Is this evoking a feeling of déjà vu? Already? Then you are one of the many organizations that have celebrated hires  whose  arrival  is announced   through  glorious Organizational announcements, Press releases, and a considerable stir in the market with Executive Search firm claiming credit for having clinched the deal – got the Star to agree to sign on. This perhaps flashbacks to several months of a painful search with possibly other contenders with not as many star associations – such as experience wit h lea ding organizatio n s, international exposure, associations with professional fora (reflection of networking ability not Manager’ s capability to deliver results) or the fact that the Manager has worked in similar positions in the past, make it quite a straight forward reason to conclude, that the Star’s skills are easily transferrable to the new assignment. ‘Been  there, done that’

  • ‘Seasoned Professional’! This is often accompanied with a fantastic display of Marketing and PR by the representing Search Fir m which announces with much aplomb that the candidate has ‘agreed to meet across the table for an exploratory conversation ‘ . There is much celebration when the deal is clinched
  • all return

The search firm and candidate laughing all the way to the bank. The hiring organization heaving a sigh of relief at the fruition of several months of anticipation, meetings and discussions. The sheer relief of having signed on the ‘Star Candidate’ being far in excess of the cost of hiring. This is where the plot can change. Hiring failures and derailment of new hires particularly in Leadership positions is not a new story. However the instances and the cost of failure have gone up tremendously as more opportunities for Leadership positions open up organization ‘ s expectations get more complex and m ore Employers experience the dilemm as of derailed ‘Star Hires’ who are unable to match their performances with their celebrity status. A Corp orate Executive Board Study (Recruiting Round table Research) indicates that only 50% of selection decisions are ‘ win-win ‘ where bot h candidate and the organization made the right choice – resulting in lower performing and less engaged new hires, as well as higher employee turnover. Besides, while the quality of the candidate short list presented to the hiring team for review has increased 5% over the past year (clear indication of enhanced recruitment performance in sourcing) the quality of hire remains the  same- 50% chance of success on the job. Moreover new hire engage m e n t levels have also remained average over a period of time. Besides to day’ s realities of increasing job complexities and back door reference checks make the selection of the right candidates even more  difficult for organizations. Clearly, given the higher cost of early career turnover, organizations cannot afford to make poor selection decisions particularly in key roles where the cost of having the position become vacant ca n have a significant adverse impact on the business and the morale of the team left behind to deliver. In my own experience, I have witnessed several celebrated hires demolish in stature, respect and reverence as one crack in the armour appears after another and word starts getting around that the Leader is crumbling under t h e pressures of his challenges. In my observation, following are some of the commonly experienced reasons for derailment.

  • The Organization’s presumption that if a leader has succeeded in the past in an organization in the same  sector he can repeat his magic anywhere; presuming transferability of skills, com petencies, and achievements is the most defining folly observed when Star Hires That the Leader should  also have used his own judgment to gauge the topography of the  new organization before accepting the offer, can be a good counter to prevent such failure.
  • Star hires in leadership positions are often hired for their reputation to strategize and are eloquent at expressing their strategic perspectives on Thinking/ Doing are often exclusive skillsets causing the Star Hire to fail for the very reasons he / she was hired for. This is especially pronounced if the organizational terrain requires action -oriented Leaders.
  • Poor ‘culture fit’ is easily the most commonly observed reasons. This could ran get from poor adaptation to ‘ the way things are done around the new organization to the arrogance of not meeting the new organization more than half way to form critical alliances, partnerships, relationships and networks.
  • Inability to integrate and lead the new team to inspire action and achieve milestones in the early Inability to focus on delivering early wins can cause the team to lose. Especially when the new Leader is spending time criticizing the new organization with constant comparisons to past experiences, openly displaying his disengagement rather than working becoming the new Team ‘s binding glue.
  • Displaying poor learning orientation by not acting on feedback and altering behaviour early is the foremost formula for derailm Arrogance, poor listening and inability to learn from the success and failures of others can be a key reason for why star hires fail.

