After a time consuming interview and hiring process, a new executive is finally hired. The candidate has the perfect resume, strong leadership skills, and fits the company culture well. All is looking positive until a few months in when the new talent isn’t performing as expected.
According to Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days, the failure rate for newly hired outside executives is as high as 58% in the first 18 months. There are a number of reasons why new executive talent fails to thrive, and often, it isn’t about the hiring process.
Failure early on can lead to what Harvard Business Review refers to this as The Set-Up to Fail Syndrome. High-caliber talent is brought onto a team and then, for one reason or another, comes up short on a project or in a meeting. This triggers a reaction of increased attention from the executive team, which is interpreted as lack of confidence by the new hire and leads to more mistakes.
Identifying what problems may be causing this failure to thrive is key to avoiding The Set-Up to Fail Syndrome. These are a few common issues:
- Mismanaged Expectations on Both Sides Perhaps the new executive over emphasized a skill set they haven’t mastered. Or the position expectations weren’t made fully clear. Particularly in rapidly scaling companies, circumstances can change quickly and dramatically, bringing up responsibilities the new executive wasn’t prepared for. We recommend clients use a position scorecard to keep track of the qualities and projects they need in a candidate. The scorecard can also map out the first 12 months of deliverable metrics on a new hire. Having explicit expectations from the beginning, on both sides, is crucial to high performance.
- Lacking Support and Structure – With new positions especially, it’s key to map out the org chart and power structure prior to onboarding a new executive. Determine responsibilities and reporting structure and have the existing executive team sign off on it. This includes not just who the new talent will report to, but who will support them.
Clarifying the org chart paves the way for providing resources to the new hire, such as mentorship, and a responsibility roadmap with general guidelines for reaching those 12-month metrics.
- Underestimating Institutional Knowledge – New executives can be eager to make their mark and show their value. But it’s important to understand the company’s processes and objectives fully before pitching radical changes that may already have been considered, and vetoed.
This requires both an over-communication of values, projects, and strategy on the part of the company, and an involved learning, research, and acclimation effort on the part of the new hire.
- Checks and Balances – Any of the former problems can be resolved if they’re identified early into a new executive’s term. If there’s no system to check in with a new hire and review their progress against the position scorecard, then there’s no chance to make changes. If problems aren’t identified early on, suddenly a year in it appears as though the new hire has failed immeasurably, when in actuality, he never knew he was doing anything wrong.
As part of the org chart conversation, make clear who is responsible for checking in regularly with the new hire. Establishing periodic, open communication about progress and challenges allows the team to build trust and track ROI on the new executive.
The success of newly incorporated executive talent requires more than pointed interview questions and an impressive resume. Communication of expectations, shared knowledge and strategy, and pre-determined support structures are all essential for a mutually beneficial partnership.