Introducing Saran

We’d like to introduce you to the newest member of the re:find team: Saran Badwal, our Associate Researcher.

Saran has previously worked within the hospitality industry leading a front of house department and providing a tailored experienced to customers. This, combined with her degree in psychology, has nurtured and intensified her need to get to know people and how they work, leading her to pursue a new career here at re:find.

What will you be doing at re:find?

As Associate Researcher, I will be responsible for sourcing and communicating with potential candidates to aid our director’s executive search campaigns. I will live and breath our organisation’s values in order to meet our goal, to be the most helpful firm.

Why re: find?

re:find doesn’t feel like your everyday recruitment firm. Everyone here wants to give their all into helping our clients find the right person for their organisation and to go about it the right way. Every case is unique and is treated that way. re:find doesn’t just go through the motions, they take the time to get to know clients and potential candidates leading to suitable and successful placements.

What is it like being a part of team re:find?

If you searched up the word “collaborative” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of the re:find team next to it. Since I started, everyone has been inviting, helpful and fun to be around, it’s just such a positive environment. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.

Saran Badwal is our Associate Researcher. If you’d like to discuss executive research with her, you can email her on

Hiring for culture gaps

Our featured blog this week is with Gavin Russell, founder of Pepper Moth, discussing hiring for culture gaps. Pepper Moth are an organisational culture and engagement consultancy that helps businesses build and sustain powerful cultures and talent experiences that improve performance and profitability. They specialise in creating ‘speed to value’, designing, prototyping and testing simple, pragmatic solutions that maximise impact and minimise risk. They build human-centric solutions, liberating employees to explore and develop the ideas they want to own and succeed. And they focus on self-sufficiency, coaching and supporting individuals, teams and organisations through change to enable their long term success.

Gavin, tell us a bit more about the work you do around business culture?

Senior leaders often ask for my help in defining ‘culture fit’. Born of their frustration that cultural inconsistencies create inefficiency, disharmony and frankly, a lot of extra work, many focus on how talent can be better screened to ensure they fit into their organisation’s existing culture.

Culture fit is increasingly seen as one of the most important criteria for hiring and promotion. And as organisational culture is now recognised as one of the key levers that delivers organisational performance, it’s a key issue for leaders to address.

At first glance, hiring for culture fit seems like wholly logical thing to do. If employees fit the culture, then the organisational should run much more smoothly. People should feel more comfortable, may be happier and more engaged, and might even work harder. There will be less operational friction, fewer disagreements, more harmony. Managers will work with the people they want to work with and hopefully have fewer people issues to solve, liberating themselves to focus on their day jobs. Seems obvious right?

A lot of companies have gone a step further, implementing various initiatives to drive cultural assimilation once new hires have started. Onboarding programs quickly establish ‘how things are done around here’. Specific rituals and customs reinforce strict conventions. Formal performance reviews encourage employees to fix themselves to fit in. Culture fit has become a key focus for many organisations.

Do you think it’s the right focus?

Well what if hiring for culture fit actually leads to organisational irrelevance? What if driving cultural uniformity actually reduces competitive advantage? What if the last thing an organisation needs is more of the same culture?

The first rather obvious challenge is that hiring for culture fit pre-supposes that an organisation’s culture is not only appropriate to face the challenges of today, but also the challenges of tomorrow.

Knowing, as we all do, that the world is in a constant state of flux, that new technology constantly reshapes the operating landscape, and customer expectations change with the season, selecting for past cultural attributes just at the time when businesses need to develop fundamentally new ways of thinking and doing, seems counter-intuitive at the very least.

For example, if an organisation’s culture is top-down and hierarchical, how does selecting more hierarchical employees enable the organisation to dynamically respond to shorter product lifecycles, greater commercial complexity and an increasingly autonomous workforce? If the current culture is about driving sales, how does hiring sales-focussed talent help the organisation address the growing customer demand for deeper, long-term relationships built upon trust, transparency and mutual benefit? Or if the current culture is about service and operational efficiency, how does hiring for service orientation and process competence address the constant demand for new customer experiences, or enable the essential innovation and experimentation required to build the new products and services that customers want?

It seems to me that hiring for culture fit can often reduce an organisations ability to adapt, to create, to grow.

Can hiring for culture fit actually accelerate organisational irrelevance?

Let me elaborate. Culture fit is used as a way to exclude, as much as it is to include. Candidates are ‘just not right’, or managers ‘will know the person when they see them’. But if cultures are ill-defined, left to their own devices or consigned to vague values statements on some canteen wall – as many are – culture fit becomes a subjective evaluation of personal similarity, rather than an objective measure of organisational compatibility.

And this can manifest in some fairly unhelpful management behaviours. Unfamiliar points of view are dismissed. Different opinions are treated as disruptive, rather than constructive. New methods or approaches seem risky or even threatening. Over time, this bias towards similarity pushes the team, division or company towards uniformity, where groupthink is expected, even demanded.