In their book –  ‘Why CEOS  Fail’, David Dotlich and Peter Cair o mention 11 behaviours that cause CEOs to fail. Of these I believe the following five are most observed in the case of Star Hire failures,

  • Arrogance: He is Right . Everybody else is wrong – t his attitude immediately turns off people around the Star Hire
  • Excessive caution: The next decision comes too Inability to read the landscape and make decisions early in the game can cause failure.
  • Habitual Distrust: Excessive focus on the negatives – the company culture is all wrong, the processes are all wrong, the people around are all  wrong, their expectations are all wrong, t his attitude leads to defensive, negative reactions around from peers who see a problem – fixated Leaders unable to become part of the
  • Perfectionism: He get the little things right while the big things go Being unable to see the big things as big and the small ones as s m all c a n lea d  to  becoming  a defocused Leader unable to prioritize and drive efforts in the directions needed for the team ‘ s success.
  • Aloofness: He disengages an disconnects – this behaviour is often read as too arrogant to mingle or secretive. It’s often a mask behind which the Star Hire is struggling with his/ her inability to deliver, make a mark, knows she/ he is failing and the disengagement and disconnect are a defensive reaction to an environment s / he is not able to get a hold of.

In his seminal book “First 90 Days” Michael Watkins emphasises the need to focus on Leadership transitions given the complexity of organisations and the speed at which performance is expected to be delivered. Leaders need to be cautious and must take charge during the first 90 days of being in a new assignment. Transitions into new jobs are critical as small differences in actions can have disproportionate impacts on results. During the first few months, Leaders do not have detailed knowledge of these challenges they are likely to encounter and how they could tackle these. They also don’t have an already available network of relationship to sustain them. Failure to create momentum to rise north in the early days of a new assignment makes it an  uphill task to later on begin delivering. Leaders must ensure they build credibility by securing early signs to establish their success and ear n the respect of their teams and colleagues. This brings us to the question of ‘what can organizations do to prevent Star Hires from failing?’

  • Set clear expectations and play to strengths which can be converted for  performance Drawing  the boundaries bu t giving t h e Star- hires e n o ugh opportunity to learn in an accelerated manner is the key.
  • Enabling the Leader to develop and execute a plan of action early in the game is essential to help the Star Hire secure early
  • Enabling alignment through key exposures, coaching, training and urging teams to rally around the new Leader to ensure alignment, is the key to get the Star Hire to be seen as one of the team?
  • Enabling the Star Hire the freedom to create coalitions, networks and advising him periodically (through a Senior Buddy / Executive Coach) to use power centers and networks to facilitate his success is
  • Achievements – make that a string of small to big wins so that the Star Hire’s presence is firmly established with stake holders, bosses, peers, is key to enable success.

The best part is while the 5 steps mentioned above appear common-sensical it is tragic to see how many hiring m anagers, CEOs, an d others watch fro m the sidelines as Star Hires sink to their failure. I want to at this stage take a step back to look at what organization MUST do to ensure they don’t become the corporate graveyard of potential Leadership talent. How can organizations ensure robust hiring mechanisms to ensure they do not repeat costly hiring mismatches? Save the organization unnecessary stress as Star Hires struggle to save their dignity first, their jobs later, to drag their pressure to a point where they get actively disengaged and cause disruptions to the business adversely impacting organizational, culture and employee morale. Senior Leadership and the quality of leadership, their personal efforts to involve, engage, present the big picture, and be role models is as a key anchor for Employer Engagement. What can organization do to ensure they are not com promised through wrong ‘Star Hires’? Here are some suggestions. TIP1: Raise the bar on quality of hiring leaders by observing what the Star -Hires h ave to offer yo u r organization/business a n d role rather than asking the can didate about himself. Especially when a Star Hire has ‘obliged’ the client organization by agreeing to meet for a potential job opportunity the tendency is to put him/her on a pedestal without exploring what he/she could contribute to the organization as their ability to deliver is presumed. TIP2: Design the process to be optimum for both the new hire and the organization. A successful hiring outcome for any organization is when the employee both delivers and is highly engaged. These are the measures of a good hiring decision. For the new hire – engagement is  a primary measure of  a   ‘good decision’ and fit with the organization. TIP3: Build more rigour into the final decision to hire. It is a good idea to involve multiple  decision makers, creating tools to capture evidence based decisions. Engage hiring managers in programs such as competency based interviewing to m aster  the   techniqu es of Behavioural Event Interviewing, understand how to interpret results of psychometric tools (if used) and generally use multiple data points to ensure a successful hiring decision. TIP4: Ensure hiring decisions are made with high quality inputs by focusing on data that matters the most.

