What Could Go Wrong? Part 3: “Spiking the Ball on the Five-yard Line”

by Stanley H. Davis, Standish Executive Search, LLC

To better appreciate the extensive recruiting challenges that confront business leaders, Standish interviewed a cross-section of 20 leaders* who acknowledged that their next failed hire won’t be their first. As C-level executives, business owners, corporate recruiters and consultants, they all appreciated most of the right steps to secure great new leaders. Thus their revisiting their own recruiting missteps was particularly instructive.

This is Part Three of a Three-Part Series of recruiting errors made by seasoned business leaders.
Parts One (“The Thrill of the Hunt”) and Two (“Great Athlete, Wrong Game”) have already been posted. All three parts appear in a full article on our website.

PART 3:  Spiking the Ball on the Five-yard Line

When the right candidate was selected, there were stories of failure from inadequate onboarding –assimilation, guidance, coaching:

  • “We set people up for failure.”
  • “There was a failure to mentor early, share the rules and culture; what it takes to be successful and the location of the land mines.” 

There was also regret where there was no “new boss program” for developing the new executive’s relationship with his subordinates. The “only relationship we introduced was with their [own] boss.”  One new executive arrived unprepared to be viewed as the “interloper” in the eyes of the employee(s) who didn’t get the job that he did.

These are actual examples of great hires undone by lack of assimilation.

How about inattention?  In one instance, the upheaval caused by the relocation of a candidate’s family was ignored. In another, the hiring executive failed to pick up early signs of derailment (i.e. the new hire’s lack of curiosity, drive or engagement). Delays of related essential personnel changes, or the new executive’s own failure to build multiple constituencies, were other sources of crisis. One hiring executive cited an instance of a search firm’s failure to follow-up the placement.

These were some of the pitfalls cited by our executives as having driven the failure of their good hires. Did each of these failures affect the rest of the organization?  As one executive observed, “everyone is watching.”

Reliable surveys tell us that after 18 months, 60% of new leaders are still on the job.  Unfortunately that’s a 40 percent failure rate – an expensive 40 percent. Costs of a failed hire mount through direct, indirect and duplicated costs often totaling two- to three-times the annualized base salary.

Sixty percent of executive placements succeed for good reason: Clear candidate profiles and job expectations, supported by a disciplined hiring process that includes: objectivity; trained interviewers; the involvement of stakeholders; attention to culture fit; and disciplined on-boarding and follow through.

The ultimate vaccine against hiring failure, of course, is to minimize the need for outside hires. But the intricacies of employee development and organization planning are subjects for another day.

*Participating executives for this post included industry leaders from aerospace, biotech, business services, logistics, transportation, retail, government contracting, plastics, consumer products, industrial equipment, healthcare, chemical products, business.

Stanley H. Davis is the founding principal of New England-based Standish Executive Search, LLC. Standish works with company owners, executives and boards of larger and smaller companies to recruit the right leaders for business growth, change and succession.  www.standishsearch.com