How to avoid recruiting the wrong leader

How to avoid recruiting the wrong leader

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA
01. Nov 2020 | 5 min read

How to avoid recruiting the wrong leader

A ‘recruiting error’ is seldom an error of selection. The real error lies in not helping the new recruit perform in practice. This article shows that helping managers succeed in 100 days holds far more potential than further refinement of recruiting practices.


We use enormous amounts of time and money choosing each other. We have developed tests and e-recruiting systems, wade through sometimes 100s of applications and use what feels like half a life interviewing when we are in recruiting mode. The global recruiting industry is worth over $200 billion per year. At the top end of the industry, headhunters make a fortune recruiting executives.

Headhunters logos with dollars

But we spend very little time making sure the people we have chosen succeed in practice. We don’t protect our investment. Why is that?


It is wrong to blame selection error

When a manager fails in a new role, we immediately conclude that they were wrong for the job. Where does that come from?

We have traditionally been self-critical in terms of the rigour of recruiting processes. Many managers and HR professionals accept that interviewing is a social process where we make snap judgements based on personal preferences. We spend the rest of the interview confirming our first impression. Most know that this tendency must be adjusted for by basing recruitment decisions on more objective data gathered in semi-structured interviews, smart application processes, tests etc. In addition, e-recruiting systems have made us be clearer in role analyses, job specifications and competence requirements.

Make things better

We have improved selection process quality but still blame selection when managers fail.

The argument that the cause of failure must lie elsewhere is reinforced by the unchanging high failure rate amongst managers changing roles. Up to 40% are out of the role within 18 months. Things didn’t work out.

40% error then and now

The many improvements in the recruiting process have not influenced the failure rate. That implies that there must be another explanation.

The tendency to blame selection error can be explained by Kahneman’s What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). This is a cognitive bias where we base decisions on the data right in front of us. We tend not to take the time to search outside our immediate field of attention. With our attention fixed on selection it must be selection that is at fault, right?

This is compounded by the complications involved when new managers fail. Failure is painful and embarrassing.


The manager’s boss has sold the new manager internally as the answer to all problems. The manager themselves is desperate to avoid being labelled a failure. It is best for everyone to deal with failure as quietly as possible. It disappears from view and we don’t see the pattern of many failing across units and organisations.


The real challenge is onboarding

The onboarding process is the predictable point in time in a manager’s worklife when many things change at once. They have a new boss, new colleagues, a new team, a new culture, new goals and tasks, new customers or users of their services, and new work processes and IT systems. When many things change at once, the likelihood of something going wrong is high.


It is probable that it is the number of things that change when changing roles that explains the high failure rate amongst managers changing jobs, not selection error.

Management of the general onboarding process for all employees has improved. Many organisations now have someone in the HR function responsible for the onboarding process. This process is defined in, and supported by, HR IT-systems. But there are 2 problems:

  1. Support for the onboarding process is often overly simplistic, normally expressed in simple checklists concerning practical tasks. The complexities of adapting to a completely new culture, and the challenges of making one’s competence count, are often barely touched.
  2. There is no support specifically for managers. Their role is qualitatively different to employees in general. They achieve results through others, are responsible for more moving parts than non-managers, and fail more often with greater impact than for non-managers. Organisations should have onboarding programmes specifically for managers.


The 100 day programme

100 Days AS has developed the, to our knowledge, only digital support programme for management role transitions. Support has to be digital in order to be affordable for all managers. Coaching and off-site training, the only alternatives, cost too much.

The programme, called ELLA, provides organisations with a best practice basis on which to build their programme for helping their managers succeed in a new role. Please dowmload our ebook if you want to know more.

Free ebook about how leadership success is created in a new role

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Organisational psychologist with an MBA. Broad top management experience spanning many industries, functions and countries, including 10 years with corporate responsibility for HR. Extensive experience as consultant in private, public and voluntary sectors. A number of board positions in the education and culture sectors. Started career as counsellor for drug and alcohol abusers.

Follow our blog

We write professional blogs worth a read.
Follow the blog for a sneak peek of the future!

You may also read

Springboarding for people-leaders in new roles

May 10, 2021 - Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Springboarding for people-leaders in new roles

Leaders need help to succeed in a new role when so much changes, and expectations are so high. Springboarding..

The Google method of effective leadership development

Nov 01, 2020 - Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

The Google method of effective leadership development

We all use google searches to find answers to our questions. We often look at the videos google suggests for..

The most effective leadership development approach possible

Nov 01, 2020 - Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

The most effective leadership development approach possible

Many are sceptical to the return on the investment made in leadership development. A promising new approach..