In today’s hyper-competitive environment, attracting and hiring high-potential employees is a crucial element of organizational success. This endeavor also holds considerable risks, as bringing the wrong person on board can incur significant costs, slow down team performance, and negatively impact the bottom line.
When it comes to executive hires, these concerns are only heightened. Industry estimates suggest that anywhere between 50 and 60 percent of executives fail within the first 18 months on the job. Even more intriguing, the failure rates of senior executives are increasing. One analysis reported that CEOs who were hired during the past 25 years were three times more likely to be fired than their counterparts who were appointed in an earlier period.
Given these sobering numbers, it is not surprising that HR and other senior leaders are searching for ways to mitigate these risks.
Executive search firms are often seen as a vital part of the solution. However, not all search firms are created equal. How can you find the best partner? Perhaps the most important question to ask is whether a firm includes executive coaching as part of its placement package.
The Integral Role of Executive Coaching
The vast majority of search firms offer coaching as an add-on service that can be provided for an additional fee after the candidate has been placed in the role. The bulk of the work of traditional search firms focuses on sourcing, screening, and placing the candidate. Very few, if any, of a traditional search firm’s efforts concentrate on candidate integration, unless a problem arises.
Firms may make check-in calls to see how things are going, but these conversations tend to be superficial at best. This type of polite conversation does not provide much opportunity to identify, let alone address, any potentially issues or warning signs perceived by either the employer or the new employee.
Evidence suggests this is a highly risky approach, as incoming executives are prone to certain challenges that may explain their high failure rates. In one study, 38 percent of executives surveyed said they were unprepared for the loneliness that accompanied their jobs, and 54 percent felt they were being held accountable for issues beyond their control.
The value of an executive coach is readily apparent in both of these situations. In the first, the coach can act as a strategic partner and trusted advisor to support the executive as they start making connections and integrating into their new role and environment. The coach can also help the incoming hire create a strategy to build key relationships more quickly to buffer against this sense of isolation.
Executive coaches can play an arguably even more important role when navigating the second challenge. While the job description and expectations may have seemed clear during negotiations, the reality of the role and work environment may be perceived quite differently upon arrival. Indeed, both the new hire and the hiring organization may feel the “psychological contract” they signed is not being honored by the other party.
One compelling study into forced CEO dismissals conducted by RHR International discovered that hiring organizations often did not dedicate enough time and resources to defining the requirements for the incoming chief executive. If this happens for arguably the most strategic hire in an organization, what is the likelihood that sufficient time and attention will be provided to scoping out roles further down the hierarchy?
Having a highly skilled coach who interfaces with both the executive as well as the hiring organization provides a channel for facilitated conversations where expectations can be brought in line and potential issues addressed before they cause serious problems.
The above research suggests organizations may be wise to rethink their typical approaches to engaging executive search firms. While identifying and sourcing talent is critical, onboarding new executives quickly and effectively is an equally, if not more, important element of making the right executive hire.
Craig Dowden is the author of the Amazon best-seller Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership and the chief leadership officer of Keynote Search.