Features | October 22, 2018

Finding best-in-class impact investing talent

Kate Shattuck
Guest Author

Kate Shattuck

Board directors and senior leaders at organizations are finally waking up to the fact that they need a clear strategy for aligning purpose and profit.

Consumers, employees, and investors are demanding diversity, equality, and positive social contributions from the companies they buy from, work for and invest in.

So what are boards and management looking for in impact leaders?

Five ideas for getting talent right

As an executive search partners and recruiters, we have focused on impact investing across asset classes and functional areas. Here is some of what we are finding on both the organizational side and talent side.

Values. With impact investing now accounting for nearly $9 trillion in assets under management globally, reputation in the market is growing in importance — for institutions and individuals. With the emergence of social media combined with professional networks, organizations can’t fake their values.

Consumers want organizations to embody their values, and they have a heightened awareness about these values potentially being co-opted. On the financial side, investors, consumers, and, yes, candidates, want to see senior leadership “walk the talk” in terms of where they invest their own money as well as where the organization invests.  

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Talent. While client demand is driving overall growth in the impact market place and the roles available within impact, we have observed a thinning of the talent pool. We are finding that many roles are open at the junior level, and leaders are willing to provide some technical training to entry level employees.  But organizations are less willing to provide training at more senior levels.

We are finding hiring managers and CEOs looking for deep technical experience, specific deal size or stage and sometimes a specific geographical orientation.  At the C-Suite and Board level, we are finding that requirements are not only subject matter mastery, but also specific fit on an organization’s management and culture needs.  

While clients may sometimes have a great number of applicants, we are seeing organizations facing significant challenges in recruiting leaders with the appropriate level of experience, presence, and communications skills at the target compensation level because their specific needs drastically narrow the candidate pool.

Reputation. On the talent side, reputation cuts both ways. Impact investing is a small professional network, and if you are not committed to the cause, so to speak, it can quickly derail your career. Candidates must be able to illustrate a sustained commitment to social justice, governance, diversity, or environmental issues, for instance.

We are finding that with more money flowing into the space, there is more opportunity.  Impact driving investors looking to invest in systems change are feeling like there is not time to waste and, as a result, organizations are pursuing deals and investments they never did before. That, in turn, translates directly into an emerging need for reporting and compliance talent to help measure impact, as well as talent with deep domain knowledge and deal experience.

Multilingual. In terms of traits, a picture of what the best impact investing talent looks like is starting to emerge. The data shows, for instance, that the strongest candidates come with a collaborative mindset, the kind that comes from being experienced in a cross-section or multi-sector – think business and government or finance and social enterprises.  

Often, we are finding clients looking for specific global scale or national experience, depending on their target community of impact or investment scope.  We are finding great candidates also show higher levels of learning agility, since many firms’ impact investing practices are still entrepreneurial ventures that must adapt to changing conditions.

Similarly, some of the roles we are seeing require a higher level of creativity and risk tolerance since determining these types of investments often means being open to new ideas, partners, and deal structures.

As impact investing grows, organizations need to develop a roadmap to integrate the right strategies and create a talent pipeline that can lead them. Put another way, balancing purpose and profit ultimately comes down to recruiting and retaining the most important asset class: people!  

Kate Shattuck is a principal at Korn Ferry co-leads the firm’s impact investing practice.