John McEnroe, arguing with umpire. Champions C...

"Poor fit!"

"Didn't deliver!"

"Things changed!"

40% of executives fail in their first 18 months*.  The vast majority of the roundabout, convoluted, euphemisministic explanations we hear for those failures are subsets of one of those three: fit, delivery, adjustment.  And whomever we’re talking to almost always thinks the failure was someone else’s fault.  New executives blame the organization.  Organizations blame the executives.

Are you kidding me!

Onboarding failures are ridiculously expensive.  There’s enough pain and enough blame to go around.  So who’s to blame for a poor fit, inadequate delivery, or not dealing with change?


Let’s take them one by one.

"Poor fit."

This is generally the excuse for a role misalignment, a personal failure, or poor relationships.  It comes to light in such guises as:

“Did not fit in”

“The role turned out to be different than expected”

“Poor relationships with a key ally”

“Didn’t like the job”

Actions by the boss/organization to mitigate these risks:

  • Get people aligned around the role in advance
  • Make sure everyone is interviewing off a recruiting brief
  • Take accommodation issues off the table
  • Actively assimilate: stakeholders, behind the scenes networks, special projects, meetings and events, connecting tools

Actions by the executive to mitigate these risks:

  • Do your due diligence (BRAVE)
  • Get a head start
  • Manage the message: esp. with boss

"Didn't deliver."

This is the #1 reason for failure.  If people deliver, but don’t fit in, organizations find ways to adjust.  If things change, but people keep delivering, things end up okay in the end.  While all roads lead to delivery failure, learning, role, and personal risks often play a big part.  We hear things like:

“Didn’t lose.  Just ran out of time”  (for people quoting Lombardi)

“Job was too big for one person”

“Job required different strengths than expected”

Actions by the boss/organization to mitigate these risks:

  • Provide clear direction
  • Provide adequate resources
  • Provide needed support

Actions by the executive to mitigate these risks:

  • Build the team – fast (put in place an imperative, milestones, early wins, role sort and communication platform)

"Things changed."

What’s scary about this is how often the changes were in progress even before the new leader got there.  Certainly situations do change.  But often the division that got shut down had been planned to be shut down even as they were recruiting a new executive for the division.  Often organizations are on a path to going out of business well before a new executive shows up.

Actions by the boss/organization to mitigate these risks:

  • Help the new executive see all the changes that are coming
  • Help the new executive figure out which of these changes are going to have the greatest impact over time

Actions by the executive to mitigate these risks:

  • Do a real due diligence before accepting a job to understand the changes already in the works
  • Keep your eyes open for change
  • Sort changes major vs. minor, and temporary vs. permanent impact to guide your actions.

The Bottom Line

There will always be some people that just don’t fit.  There will always be some circumstances in which things won’t get delivered.  There will always be changes.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is that there are far more instances of these things happening and derailing organizations and individuals than there should be – than there would be if people just paid attention to some onboarding basics.

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*As Anne Fisher pointed out in New job?  Get a head start now – Fortune, 17-February, 2012, the failure rate for new executives "research shows has stood at about 40% for at least 15 years now" – "About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months".  In contrast, over 90% of the executives PrimeGenesis has helped since 2003 were either still in place or promoted at the 18 month point.Enhanced by Zemanta