TOM LONG
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 8:00AM EST
Last updated Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 8:00AM EST

Tom Long is managing partner of Tom Long Consulting Inc.

When a business leader is put into a new senior role, there is always a risk that it won’t work.  The risk may actually be quite small – that is the likely case in an internal promotion where the executive is well-known, respected and carefully groomed to step up into the position.

Nonetheless, some level of risk exists.  The odds of performance failure or tissue rejection by the organization increases as risk is layered on risk.  For example, where a company hires a senior executive from outside the organization who is new to both the sector and the market.  There may be compelling, even exciting reasons to make the appointment, but hoping for the best and leaving matters to chance is not a prudent course of action.

The costs of a failed senior hire are steep for all concerned.  Some of that is obvious.  Termination packages can be costly.  Nine-month stints with unhappy former employers are awkward to explain to prospective ones.

But it goes deeper than that.  A short-term senior appointment leads to major decisions that need to be undone, client and partner relations that need to be recovered and repaired, and opportunities and time lost while the organization comes to terms with the need to cut its losses and change direction.

The good news is that, while appointment risks can never be fully eliminated, these can be isolated, calibrated and mitigated with timely, thoughtful management.  Here is how.

Experience shows that companies over-invest on the selection process, and under-invest in the integration of top talent.  This is understandable.  A vacant senior role, especially chief executive, requires concentrated, urgent attention.  Board members and top members of management drop tools to focus on finding that right next leader.  Once the selection is complete, however, everyone, including the selected executive, is anxious to get back to work.  While understandable, this leaves the job half-complete – and is a huge missed opportunity.

There is a demonstrable payoff in compressing the integration phase to enable a new CEO to perform at full potential.  It is also true that the reasons why a particular executive may not work out or be slow to adapt with careful thought are usually (but not always) predictable.

What is too often missing is the willingness to invest the time to clear the path to a successful launch.  For starters, it may not feel right after working hard to attract the executive to then dim the positive glow by beginning with a discussion that anticipates difficulty and failure.

While that reluctance is natural, there are substantial dividends to be realized for the business and the executive by making discussable any barriers to smooth integration on day one and to plan together how best to avoid the foreseeable pitfalls.  That is a much more productive and comfortable time to put these issues and concerns on the table.

If it is going to happen, buyer’s remorse is most likely to arise nine to 12 months after a new executive arrives.  The honeymoon is over, it can be too early to demonstrate performance results and lingering, unexpressed concerns will probably have manifested themselves.

Waiting until this point to raise the issues will be awkward for all concerned, and embarrassing for and unwelcomed by the new recruit.

A top executive getting started will appreciate that the company is being open, involving and focused on investing in ensuring her/his success in the new position.

Time and attention devoted early to complete the often overlooked half of the job simply accrues to everyone’s benefit.  As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”