Why Do C-Suite Executives Fail?

The new C-Suite executive you've been working so hard to secure has now joined your company and you are ready to, in the words of the rock band Kiss, "Shout it, Shout it, Shout it out loud!" But, within a short period of time you begin to notice that the executive transition is not happening as easily as you wished. Recent Forbes.com studies have been conducted as to why executives fail and how the executives can position themselves for success. As sad as it is, failure is occurring nearly 40% of the time and within the first 18 months with C-Suite executives, so½ when an executive fails, who's to blame? The executive, the business owner, the hiring committee, the board of advisors, a board member or the employees? My response½ it could be a combination of all these individuals; however, most of the blame lies with the newly hired executive and the management team. In my experience, the reasons most failure occurs is due to two primary areas of disconnect: 1. Inability to Seek a Cultural Fit - A miss in the cultural fit tends to happen when an individual doesn't take the time to learn the ins and outs of the company before coming aboard, during the interview process or in the first few weeks. What normally ensues is: • The new executive tries to make an impact or changes too quickly; putting their initiatives and desire to make a difference ahead of developing the relationships and gaining necessary buy-in from all parties. New employees must be prepared to allow time to adjust, build relationships, and learn the nuances of the company and its key players before suggesting significant changes or improvement areas. • As a new executive joins a company and brings prior experiences, the primary benefit is the competitive advantage - after all, that's the reason you hired them right? Yet, if the executive comes across as a know-it-all alienation occurs between the would-be allies within the company and unfortunately one begins making enemies! Without fully understanding the culture, the people and the processes, you will never be successful (and you will not make any friends, either). • Not taking the time necessary to build a following is a major faux pas in a new position. Building a following of supports is essential when starting a new career. Gaining buy-in from key personnel, having individuals at all levels support your initiatives and earning trust are factors that you cannot put by the wayside, they must be first and foremost. 2. Lack of Strong Communication Skills - This includes the basics of exemplifying confidence, relationship building and cultivation, influencing others, and exemplifying true interpersonal skills. • Demonstrating confidence in the new role is critical. In many situations, new leaders feel like they don't belong during their first few months on the job. To succeed, the new executive must project a strong, authoritative presence outside, in spite of how you may be feeling on the inside. • Relationship building and cultivation is of the utmost importance when joining a new company. After all, the best advice you will get and the best information you can acquire about the company's current situation, your role and what the future holds, is from employees (current and past), the board of directors, outside advisors, or vendors. • Influencing others is a skill that can be learned; although many times, good executives exemplify this quality from birth. As you learn to positively influence others, gain buy-in and build trust amongst your colleagues, management team, and subordinates, it will be much easier to gauge where you can be successful and who will help you achieve your goals. As a C-Suite executive, this characteristic is crucial to building your staying power. • Interpersonal communication skills, albeit good or bad, can make or break a new executive. These skills include, not only how we communicate with others, but the belief in the ability to listen and understand. Actively listening, understanding verbal and non-verbal cues, dynamic problem solving, effective decision making and maintaining stress are all areas where a C-Suite executive should excel. Lacking these qualities or showing weakness in any of these areas would lessen an individual's success potential. No executive wants to fail. By knowing what you need to do before landing in the new position and having a management team that is helpful and accessible to answer any questions, the failure rate will be less in your company. There have been various articles posted surrounding the areas of executive failure, but the one I recommend is Sydney Finkelstein's book, "Why Smart Executives Fail and What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes." Also, watch for the follow-up to this topic, which is titled, "3 Tips to Ensure Executive Success."  

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