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Evolve, adapt, overcome: what has been learned from the first Lockdown?

16 Nov 2020

As England suffers a second Lockdown – with Wales and Scotland already through various stages of substantial restrictions – attention from an executive search perspective pivots back again to the adjusted processes and procedures refined during the first UK-wide Lockdown.

With the added benefit of hindsight, there is much learned from the events earlier this year. These learning curves enable search firms to overcome familiar challenges associated with the restrictive measures – to not just survive, but to thrive in modern climates.

Market reaction April – July 2020: keep calm and carry on

In perhaps the most challenging market conditions ever faced, Compass Executives experienced limited down-turn in assignments mandated to the team – except for the NFP space where headcount for roles was significantly reduced.

During the four-month period at the height of the pandemic, the team successfully made more than 20 appointments across the Health, Social Care, Education and Life Sciences sectors. Including 4 Chief Executives; 3 Chair / NEDs; 2 Chief Operating Officers; 2 Chief Financial Officer / Finance Directors; and a Chief Commercial Officer and Medical Director each.

Ownership observations of active Providers

UK Private Equity backed organisations account for 50% of all placements made during the first Lockdown, whilst a further 20% are representative of International Investor backed businesses. Of the remaining 30%, MedTech, BioTech, Animal Health and Housing Associations are the profiles from which mandates were successfully completed.

The resilience to economic downturn of the Specialist Care markets has understandably further increased appetite from investors – in contrast to some of the more recent attractive consumer-led sub-sectors, namely Dentistry, Veterinary and Cosmetics – where hiring was drastically reduced, services were temporarily closed and staff had to be furloughed.

Now, more so than ever, it is critical that management teams of these providers are robust, adaptable. As well as having the capability to show inspirational leadership at the most difficult of times. The need for the provision of care did not stop during the pandemic; nor did the need for highly capable management teams who can deliver exceptional services, ensure performance remained as consistent as possible, and equally, identify opportunities in the market for future growth.

Life Sciences – setting new records

It is safe to say that the Life Sciences sector is the place to be. With Pharma and MedTech companies being at the heart of the response to the global pandemic: The MedTech sector is quickly responding to the upscale demand of diagnostic devices; ventilators and pumps; whilst Pharmaceutical and Biotech companies are developing new multi-national partnerships to find new therapeutics and vaccines/antivirals.

The Life Sciences industry still faces the same challenges as everyone else – despite the recent boom of interest, scrutiny and praise – and are having to re-navigate a changing workforce pattern within offices/laboratories, working at reduced capacity and commercial activities progressing through the digital age. The sector is collectively poised to push on better than before, this will be a period of time forever remembered as a trigger point making the sector stronger as adaptations to culture and processes are refocused.

Already we have had our eyes opened to how – through collaboration – new treatments (vaccines) can be produced in record breaking times. There is no reason that we cannot carry this mentality through to new products and therapeutic advancements in the future, kicking on from this new lease of life invigorated as a result of COVID-19.

Streamlined hiring processes – a force for good?

Without question, the increased use in VC has made processes slicker and more effective. Compass Executives have observed that interviews have been no different in terms of rigor, however the speed and ease in facilitating the various stages of interview has been significant.

Clients are able to arrange sessions to discuss the brief sooner, as senior stakeholders and key decision-makers are able to find an agreed time slot for a video call rather than relying on the coordination of diaries to find a date which works for all parties.

Hiring time has been reduced and candidate engagement increased. Owing to the speed in which the various stages can be conducted. However, this in itself was an obstacle to hire for some clients: highly sought after candidates were not on the markets for long, with a number of instances where a one stage video conference followed by an offer were observed in a number of processes involving investors. This, however, was an exception rather than a rule – and something not anticipated to be seen in the latest Lockdown. One team view is that candidates who traditionally have endured significant commutes were more open to a discussion about new opportunities, in comparison to other, more risk averse counterparts.

Equally, some individuals found VC more difficult – and naturally, less enjoyable – than a face-to-face meeting: it is more difficult to be able to gauge the mood of the interview; more challenging to build rapport, and get ones true personality across. Whilst there are numerous video conference platforms on the market right now, there has been an exponential increase in appetite to revert back to in-person interviews – which candidates and clients alike have enjoyed reverting to.

At a recent Prime Ministers Questions, Boris Johnson indicated that the 2nd December is a “hard deadline” for the second Lockdown to end. This being the case, it is logical to suggest that early December will see a backlog of final stage interviews – face-to-face – with earlier parts of the process remaining weighted towards virtual platforms.

Investment appetite: renewed attention on Specialist Care

Owing to the resilience, and buoyancy of the state paid for Specialist Care markets, Investor appetite to enter these dedicated sub-sectors is on the rise. In no particular order, Children’s Residential, Specialist Education; Learning Disabilities; and Mental Health sectors have demonstrated an innate ability to function exceptionally well, regardless of the global difficulties, thus seeing more and more investors and new market entrants looking to add to their portfolios in these areas.

Healthcare markets are divided: Surgical and Acute Hospitals have been quieter than normal, albeit with recent investment activity amongst a number of providers, the COVID-19 situation may have put a pin in plans and associated hiring activity. Conversely the demand and interest in Telehealth and Digital Health, post significant nationwide attention in recent months, remains strong.

There is a clear distinction between health and social care – not just in terms of public perception and understanding, or government prioritisation in response to the pandemic – but also in terms of sub-sector resilience. In the main, both remain an attractive, long-term proposition to all types of advisors: the risk profile is lower than many other industries – demonstrated in recent months – but it is not until both are broken down into their respective “micro-markets”, can a true understanding of the challenges and priorities be understood.

This shorter second Lockdown will not deter interest in the Health and Social Care Sectors. There will be much detailed analysis by prospective investment teams over the forthcoming months, which will result in serious capital invested into the sectors. Watch this space as they say.

Are Providers getting ‘more bang for your buck’?

Given Compass Holding Groups unique business model, we are in a fortunate position to be in receipt of consistent, real-time commentary from all levels across all sub-sectors in which we specialise.

One notable piece of feedback we have gained from our Corporate Services Compass Partner, Compass Corporate Services, is that within “head office” recruitment; HR / Marketing / Finance / Property etc., is that they are receiving record levels of applicants due to mass redundancies in other more mainstream sector spaces, notably; retail, hospitality, engineering.

Consequently, providers are on-boarding ‘Heads of’ and ‘Senior Managers’ for roles one, if not two, levels below the incumbent’s previous role. In the short-term there is huge knowledge and experience gain yet is this a sustainable recruitment model, or will we see attrition in these areas in 12-18 months when hiring reverts to normal?

With both Health and Social Care under the public spotlight, now is as good a time as any for leadership teams to get the Talent Acquisition, HR and Marketing teams to deliver campaigns to harness the interest shown by those who may not have had much exposure previously to the sectors.


Whilst the appetite for a second national Lockdown is low, there are many reasons to be optimistic. The resilience of health and social care sectors has been acutely evident in recent months.

Enthusiasm and interest from capable talent outside of the sector has fuelled a further pipeline of leadership with fresh, innovative ideas on how key deliverables can be achieved.

Recruitment processes refined and perfected during the first Lockdown mean that onboarding talent can take place at a speed which keeps candidates engaged – even if mid-to-long term some of the more traditional interview techniques will re-emerge. At the senior end of the market, a final face-to-face meeting with a Board peer or Investment Partners is a critical part of the hiring process.

Compass Executives are perfectly positioned to assist providers and investors overcome their ‘people’ challenges at a time where the people agenda has never been more important. Find out more about our recent successes, and visit our Case Studies page to see our work in action.