This issue exists in addition to the more frequently debated bias around gender, race, sexual orientation etc (which as we all know are by themselves incredibly powerful reasons to question the concept of culture fit) and edges towards cognitive and procedural bias where different ideas, perspectives and experiences are discounted just for being well…. different.

In this context, culture fit becomes a very effective tool for preserving the status quo. And that’s the exact opposite of what business need to do in the current commercial climate.

How can organisations manage ‘culture fit’ when hiring?

If culture is a critical lever, but culture fit has some damaging unintended consequences, how should organisations approach this issue when hiring? I’m not suggesting for one second that organisations should ignore culture when hiring or promoting. Far from it. Cultures are fundamentally stronger when talent is connected through shared, intrinsic attributes. However, I do think organisations need to rethink their approach for assessing compatibility.

Organisations behave more like living organisms and less like programmable machines. They must compete for survival, constantly adapting to their changing environment. A healthy culture is one that adapts alongside the business, building on its current strengths while developing new attributes that deliver competitive advantage in its changing environment. Organisations need to intentionally build agility, experimentation, innovation and adaptability into their culture, as much as they need to build it into their processes and practices.

When it comes to assessment, organisations (and individuals) need to let go of this idea of culture fit, and replace it with culture add. And that means hiring for cultural gaps.

What attributes do we need to supplement to our culture to enable us to flourish in our new world? What behaviours do our customers, investors and employees expect to see more of?

Now, that doesn’t mean businesses shouldn’t assess candidate compatibility. In fact, I think it’s more important to do that than assessing their content skills (which are less and less relevant as the half-life of skills plummets). But they should assess that through the candidate’s alignment to their purpose and values, rather than their culture.

Hiring for culture gaps

Talent doesn’t need to share the same perspectives or backgrounds. As we’ve already highlighted, doing that can be commercially dangerous. But shared principles and purpose provide a collective north star by which everyone can navigate, while simultaneously allowing organisations and talent the freedom to evolve their company culture together.

And that surely is the point.

By focusing on the culture gaps, while hiring talent that shares the organisation’s purpose and values, organisations can dramatically evolve their culture, baking in the wonderful creativity, customer centricity, speed and adaptability they are increasingly dependent on, while simultaneously remaining true to their original, authentic selves. And as the world continues to become more unstable and less predictable, that could end up being a potent and indispensable combination.

A big thanks to Gavin for your thoughts on culture and hiring for culture gaps. If you want to get in touch with Gavin, you can email him on or visit his website here.

James Cumming is our MD and leads our Interim Transformation practice. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

If you would like to find out more about re:find and how we can support you and your business, then please get in touch.

My executive search journey

I started my executive search career 16 years ago and traditionally I’ve always focused on HR recruitment. The dictionary definition of recruitment is ‘the process of finding people to work for a company or become a member of an organisation’. Executive search is a specialised recruitment service to seek out and recruit highly qualified candidates for senior-level and executive jobs.

For me, it’s about so much more than that.

Every brief is different and over the last 18 months, there have been a number of external market conditions that have turned everyone’s world upside down, presenting us with the most challenging and bizarre market I have ever encountered.

Someone once told me there is a home for everyone, and it is so true, a person can be brilliant in one company, but not so good in another and that is down to the different Cultures. Culture fit is a phrase that gets banded around all the time and it’s a minefield when trying to get it right. I see lots of blogs and posts talking about culture fit and finding the right person for the right role, but what does it actually mean? In my opinion, you need to really get under the skin of a business and determine what good looks like, what really drives the business and what goals they have long term. You then need to understand the team dynamics, the personalities involved and any gaps they have (tools like insights and the GC index are great for this). This approach enables me to really understand the kind of person that they need and ensure that I can deliver.

After years of recruiting HR roles, I was approached by one of my clients, (CPO, Hospitality Business) who needed to recruit an MD into the business and asked for my help, we had worked together previously in the HR space and got on well, this was the start of my journey into wider executive search. Although I’d never recruited this kind of role before, he was confident in my style “I realised that this is a little outside of their usual sweet spot, but knew that they would hit the mark quickly, and they did.” Taking the brief and hearing what would be needed from someone to be successful in the role, was exciting and got me thinking I wanted to do more of this type of search. I found it really interesting and engaging, so started asking our clients if we could help. You can see more about this case study here.

Since that time, as a business we have placed a number of senior exec roles:
  • Managing Director – UK’s fastest-growing privately-owned hospitality company
  • Director of Customer Experience – Private Equity backed Manufacturing Business
  • Director of Business Services – Multibillion turnover FTSE100
  • IT Director – Engineering business
  • Head of Procurement & Supply Chain – Engineering business
  • Head of Operational Excellence – Global Listed Pharmaceutical business
  • Head of Professional Services – Leading Russell Group University
  • Regional COO – Privately Owned Hotel and Restaurant chain
  • Group Property Director – UK wide retail business
  • Operations Director – Care business
  • Finance Director – Waste management company
  • Head of Change – Large multisite retail business
  • HR Director – B2B wholesale business, 12k employees UK wide
  • Head of Internal Communications – UK Pharmacy Company

I still love our bread-and-butter senior HR roles but enjoy doing a variety of wider executive search and it also helps our clients who like working with us as we understand their business and can move quickly.

Recruiting senior roles

I’ve been recruiting senior roles for too many years to remember and found that once you hit a certain level it’s less about what the candidate does and more about how they do it. Generally speaking, you don’t get to director level without being good at the job. Obviously, I’m not saying that the technical aspect of a role is non-existent at this level, I just feel that to be successful in an executive position, you have to be the best, it’s as simple as that.

When taking a brief, discussing the technicalities and deliverables of a role is a given. Understanding how a business needs the job done is the tough thing to decipher and sometimes even tougher to measure. It is paramount at this point that we understand the long-term vision of the organisation, appointing execs is always a business-critical process and requires a business to know their own culture and exactly what type of person they are looking for.

To deliver on this, I have to quickly build relationships with prospective candidates. Getting to know someone in an interview process is key, constantly assessing on both a professional and personal level, to really understand their character and personality traits and if they will get the best out of the team and fulfill the business’s objectives. This approach enables us to shortlist quickly and effectively. In the current market, long processes will almost certainly ‘kill a deal’ as people are getting multiple approaches and offers at any one time.

Why use us for your senior exec work?

When you are recruiting for different roles in different industries, clearly you can’t be an expert in all of them. Clients come to us when they have a difficult brief. It might be a new role in the business, it might not be fully defined, they may have compressed timelines, or the situation might be sensitive or confidential. I have asked many of my clients in the past – why do you use re:find? Their response is that they enjoy working with us and find our shortlists refreshing. We provide a full market map of relevant talent in the market and focus the search on people that I think will fit the business and will fulfill the role to the best of its potential, not just people from the same sector. We never advertise roles. I feel that this ensures we only find the very best out there and it also fits perfectly with our clients who need us to be as discreet as possible. Once we find the right candidates and have vetted them, we can arrange an NDA to be signed to ensure that the role and the situation is kept confidential. We ensure candidate care throughout the whole recruitment process and into the onboarding process with you, which helps to make the transition smooth and the new appointment quickly get settled into their new role.

It also helps that we’re approachable, easy to work with, but with a robust back-end process to enable us to find that niche best talent.

The value that we add

As a business, we help our clients to grow. We understand what’s going on in the business and what they really need. Getting the right hire allows our clients to push forward with their business goals.

There isn’t any red tape or bureaucracy when you deal with us – we make the decisions, and we work with you to ensure we have the best working relationship possible. We’re nimble and flexible, allowing us to offer the best possible service to our clients and make a success of the work we do together.

What challenges we face

The main challenge for me, is learning the intricacies of a business, to make sure that you get the right person for that specific role in that specific business. Every business is different – it has its own culture and values and goals and there’s always lots to learn and understand. This is where relationships come into play, because the better you know your clients and their business, the better you can do your job.

There are many other challenges to contend with including competition – top execs are in high demand and can have many offers on the table, so you need to be able to negotiate this successfully. A high majority of senior candidates are passive – they are not actively looking, but surprisingly 97% of senior candidates in a company want to be ‘found’ or ‘approached’ by headhunters for relevant roles, so you do have to work hard to find them and attract them to move.

It takes a long time to get up to exec level, which means there are far less candidates than for entry or mid-level roles. A survey last year from Invenias (a recruitment software platform) said that 77% of executive search professionals’ top challenge was going to be talent shortages. 

Add to that a worldwide pandemic and the executive search market over the last 18 months has been even more challenging. Because the climate has been so uncertain people have been wary of moving from a stable position, so even if you do find the hard-to-find people that are a great culture fit for the business, you can’t always get them into the process. Things do seem to be picking up now so this challenge shouldn’t affect us going forward. The market has definitely shifted to a candidate driven market and businesses now have to move quickly with both processes and offers, as candidates are now getting multiple offers and are naturally drawn to a business that makes them feel valued.

What I have learnt from my journey

My journey over the last few years from focusing on senior HR appointments, moving into my general executive search has been challenging, but incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. My clients have become friends and a strong relationship means we make a great team professionally.

I have learnt that I don’t need to be an expert in a particular industry to still do a great job at appointing a senior executive.

I have found that actively listening, being curious and really understanding the size, scope and vision of business allows me to be clear and honest with potential candidates. I like to think of re:find as an extension of our clients business and want them to feel we are all working together. By using my transferable skills in executive search, relationship building and understanding people and businesses, I am able to find the right people and do a great job for my clients.

Carl Hinett is our Director & Executive Search Specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch

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