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A Third of Executives Consider Quitting In Their First 90 Days

Senior executives are being poorly recruited and entered into UK organisations, according to new research out today (4 October 2012) from executive search firm Harvey Nash, with more than one in three (39 per cent) finding their start so bad they considered walking away from the organisation within the first three months. As a result of incomplete and inaccurate information about the role and organisation, one in five executives feel they do not fit in well with their business.

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Executives say they could be on average 50 per cent more productive if their start in the business had been better organised, with executives who had a positive start evaluating themselves as significantly more effective. This effect is further amplified by lost productivity cascading through the team the executive is leading, so the actual cost of failing to onboard an executive in a way that delivers a good return on a company's investment in them runs into tens of thousands.

The research, 'Onboard and upwards: How an executive's first 90 days make or break the ones that follow', was conducted by over 280 senior executives from FTSE 350 and large non-FTSE companies in the UK, and some NHS and public sector organisations, who had all joined their organisation within the last year. It found that three quarters (73 per cent) plan to leave within three years and over a third (37 per cent) plan to stay for less than a year or are already seeking a new position elsewhere. Only a quarter (24 per cent) believed their induction into the business very useful and only half (49 per cent) feel they can raise difficult issues with their Chief Executive or immediate boss.

Lucy McGee, Director of Leadership Services at Harvey Nash, comments: "The quality of the first 90 days for an executive, and how well they are introduced into the organisation, are crucial to their long-term success and productivity in the business. But executives are all too often left to sink or swim. To be effective they need a clear understanding of what they'll be measured on and how best to work with their boss. Organisations should be more upfront and honest about the challenges ahead, and do much more to support new senior leaders in acclimatising. The positive impact of even the very best selection process can be more than undone in the first 90 days."

Executives frequently lack a means of measuring their own performance and contribution in their early days: just under half (46 per cent) say their key performance indicators are not set and agreed within their first month, and 32 per cent complete their first 90 days with goals still not agreed, despite most having a great deal of contact with their direct line manager.

Part of this problem may be a misrepresentation of both the business and the role in the 'wooing process' that is executive selection; a quarter of executives felt the organisation was not accurately portrayed in the recruitment and interview process, and just one in five (17 per cent) felt the organisation lived up to expectations. A third (33 per cent) said their role had changed significantly from the one outlined at the interview stage. Those who said it had changed significantly were also more likely to consider quitting in their first 90 days. Likewise, for those executives who reported the role or business was not accurately portrayed during recruitment, their interest in the business also decreased.

Some 41 per cent of executives have only one or two formal interviews, plus perhaps another informal chat, which suggests that some organisations are making important hiring decisions without the necessary rigour.

Lucy McGee continues: "There is also a real opportunity to improve the start executives have in their organisations by using the data gathered in the recruitment and selection phase. We found that while executives often go through formal assessment or psychometric testing, this valuable data is rarely leveraged to give them a strong start in their new role, and many never even see the results of this."

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For further information, please contact Keir Bosley / Amy Murphy at CHA on 020 7580 7025 or /


About the research:

Fieldwork was conducted in late July / early August 2012 through a mix of online surveys and telephone interviews conducted amongst senior executives from a cross-section of public sector, FTSE 350 companies, large UK non-FTSE companies, and UK subsidiaries of multinational organisations. All respondents had joined their organisations within the last year. A total of 202 telephone interviews (of which 50 were NHS and public) were completed by Illuma Research on behalf of Harvey Nash. In addition, Harvey Nash implemented an online survey using the same questionnaire: a total of 81 responses were obtained. A further 38 online interviews were conducted amongst HR directors.

About Harvey Nash:

Established in 1988, Harvey Nash has supported many of the world's leading organisations to recruit, source and manage the highly skilled talent they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive and technology driven world. With 4,000 professionals in 40 offices across the USA, Europe and Asia the Group has the reach and resources of a global organisation, whilst fostering a culture of innovation and agility that empowers its people to respond to constantly changing client needs. We work with clients, both large and small, to deliver a portfolio of services: executive search, professional recruitment and outsourcing.

In a practice that sits within our Executive Search division, Harvey Nash's Leadership Services consultants combine business experience with deep expertise in executive and high potentials assessment. We provide a comprehensive analysis of capability, potential and risk, as well as organisational fit, to help our clients take decisive action on people in the context of:

  • Short-listed, or final, candidate selection (internal and external)
  • Succession planning
  • Executive development & transition
  • Mergers & acquisitions, strategic change or reorganisation
  • ilding new management teams
  • e-investment due diligence