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Best Practices in Recruiting Senior Executives

By Deb McClanahan, BroadBandHR Consulting

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that 64% of executives fail in their new jobs when entering a new company. Another study, published in Forbes magazine last year noted that 70% of executives surveyed were dissatisfied with their initial paths to productivity.

Well-planned On-Boarding brings a wealth of positive outcomes, including significant reductions in both of these failure rates. Unfortunately in many cases, neither the organization nor the executive has given enough thought or effort to ensure a smooth transition and earliest possible productivity for the new executive.

The groundwork for much of a successful On-Boarding is laid in the recruiting process. Successful recruitment demands that you focus on the candidate during the process; be "in the moment" with and for them — this is the ultimate Best Practice in recruiting senior executives. We will now discuss the practices that are critical for the early productivity and assimilation of a senior executive.

My five keys to successful On-Boarding are:

  • Clear Expectations and Success Metrics
  • The "Personal"
  • Infrastructure for Immediate Support
  • Appropriate Introductions
  • Understanding Cultural Imperatives

Clear Expectations and Metrics

It is crucial to have a clear understanding of what success looks like in the new role. Developing a consensus for expectations for both performance and results can be a great bonding exercise for supervisor and subordinate. Jointly developing the objective measures that will be used to assess performance and results should happen as early in the process as possible (I prefer to have this resolved after the offer is accepted and before the executive comes on-board).

The "Personal"

Well-managed relocation, temporary housing, and other personal concerns can boost early productivity for senior executives. It is often most productive to have a consulting or relocation firm attend to these activities to minimize the time required from the executive and his/her staff. These are usually not the kind of activity that can be easily accomplished after close of business (DMV, home or renter's insurance, school visits for school selection, etc.) and are often make the difference in a smooth transition in for the executive.

Be sure to include "trailing spouse" issues in this list of personal issues which can be severely distracting to the new executive unless handled appropriately. Special needs for children and pets (especially horses) will require additional time, care, and expense. We have seen more executive moves derailed by these issues than any other single item.


As connected as we all are today, telecom and computer infrastructure is essential to have in place for the new executive on Day One — if not before. Email accounts, computer equipment, standardized Blackberry or other device which matches the organization should be planned as soon as the candidates accepts or when the announcement is made if more appropriate. If the individual is to have an Administrative Assistant, getting that person involved upfront is also critical, both from the infrastructure and personal perspective.

Some organizations look at a coach as part of this early infrastructure to assure early productivity. Whether internal or external, a coach or mentor is often an investment in support structure that can pay real dividends in this process.


The wise organization seeks input from the executive on how and when to do introductions. Particularly if the position is a new role, a crisp yet thorough communication strategy will set the new executive up for success, rather than bogging him/her down with explanations and potentially negative early reactions.

Early and appropriate introductions can go a long way to beginning the building of key relationships with stakeholders, both internally and externally. Building early relationship equity in the new organization is as important as any other single factor.

Understanding Cultural Imperatives

While the first 90 days' performance is critical to a successful start, it is also important to understand the environment you are entering. If you've been brought in with a mandate for change, do you really understand what in the organization needs to change? Is there a groundswell of support from your extended team and stakeholders for such a change? Or do you need to start at the beginning and build that support? These are but a few examples of how critical having a strong understanding of the organization's history and cultural landscape can be.

Matching the tone and style of an organization is often difficult to do without a clear understanding of the organization's cultural norms and processes. Particularly in an organization with a longer history, at least some clarity around the history is needed to identify where to make changes. Many organizations bristle when someone says "At XYZ company, we did it this way...". Ensure that you understand where those lines of demarcation are.

Doing the right things is as important as doing things right. If you have been recruited to refine processes that are in existence and working, you have a different set of cultural norms to work with. A detailed game plan reviewed with your supervisor in the first or second week can confirm that you are both doing the right things and doing things right.


This article offers a brief overview of the issues regarding the successful On-Boarding of senior executives. A thorough review of your specific situation may well be in order, and is often best performed by an independent 3rd party consultant. Anyone who has been involved in the hiring of a senior executive may think that they understand the whole On-Boarding process. However, a regular, thoughtful review of an organization's On-Boarding practices will ensure that both the process and the results are optimized, and that key failures are avoided.


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