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Three Source Articles on Executive New Hire Failure Rates

first 100 days / career

Many have heard that the 18 month "failure" rate for new hires, including executives is nearly 50%. 

But someone on LinkedIn, apparently unfamiliar with Google, challenged me with one of those "In God we trust, all others bring data" comments.

If you too have doubts, here are three source articles you can start with.

The first is in The Financial Times that you can request:  Rise of the Headhunter.

Here's the relevant quote from Kevin Kelly the CEO of Heidrick & Struggles: 

"Since taking the helm in 2006, Mr Kelly, 43, has sought to move the firm away from pure recruiting to offering a suite of services that help its clients attract, retain and promote top management. The work was sparked by a recent internal study of 20,000 Heidrick searches, he says. “We’ve found that 40 per cent of executives hired at the senior level are pushed out, fail or quit within 18 months. It’s expensive in terms of lost revenue. It’s expensive in terms of the individual’s hiring. It’s damaging to morale." 

The second is a publication from DDI that you can also request, which references a study of 1700 HR executives that noted the same nearly 50% executive new hire (from the outside) failure rate: Leadership Transitions 2021.

McKinsey triangulates on an executive new hire failure rate between 27 and 46%.  Their source docs for that claim are listed at the end of this post.

If those studies don't get your attention, this might. Another DDI publication surveyed executives and found that transitioning to a new executive job was more stressful than bereavement, dealing with a divorce, and moving!

Moreover, transition failures are not just an executive problem.  A large scale study on the failure rate for for non-executive jobs found it to be 46%:  Why New Hires Fail.

There are many reasons for this high transition failure rate:  recruiting mistakes, poor hiring and selection procedures (the failure rate goes down when more valid, formal assessments are used to hire an executive...go figure), the hiring organization failing to provide any transition support (transition support has been shown to decrease the failure rate from over 40% to 10-15%).

Transitioning to a new executive job was more stressful than bereavement, dealing with a divorce, and moving!

But I think transitioning executives are not taking their share of responsibility.  Few start new jobs with a game plan.  Few can list transition best practices.  Most go it alone without outside support, even from their network.

Why are executives walking into high-stakes jobs so unprepared?  Maybe they don't know how high the failure rate is.  Maybe they are overconfident from past successes.  Maybe in wrapping up their old job, they ran out of time to adequately prepare.

There is plenty of responsibility to go around here.  For anyone interested in addressing elements of this problem, Step 1 is just acknowledging this is one of those fixable problems we are choosing to live with. 


McKinsey Source Docs for their 27-46% failure rate claim:

We compiled these statistics on failure rates and their causes from a number of landmark studies, including Brad Smart and Geoff Smart, Topgrading: How to Hire, Coach and Keep A Players, New York, NY: Penguin, 1999; Mark Murphy, “Leadership IQ study: Why new hires fail,” Public Management, 2005, Volume 88, Number 2; Patricia Wheeler, “Executive transitions market study summary report: 2008,” The Institute of Executive Development, 2008; George Bradt, Jayme Check, and Jorge Pedraza, The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan: How to Take Charge, Build Your Team, and Get Immediate Results, Hoboken NJ: Wiley, 2006; and recent Gallup polls. The specific range mentioned here comes from Executive Transitions Rise, Challenges Continue, IED and Alexcel Research, June 2013 (27 percent), and “High-impact leadership transitions: a transformative approach,” CEB, 2012 (46 percent).