfaction, and even increased profitability. Developing leaders can also help mitigate turnover risk. Studies have shown that employees who participate in leadership development programs are more likely to stay in their company.”

Going Beyond the Basics

Investing in people is closely linked to effectively recruiting the best leadership – a strategy often neglected by organizations, as highlighted by Adriana Prates. Having talent in leadership is one of the most effective ways to change unfavorable scenarios, to inspire and shape a collective mindset committed to going beyond the basic functions.

“Talents are the ones who will make a big difference in companies and who will eventually occupy high-level management positions, directorships, presidencies. They represent only 0.5% of the global population, according to Elliot Jaques, who dedicated his entire life to the study of organizational relationships and ways to make them fairer and more effective.

Since this contingent is limited, companies cannot forgo the best methods for recruiting their workforce, the leader emphasizes. “Identifying and recruiting talent is not simple; this is an attribute of consultancies that prepare strongly, that develop unique methodologies to achieve results.”

Adriana highlights that inappropriate hires are not only a detriment to the role itself but also to the organizational environment from the perspective of relationships and team atmosphere. “It’s the employees who form an organization, who create the work environment and relationships. A negative environment undermines the desire of others to stay there, to dedicate themselves and prosper, which includes professionals with great growth potential.”

The Importance of Knowing People

To encourage the potential that resides in each person – whether in their individual or collective performance – it is necessary to first get to know them. Only then can they be supported so that they gradually unleash their full potential.

Alongside this strategy, it is essential to establish challenging goals as stimuli for professionals, provide feedback, continuous alignments, publicly recognize and reward valuable actions, offer development and growth opportunities, promote a collaborative environment, delegate responsibilities, and provide necessary support and resources.

Supporting Another’s Talent is Growing Together

Beyond leadership, the professional who supports and encourages their colleagues holds a special place of respect and admiration from the entire team and, of course, from their superiors. “Empowering others is an admirable attitude, for both leaders and team members. These individuals understand that growth arises from supporting those around them. It is not necessary to hold a high position to encourage others to grow. It’s possible to be a dream stimulator from anywhere.”

Individuals who adopt a positive and proactive approach, who are always willing to contribute, listen, and seek new solutions, earn the admiration of peers and superiors. “An empathetic and curious mind leaves positive marks wherever it goes.”

Focus on Key Positions in the Company

To identify, recruit, and acknowledge the capacity and the best time for a talented leader, experience, background, and practical knowledge are essential. After all, what’s the use of having the right leadership in the wrong place? With over 25 years of experience in executive recruitment, Dasein has contributed to the evolution of companies by placing the right individuals in key positions.

A lot of competence, wisdom, scientific knowledge, proper integration of tools, and commitment are required to ensure that people are working where they can contribute the most. This encourages a state of flow, where work flows smoothly, is motivating, and fosters a desire for further development. “In over 25 years of operation, we have achieved a success rate of around 98% in potential assessment, which contributes to the evolution of companies through the right hiring of key positions.”

According to Prates, this result is the product of a combination of experience with specialized knowledge, customized processes, an extensive network of contacts, rigorous competency assessment, and post-placement follow-up. “Elements that help ensure that companies have exemplary leaders in the right places. Our team of experienced and specialized consultants possesses broad knowledge in various sectors, enabling a deep understanding of the specific needs of each position. With customized search and assessment processes, we identify candidates who meet both technical and behavioral criteria.”

Demographic Decline is a Point of Concern

For many regions of the world, the talent shortage is linked to changes in the population, including aging and a declining birth rate. Japan, for example, faces this dilemma, according to Ben Yamada, CEO of EMA Partners in the country. “Our working-age population is decreasing, which reduces the pool of candidates that companies can choose from, leading to a lack of skill match, increasing global competitiveness, and industry-specific challenges.”

Ben Yamada – CEO of EMA Partners Japan.

While companies grapple with a true talent gap, ineffective recruitment strategies worsen this scenario. Lack of investment in comprehensive recruitment strategies, competitive compensation and benefits offerings, opportunities for skill enhancement, promotion of a positive work culture, and technology to streamline hiring processes are lacking.

“We bring a level of expertise, experience, and strategic thinking to the hiring process that significantly impacts the growth and success of companies. Our ability to understand the market, identify and attract high-level leaders aligned with the organization’s vision and values contributes to enhanced team performance, increased innovation, and overall business advancement.”

Clara Vitalini also points to demographic decline as part of the problem in the European Union. Currently, the region has 447 million inhabitants, and according to Eurostat projections, this number will reach 449 million by around 2025 and decrease to 424 million by 2070. “The overall population is not growing, and as a consequence, the new corporate generations will be much smaller than in the past.”

Another aspect mentioned by the leader is generational. “We are observing a decreasing interest from younger generations born after the 2000s in careers offered by large corporations. This is due to the imbalance between personal and professional life and the social and environmental impacts these companies generate.”

“Even while facing various challenges in recruiting and retaining talents from the new generation, we observe that most organizations have not changed their traditional recruitment methods or their image as employers. On the other hand, those who invest in new Employer Branding proposals, who invest in attributes that differentiate them and make them relevant to different generations of talent, are ahead.”

“They have a recruitment strategy that does not focus solely on looking for titles and successful experiences but instead seeks competencies and potential that can be developed. In markets that change very quickly, people cannot be defined by previous experiences. Careers are very dynamic, and this needs to be taken into account,” Vitalini emphasizes.

