Many companies balk at the thought of selling out 10% of an executive’s salary to a headhunter. But, while the engagement of an executive search company might initially sound like a significant cost, it makes for long-term savings.

That’s because, with the extensive networks, headhunters are abler to identify potential candidates far more quickly than an organisation’s in house resources. “The benefit is tremendous,” points out Zinhle Matentnji, CEO of SearchSpecifics TRANSEARCH Africa TRANSEARCH Africa, an executive search consultancy with a strong focus on empowered candidates.

She notes that there are considerable costs to an organisation when key positions are left unfilled, starting with the fact that the tasks usually assigned to the post must be delegated to people who possibly don’t have the appropriate skills. This inevitably has a negative effect on the organisation’s performance.

And the effects are far-reaching: those employees who find themselves operating without a direct supervisor may lose focus and motivation, Matentji argues. “Leadership is a powerful concept. We depend on our leaders to provide direction and to ensure that we are all concentrating on achieving those goals. Without a leader, the cohesiveness of your tight-knit team may dissolve.”

If that’s what’s happening internally, consider that external stakeholders may also be taking such an absence to heart. Key clients may be alarmed by the fact that there is no one.

Have you considered that the very person required to turn your company around is currently sitting in another position, blissfully unaware of the opportunities you could offer? What’s more, they’re likely to remain oblivious to possible change – unless they’re approached by a headhunter, that is.

It’s a fact: the very best talent in your industry is usually happily ensconced in a company that already values their skills and contribution. They’re probably experiencing a great deal of job satisfaction, so they’re not looking to move.

Of course, you could change that situation, by offering them a sweeter deal. The problem, though, is that as an organisation investing resources and focus into your area of expertise, it’s almost impossible for you to identify these under the radar individuals. They might possess the key competencies desperately required to fill a position, but there’s no way for you to find them.

Headhunters, on the other hand, have the networks and skills required not only to identify these people, but also to determine whether they are, in fact, right for your company. In this way, headhunters fulfil the needs of both organisations and individuals; needs that both parties may previously been unaware they had. Think of them as matchmakers, able to find in partners the elusive qualities that, combined, result in a perfect connection. Zinhle Matentji, CEO of SearchSpecifics TRANSEARCH Africa, an execute search consultancy with a strong focus on empowerment candidates, describes the headhunter’s role thus: “Our extensive networks mean that we’re able to source top executives to fill a specific role within a company.” The results are powerful: by placing the right person in the right position, an organisation can expect optimal employment of systems and processes, leading to greater productivity and, ultimately, profitability.

The notion of headhunting, or executive search, is one that has attracted attention since 1920s, when it was pioneered by American Thorndick Dleland. Other industry founders are James O. McKinsey, a professor at the University of Chicago (you might recognise his name from the global management consultancy), and Edwin G.Booze, who established a small consultancy in 1917. Booze’s company gained traction when he was joined by two partners, establishing a business research development company, and by the 1940s, executive search was recognised in the United States as an official line of business. Twenty years later, the practise had been introduced to Europe, where Spencer Stuart (widely regarded as the “grandfather” of executive search in Europe) established offices first in London, then Paris.

Today, headhunting is recognised as the most effective way of securing the best talent for any organisation. “Headhunters increase the talent pool available to a company, because we have access to individuals who may not be actively seeking a job change, but will move if the right opportunity presents itself,’ Matentji explains.

She acknowledges that the process is a delicate one, especially in South Africa, where the war for talent means that highly skilled individuals are in great demand. However, that’s precisely why the services of executive search companies are so valuable: they operate with absolute discretion. While it may be unseemly for an organisation to directly approach an executive occupying a top spot at a competitor, as an outsider to the profession, a headhunter is not limited by these restrictions.

A further plus is that the executive search professional’s experience ensures they are able to match candidates with organisations, and can be counted on to conduct necessary interviews and manage other steps in the recruitment process.

“Now, more than ever, a company’s performance is determined by the calibre of its people. Organisations have come to realise that they need to invest wisely when it comes to their top management, spending money to make money. They also need people who are able to hit the ground running. That’s where we come in: we help companies find these gems in the shortest possible time, with the least possible effort on their part,” Matentji concludes.