Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
November 14, 2018

It's a Candidate's Market Part 2: Making CPG Cool Again

It’s A Candidate’s Market Part 2: Making CPG Cool AgainJust a few decades ago, the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry was the destination for top talent. Freshly minted M.B.A. graduates flocked to “academy” CPG companies, where they could not only expect stability, but also a heavy investment in their professional development. But eventually, promoting staples that line grocery store shelves began to pale in comparison to the glamour and fast pace of investment banking, consulting, tech, media, communications and entrepreneurship. These shifting trends combined with forces including flat growth, increased consolidation and slashed training budgets to deter potential candidates from even coming in the front door — and helped push out the top performers already inside.

In the thriving business climate of the 2010s, which was driven by ingenuity, innovation, private equity and cheap cash, some CPG companies erroneously believed that they could do no wrong when it came to serving consumers and attracting talent. CPG companies misevaluated the climate, and also had a delayed — and often incomplete — response to the generational differences among baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and Generation Z in both consumer behavior and work styles. The reality today is that there is no longer a line of talent at the door for the vast majority of consumer goods companies, in part due to macro demographic trends (read more in Part 1) and a multigenerational malaise in leadership development.

The interesting paradox here is that, despite perceptions of CPG as staid and boring, the ability to understand consumers and satisfy their needs, build brands and innovate never really went out of style. Neither did the social and emotional ritual of visiting a brick-and-mortar retail store. In fact, I would argue that it has never been more exciting to be in CPG. Gen Xers and millennials are going to make CPG cool again. But we are not marketing ourselves very well and candidates have choices. Really good and discerning candidates have even more choices.

Bottom line: CPG companies are going to need to rethink their recruiting processes so that they land the candidates they want.

When we ask CPG CEOs and C-suite executives, especially HR leaders: What is the most important thing you do in any given week? Every time, we hear some version of “identifying, developing and finding great leadership talent for my company.” But how many treat it with that level of priority each day? Or even each week?

Today, companies focused on talent as a distinguishing strategic advantage understand the importance of prioritizing leadership. They deploy rigorous assessments, and their internal talent and external recruits appreciate it. Our firm deploys six to eight methodologies in our assessment (dependent upon the level and the technical requirements). It’s a high-touch and relevant process, and candidates value the rigor.

These organizations also create a compelling candidate experience. They don’t expect a line at the door. In fact, when they find “must-have” talent, they drop everything and go to that candidate’s door.

Are you prepared to be that cool, too?

Art Brown is a member of Spencer Stuart's Board, CEO, Consumer, Private Equity, and Marketing and Sales Officer practices. He concentrates on the consumer sector, advising on talent and leadership. Reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn.

In Part 3, we talk about how to create that great candidate experience.