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Annie Hayes

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Executive failure: An unacceptable rate … continued

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One hundred and twenty essential questions:
Our research has shown that there are over one hundred and twenty questions that should be asked by a new hire in order to ensure success. Alternatively a company wishing to help the new hire to quickly become a net contributor to the wealth of the business can formulate information provided during the induction period around such topics as:

  • What are the aspects of culture that must be preserved and what needs to change?

  • What behaviours does the organisation expect from the new hire?

  • What change programmes have worked in the past and what has not?

  • What does the organisation view as a success and what does is not? (i.e. is team success seen as more important than individual)

  • Who are the people with influence in the organisation.

  • Products and customers.

  • An assessment of success of the job.

The quick win mistake:
New executives know that they have a short time to prove themselves and will often seek to introduce ‘quick wins’. Introducing quick wins carelessly has been the downfall of many executives.

The most common quick-win-to-the-exit-door is to airlift processes and systems that have worked in the past and introduce them into the new job. Often this is done without taking account of the culture of the organisation or the people that have to work the new process or system. This generally produces quick wins that are isolated from the long-term results that are required. All quick wins must compliment future plans, otherwise what’s the point?

Recently a new Personnel Director begun to lose the trust of her team within a few days of her arrival. During an early team meeting she asked her people to consider some quick wins that would “make her look good” to the CEO. Her team informed her that she could save thousands of pounds by removing the free canteen lunch for part-time staff. An email confirming this was sent to all part-time staff. That day the CEO arrived home to find that his wife, who worked part-time in the accounts department, had not cooked him dinner.

“You don’t give me lunch so I’m not cooking you dinner,” she was reported to have said. The free lunch was restored and her team had identified the exit door. The Personnel Director left eight months later.

The importance of coalitions:
One action that improves the chances of success is creating coalitions. There is the need to develop relationships with the boss and the team. However, too many executives spend too much time on these activities whilst ignoring colleagues that will be needed to provide help or co-operation at a later date.

The new executive’s company usually helps identify the key players within the organisation. Those people that control budgets and those that supply goods or services. However to succeed, a new executive also needs to identify the opinion makers, the people with expert knowledge or influence.

Executive failure is expensive and can seriously affect the financial well-being of a company, however, the risks can be significantly reduced below the average 40% with careful planning and a corporate transition policy for all new executives.


Stephen Harvard Davis is a leading authority on job transition and the author of Why do 40% of Executives Fail? ISBN 0-9549637-0-9. He advises senior executives and organisations in the UK and abroad on transition management and retaining top talent within the business. He is a regular speaker at high profile conferences and business meetings. Stephen regularly runs corporate and open seminars on reducing executive failure, contact Stephen on T: (44) 01727 838321, [email protected], www.busrelcon.com, www.stephenharvarddavis.com

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Annie Hayes

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Read more from Annie Hayes
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