A New World, New Ways of Attracting Talent

Reflecting on global changes in the post-pandemic era is an important exercise to understand the context and best handle the new needs of above-average professionals.

According to James Parr, CEO of EMA Partners in the United Kingdom, globally, in the months following the Covid pandemic, there was a wave of people leaving their jobs in search of better opportunities. At the same time, companies were under pressure to make up for lost time during the various lockdowns and other pandemic measures. The competition for talent grew to the point of rendering the entire market inefficient and unproductive.

Clara Vitalini – CEO of EMA Partners Italy.

“In the UK, Brexit had a significant impact on the market. The expectation was that it would mainly affect junior or entry-level positions or, in the worst case, only a few sectors such as hospitality and manufacturing. In reality, it impacted all career levels, with many mid-level and senior international professionals moving back to their home countries or to markets where they feel their skills are more valued.”

This effect is still seen in a large portion of companies, according to the leader. Today, recruiting is more challenging than it was one or two years before the pandemic, both from the perspective of social and mindset changes, as well as from the companies, which are not attractive enough. “Companies have not modernized their methods of identification, attraction, or retention to meet a vastly altered global workforce. They still use advertisements or searches in databases to identify candidates, even in skill-scarce markets. Others do not offer competitive salaries or flexible benefits, making it difficult to attract high-level talent. Or they have a weak work culture or at least lack a focus on defining their culture, leading to high turnover rates.”

For Clara Vitalini of EMA Partners Italy, digital transformations also have a significant impact when analyzing the current talent shortage scenario. “This involves not only seeking training but a change in mindset. Mastering technology as an integral part of work is, on the one hand, a matter of know-how that can be addressed through training, but on the other hand, it’s a matter of mindset, of approach, which implies something deeper, like the desire to try new things and challenge how we do things every day.”

Recommendations for Leaders to Bring Out the Talents in Their Team

Hire Correctly: Engaging experts in recruitment and personnel development is a way for leaders to create opportunities for their entire team while avoiding hiring based solely on affinity, isolated aspects, and filters that don’t contribute to identifying those who truly make a difference in the company.

Know Your Team: Effective leaders dedicate time to individually know each employee. This includes understanding their skills, experiences, interests, and professional aspirations.

Set Clear Goals: Defining clear and challenging goals for the team is an effective way to bring out talents. Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART criteria).

Provide Constructive Feedback: This is a powerful tool for talent development. Leaders should offer regular and constructive feedback to their team members, recognizing their achievements and identifying areas for improvement. Feedback should be specific, objective, and directed towards continuous growth and development.

Promote Continuous Development: Leadership should encourage continuous learning and development among their employees. This can include offering training, workshops, mentorship programs, or allocating resources for individual learning.

Delegate Responsibilities: Allowing team members to take on responsibilities and make decisions is an effective way to encourage talents. Leaders should delegate challenging tasks and provide autonomy, enabling employees to apply their skills and make decisions that impact their work.

Cultivate a Collaborative and Trusting Environment: A work environment should be based on collaboration, open communication, and mutual trust. Leaders should encourage active participation from all team members, recognizing and valuing their contributions.

Recognize and Reward Talents: Exceptional performance should be rewarded. This can be done through public praise, tangible rewards, promotions, or growth opportunities.

Be a Leadership Role Model: Leaders should also inspire by demonstrating exemplary behavioral and technical skills, as well as a positive attitude and passion for the work.

Attitudes Leaders Expect from an Above-Average Professional

Proactivity: Exceptional professionals are proactive and take responsibility for their actions. They don’t wait to be told what to do; instead, they identify opportunities and take initiative to seek solutions and improvements. Developing this attitude involves having an action-oriented mindset, being attentive to the team’s and organization’s needs, and being willing to take on additional challenges and responsibilities.

Autonomy: This involves the ability to make independent decisions, prioritize tasks, manage time, and solve problems without constant supervision. To develop autonomy, it’s necessary to build trust with leaders, acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for the job, and demonstrate a consistent track record of positive results.

Collaboration: Valuing and practicing teamwork is a distinguishing trait. People who excel in this area can build good relationships with colleagues, listen to and respect different perspectives, and contribute constructively to collective goals. Developing this attitude involves cultivating effective communication skills, demonstrating empathy, being open to feedback, and seeking teamwork opportunities.

Commitment: Leaders expect professionals to be committed to the work and the organization’s objectives. This involves demonstrating dedication, responsibility, and persistence in tasks and projects. To develop commitment, it’s necessary to have clarity about job objectives, be willing to take on additional responsibilities when needed, and maintain a results-focused and excellence-oriented mindset.

Curiosity and Continuous Learning: Demonstrating curiosity about one’s field and actively seeking ongoing development is a highly valued attitude. To develop this mindset, it’s important to pursue learning opportunities such as courses, workshops, and reading, and to be open to trying new and challenging things.

Integrity: Leaders expect integrity and ethics in all situations. Being honest, reliable, and keeping promises are essential. Acting with transparency, adhering to the organization’s ethical values, making ethical decisions, and maintaining confidentiality are crucial actions.

Resilience: Being able to handle pressure and adversity constructively is a much sought-after attitude. People who possess this skill can recover from failures, learn from challenges, and maintain a positive attitude. To develop resilience, it’s important to cultivate emotional resilience and adopt a mindset of learning and growth in the face of obstacles.




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