  • Work on defining the position requirements and ideal candidate
  • Pre-identify are as where informatin provided by the candidate is inadequate.
  • Explore new options for gathering accurate data
  • Provide hiring manager with labour market insights focused on talent

TIP5: Focus on capturing accurate and consistent candidate- reported information especially on hand to quantify experiences by standardizing self reporting. TIP6: Validate competencies that can only be accurately judged over a longer period of time by leveraging the observations of others; solicit informatio n fro m a wider set of references to increase the quality and breadth of information. TIP 7: Pay enough attention to candidate decision – making by improving the quality of information being provided to the potential candidate while making his/her decision. Equip recruiters, line managers and recruiting teams with tool kits to ensure they deliver consistent and accurate messages about the organization. TIP8: Create alternate channels to educate candidates and provide accurate information to  candidates through employer website, employee blogs, headhunters etc. TIP9: Implement cost effective and efficient ways of scaling up the quality of  hiring  and  rigor  by providing candidates  an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities without making the process tedious. Enable hiring mangers to meet a larger pool of candidates if available. TIP10: Avoid early candidate failures by managing key  hiring  touch points. Analyze the quality of introductions at various touch points to improve candidate experience. These tips if followed  can  ensure sufficient rigor into any hiring  process and is less likely to yield lose-lose hiring decisions. Today’s realities of job complexity, shrinking recruitment lead times and myopic fire fighter hiring, also back door reference checks are making the selection of right candidates more and more difficult for organizations.

  • Research conclude d by CEB indicates that 26% of the time a new hire feels confident that he / she has made the right decision to accept the job but the hiring manager lacks
  • 18% of time the hiring manager feels he has made the right decision but the new hire lacks
  • Overall 32% of hiring managers question their own hiring decisions and m ore than 24% of new hires question their own decision to join the
  • In a typical organization that hires about 2500 people every year, poor decisions a mount to almost 30 million USD in loss of turnover and under perform a Add t h e cost of hiring and angst of failure, stress to teams and additional losses arising from low morale a n d disengagement to that and we have a toxic recipe for disaster.
  • In the case of Star Hires, the failure is many times multiplied in the context of expectations and the sharp fall of the leader to ashes when he is pronounced a Its tragic to say t h e least aspirations are shattered, role models minionized, organizations turn cynical  and employees disillusioned.
  • What organizations need is a plan to em ploy selection strategies that are robust – need-based rather than availability-based. Rooted in the realities of accurate inform ation leveraged to make astute hiring
  • Eric Foss – CEO Pepsi Bottling Group was quoted as saying “There is no development system that is going to compensate for making a bad hire’. Any organization that optimistically hopes to fix their bad hiring decisions through development initiatives will need to revisit the drawing

Development is not the panacea for bad hiring decisions. Star Failures are Hiring failures + Organizational failure in accelerating Transitions in new roles. Put a star to this sentence to remember that!! (References CEB – Driving Win -Win Selection Decisions, The First 90 Days – Michael D Watkins, Why CEOs fail – David L Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo)