According to Harvard’s Professor Michael Watkins, candidates recruited to executive positions last on average less than four years. Forbes recently reported that companies are bleeding corporate leadership talent at an unprecedented rate. And when leaders leave, it is rare to find they had the wrong skills or qualifications; usually they are described as “not a fit” with the new company and its culture.
This failure rate should not be tolerated, by either the hiring companies or the hired executives. That’s why I employ a rigorous search and evaluation process, ending with what we call F18. This process is the Surprise Killer.
Surprises are the real culprit in executive departures. Companies complain that once in the role, candidates don’t match their expectations. And candidates complain that they were “misinformed” with respect to the true nature of their new role: job scope is not what was promised, products are farther from market-ready than described, teammates are not who they seemed during the hiring process. Disappointment leads to termination or resignation. Companies have been destroyed over much less than this!
I adopt three operating principals to eliminate surprises:
- Good news AND bad news, discussed right upfront All jobs have some combination of assets and liabilities. As search professionals, we explore both sides of that balance sheet with each candidate right from the start. The flipside is the same for companies evaluating the executives we recruit; all will have some combination of strengths and challenges that must be understood. There is no purpose in holding back for either party.
- No is always a good answer Some deals should not get done. Some folks just aren’t right for some opportunities. We should encourage both parties to be open and transparent, walking away if it’s the right thing to do — without rancor or judgment.
- Enhanced mutual evaluation through F18 In addition to extensive candidate referencing, we enhance our final process with what we call F18. F18 is a chance for a full board and/or management team to meet with finalist candidates in a sleeves-rolled-up/nowhere-to-hide working session, to hash out strategic direction and define mutual expectations. Everyone who participates comes away with a much better sense of how they will work together — for better or for worse.
We’ve been using F18 for over a decade now. Our track record has been encouraging. We always hear from our clients and placements that this step is the most effective process for eliminating surprises they have seen. Our CEO retention rate is way over 7 years! If we can make that claim in the fiercely competitive Silicon Valley, then our approach is a real Surprise Killer.