Why do so many executive hires fail?

The statistics on executive failures are stunning:

  • Nearly 50% of executive new hires fail within the first 18 months 
  • 69% say the biggest stumbling block of integrating is a lack of understanding of norms and practices – in other words, a cultural misfit
  • 68% of CEO’s admit they weren’t fully prepared for the job, particularly the personal and interpersonal components of leadership
  • The cost of executive turnover can be up to 200% of their salary

There is no doubt an executive failure is tremendously costly.  The recruiting process alone can incur significant expenses, particularly if the organization is using an external recruiting firm.  And, the impact on the rest of the organization is immense.  Impacts to productivity, engagement and retention can be tremendous if you have an executive fail and leave by their own choice, or by yours.  

Many people think of these as hiring failures.  But, calling these hiring failures is a misnomer.  These are integration failures.  Most organizations hire executives that are highly qualified and have the technical skills for the role.  The organization then completes “onboarding” or ensuring all the administrative tasks are taken care of.  And, that’s where it ends. The most critical step of integration includes building trusted relationships, clarifying expectations, learning and adapting to cultural norms and laying the groundwork for future success.  Unfortunately, this integration process is usually skipped altogether, or it is assumed that it will take care of itself.  The reality is that it does not take care of itself, and there are significant benefits to investing early in a newly hired or promoted executive to get this right!  

So, what should an organization do to increase their chances of successful integration of a new executive? The first thing is to recognize that many senior level people have limited experience integrating into a new role at an executive level.  Certainly, they have been successful in their career up to this point but taking on a new executive position and integrating successfully at that level can bring its own set of challenges that they have not yet encountered.  Many boards or CEO’s believe they are hiring a seasoned leader who shouldn’t need much help.  The reality is that investing into an executive’s integration process is well worth it to reduce the likelihood of executive failure.  

neXis infographic

Here are the 5 key components of a 180-day integration framework we use to coach new executive hires as part of our neXis service:

  1. Have the new executive create a 100-day plan that includes their approach to integration. Be sure to verify that it includes enough time to build relationships and learn the culture.
  2. Provide an executive coach so they have a confidential, trusted resource who can be a sounding board for them and help them work through any challenges they face during their own major life change of taking on a new job.
  3. Ask the new executive to provide you with a 100-day report-out.  This should include how the 100-day plan worked, high-level observations about the organization and their own function, and their integration plans for the remainder of their first 6 months.
  4. Gather informal feedback from peers, direct reports and combine it with your own feedback. Share this with the new executive and provide any early course corrections, if needed.
  5. After 6 months, complete a formal 360-degree assessment.  Use this as an opportunity to get a pulse on how the executive thinks things are going as well as the people around them.  This can also help set the stage for the remainder of their first year and signal the investment you are willing to make for this to be successful.

Today, only 33% of new hires receive integration support.  But, for those that do, 80% think it made a major difference.  Providing this integration support helps you more quickly realize a productive, contributing relationship with your new executive, and minimizes the likelihood of having to recruit again or deal with retention issues of others in the organization.

Using an external resource to help you facilitate and enrich this integration framework can be powerful. An external resource is objective and fully focused on helping you and your new executive be successful.  HR4D has helped dozens of executives onboard successfully.  Contact us today to help you go beyond onboarding and effectively integrate your new executive!


Jennifer is a seasoned leader and executive coach with over 20 years experience including as a Chief Human Resources Officer overseeing the HR and Communications functions. She is an Associate Certified Coach through ICF.

HR4D’s mission is to ensure our client organizations fulfill their visions, by adopting their goals as ours, creating solutions that are right for them, and making the people who hire us professionally successful.  Contact us to learn more!