You’ve been furloughed or laid off. If you received a severance package, it was not very generous. You feel the clock ticking. Almost all your effort is directed towards selling yourself and getting an offer. And then the offer comes. Excited, and almost as an afterthought, you enter into negotiations on compensation, leave, start date, scope of responsibilities, etc. There is a critical element that benefits both the employer and employee but is almost never discussed.
When you are living in the now, it is hard to project too far into the future. But just imagine a year from now, being in transition once again, because this new opportunity you're embarking on didn’t work out.
Think of the recruitment process as online dating. A bad fit gets weeded out quickly. But even a perfect match doesn’t guarantee a great marriage. We have to work at it. Shit happens that requires us to react. The wrong reaction can lead to a cascade of unfortunate consequences.
A senior leader was hired to run half of the North American business in a $6B company, with a clear path to an even bigger position. He came from the industry, and he had impeccable credentials in his former company. He never got his footing. The company’s immune system was on high alert. He dug into the details of the business, into areas long-time execs who reported to him felt were their own domains. Upset at his hands-on approach, several talented business heads bolted. In less than 2 years, he was gone, leaving havoc in his wake. His next two roles, as CEO, had stellar results. Was he only incompetent in one job in his career? Not at all; he just made unfortunate choices that went sideways.
I’ve researched why executives fail. The answer depends upon whom you ask.
Ask the executive, and they will give you environmental factors that they didn’t handle as well as they could. Key among them:
Ask the company, they will find themselves blameless, and they will instead blame the failure squarely on the executive:
You know what’s trivial on either list? Not having the functional skills to do the job. Executives never admitted to being underqualified. Employers only noted this in 11% of cases.
People issues get talented leaders in trouble. And as best as you can, it's in your best interest to investigate those potential issues now. Understand the culture, not just what is in an HR manual but how things actually get done here. Think about the person who will be on your team who thinks they should get the job. Feel confident that the corporate snow job is over, and you really know the state of the business. I’ll spare you a longer list of what-to-do’s and watch-outs, and go straight to an element on both lists, coaching. You know the adage about advice: “The wise don’t need it and the foolish don’t heed it.” The adage is wrong. Everybody needs advice. All of us sometimes fail to heed it. Often, advice is so subtle or from such unexpected sources that it goes unnoticed.
This is why a coach or mentor is so important, especially in the critical early months in a new job. It helps to recognize advice when it is given and to have somebody who reminds you of what’s important. It makes no difference how senior you are. CEOs need mentors. Functional heads need people whose counsel they can count on. Sometimes that resource can be inside the organization. The head of a regional office might find a sounding board and an honest voice in her peer in another office. Most often, senior executives need to find coaching outside.
When negotiating your offer, asking for a coach or mentor creates a win-win. For the company, formalized guidance reduces the risk of failed hire, and the cost and disruption that come with it. It comes down to an attractive ROI. The executive gains an opportunity grow their EQ, further develop management and influencing skills, accelerate impact and reduce the chance of trauma that comes from an unsuccessful tenure.
Not all companies recognize the benefits of investing in an external coach or mentor, but the offer negotiation is the ideal time to explore the opportunity. Many executives would pay for a coach anyway. There is little harm in asking for this to be at least a shared investment
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.