THE BLOG

Manage Executive Onboarding Risk With Three Key Questions

02/17/2015 03:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

Want to avoid being part of the 40 percent of executives that fail in their first 18 months* in a new job? Answer three key questions before you accept the job to mitigate organization, role and personal risks:

  1. What is the organization's sustainable competitive advantage?
  2. Did anyone have concerns about this role and, if so, what was done to mitigate them?
  3. What, specifically, about me led the organization to offer me the job?

Answer these questions during your due diligence. The most opportune time to complete this is between the offer and acceptance phases. Waiting until later or ignoring this step hurts your potential for success. Make sure you're going to fit with the organization, that you can deliver what needs to get done and that you will be able to see and adjust to changes down the road.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of feeling that we should take a role because it's what others expect us do to. Don't do that. Make your own choices or you will fail, burnout, or worse, be generally unhappy eventually. Answer these questions honestly, before you move on.

In assessing on-boarding risks, three steps can help:

  1. Leverage and supplement these questions about the company, the team, your new boss(es), and the major challenges and objectives you and the organization will face.
  2. Identify potential sources of information: scouts, seconds, and spies across customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors, and conditions.
  3. Gather and analyze the information.

The following are key questions to answer during due diligence to help mitigate risk.

Mitigate organizational risk.

  1. What is the organization's sustainable competitive advantage?
  2. Are there any risks with the current customer base?
  3. Are there any risks with relationships with significant collaborators of the organization?
  4. Does the organization have the capabilities required for long-term success?
  5. Do competitors pose significant risks to the viability of the organization?
  6. Are there any outside conditions that will impact the viability of the organization?

If the organization is doomed to fail, you're going to fail with it.

Mitigate Role risk.

  1. Did anyone have concerns about this role and, if so, what was done to mitigate them?
  2. Why does the position exist? Why did they need to create it in the first place?
  3. What are the objectives and outcomes? What are you supposed to get done?
  4. What will the impact be on the rest of the organization? What kind of interactions can you expect with key stakeholders?
  5. What are your specific responsibilities, including decision-making authority and direct reports?

If the role is set up for failure, you need to know that in advance.

Mitigate Personal risk.

  1. What, specifically, about me led the organization to offer me the job?
  2. Is this the company and role that can best capitalize on my strengths over time?
  3. Will I look forward to coming to work three weeks, months, or years from now?
  4. Will I fit with the culture?

If you don't fit with the organization, you can't converge well and you can't lead.

Overall Risk Assessment

Figure out if you are facing a low, manageable, mission-crippling or insurmountable risk. If you are facing

  • A low level of risk: Do nothing out of the ordinary. (But keep your eyes open for inevitable changes.) This is as good as it gets. You'll have a high likelihood of success.
  • Manageable risk: Manage it in the normal course of your job. This is the most normal case. There are always risks. Identifying the main risks in advance makes it that much easier to manage them.
  • Mission-crippling risks: Resolve them before accepting the job, or mitigate before doing anything else if you are already in the job. This is a tough situation. Not resolving or mitigating these risks means failure. You can't ignore them. Face them and deal with them.
  • Insurmountable barriers: Walk away. Sometimes the situation is beyond your ability to control. When this happens, accept it and either don't take the job or get out. Going down with the ship is a lovely, romantic idea -- for others to fulfill. Not you.

Note this is adapted from The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan.