Executive Selection: Getting It Right

Despite efforts to be thoughtful in selecting and deploying leaders for key roles, we continue to observe unsatisfactory failure rates - around 40% after 18 months. And the costs of failure, estimated to exceed $2MM, seldom account for lost opportunities and other adverse impacts of a failed executive hire on organizational performance. Just in case you need to refresh your memory of what such faltering and failure look like, let us remind you.

The Presenting Situation

Every organization has experienced it:  the recently hired executive, who comes with high expectations but soon begins to disappoint management; or the successful, high-potential manager, who struggles when promoted to a bigger job.  Initially, management may be restrained, expressing less concern than they truly feel.  Then, as early feedback fails to prompt improvement, unease grows.  Others, including colleagues, direct reports, and perhaps even the board, have begun to notice, and the conclusion that “this is not working” registers without being explicitly stated. 

As for the struggling executive, despite her anxiety and doubts, she may at first offer plausible explanations.  But as time passes without improvement, her explanations begin to sound like excuses.  Initially, she may have conveyed an earnest tone, an apologetic attitude, perhaps followed by assurances that she will redouble her efforts. However, as subpar performance persists, her nagging doubts and fears build, often manifesting in increased signs of defensiveness, retreat, even isolation. 

In this way, pressure mounts for the struggling executive and for management.  After all, both parties are paid to produce results, and business performance is lagging with little promise of a change in its trajectory.  By now, the organization has tried to intervene and is running out of patience.  Not only is the faltering executive’s confidence shaken, her support among colleagues and key stakeholders has softened, and perhaps the credibility of management is even on the line:  “How long will they allow this to go on?”

Against this backdrop, alternative courses of action are discussed:  1) If she has a good history with the firm, she might be willing to acknowledge that "it is not working" and take a step back into another role.  2) If she was recruited externally, and specifically for this job, management may be more inclined to cut its losses and offer her a package.  3) Then again, management may have reason to believe that they have caught it early enough to warrant engaging an external coach.  What shall management do now?   Better yet, what might they have done differently to avoid this situation from the outset? 

There Is a Better Way

I can hear it now: "But we put together a great description of the position and candidate requirements with a top notch search consultant. We used a well designed behavioral interviewing method. We even had the candidate assessed by an independent management psychologist. And then, of course, we checked her references. What more could we have done?"

The simplest way to answer that questions is provided by the rather obvious answers to these questions: What if you and the candidate could have known more about what you know now prior to hire? What if you could have anticipated some of the challenges that caught you by surprise? What if you had put in place methods for the new hire to notice and effectively respond to issues earlier? What if expectations for start-up and onboarding had been shaped by this insight and forethought?

These questions reveal some of the vulnerabilities of traditional methods. Our approach, the Get It Right Solution, was specifically designed to avoid the pain and costs associated with an unnecessarily high failure rate in selection. It's an approach that not only helps you get it right once; it builds your independent competence and success rate for all future talent decisions.

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