The top 4 obstacles that cause new company presidents to fail

By Patrick TheanPatrick Thean

According to Business Insider, “50 to 70 percent of executives fail within the first 18 months of promotion into an executive role, either from within or coming from outside the organization.”

That is a terrible success rate. It’s even harder for a new president to succeed. If you are considering hiring a new president for your company, the odds of success are against you, but if you can remove the following four obstacles, you might be able to reverse those odds and succeed.

Obstacle 1: Changing expectations

The new president starts, and we are so happy and excited. What are our expectations? That’s easy — just run the company and hit the numbers, right? It’s not that simple. If it were, many would have succeeded before you. Yes, the new president has to hit targets. But we often stumble over how he or she goes about trying to hit those targets.

The mistake a lot of boards make is not writing down expectations clearly, having a clear discussion about them or coming to an agreement on what success looks like for the first 90 days, six months and the first year. Our memories are not as good as we would like them to be. We need to write our expectations down and agree on them, so that we can come back to them over the course of the year.

Obstacle 2: Clinging to old habits

It is so easy to agree that we need new methods and new ideas. Then the new president tries to bring in new ideas, methods, and tools, and we react with “whoa… that’s not how we do it here.” Sometimes the approaches and habits that have made us successful are not the right ones to take us to the next level of success. It is hard to give up an old tool or process that got us this far, but not being willing to give up tried-and-true habits can be a major obstacle to both your future success as well as your new president’s ability to make an impact.

When your president suggests changes, remain open. Ask more questions. Seek to understand. You will probably learn something new and find ways to remove old processes that might be stumbling blocks for your future success.

Obstacle 3: Stopping the new president from making critical people changes

One of the hardest things to do is to give up control over people decisions. You need to tackle this obstacle during the interview process. You need to understand how your prospective hire makes people decisions. What is the person’s track record for growing team members and also replacing them when the company has outgrown them?

Get comfortable with his process, and talk through what you think of each person that you expect the new president to inherit. Discuss how he or she will assess critical resources and work with people before coming on board. This way, there will be no surprises. Get aligned on these people decisions, or you will waste countless hours second-guessing your new president’s decisions.

Obstacle 4: Letting the small stuff create conflict

If you are working closely with your new president, there will be some friction. If there is no friction, then you’re not discussing critical issues. Remember, if something doesn’t matter, you probably won’t have an opinion about it. And if it matters, chances are, you will at least occasionally have conflicting views.

How you handle friction will determine whether you will enjoy working with the new president and whether he or she will be successful in the long term. Clear the air on small stuff frequently, and get used to a regular rhythm of doing this. If you need some help doing this, consider using Crucial Conversations. We use this process ourselves at Rhythm Systems and have found it very helpful in dealing with small issues before they snowball into big problems.

Again, to set your new president up for success, gain agreement on what results you expect the president to deliver in the first 90 days, six months and 12 months. Allow him or her to bring in different ways of doing things. Don’t stand in the way of the people changes the new president wants to make, and get into a rhythm of clearing the air.

Patrick Thean is a successful serial entrepreneur who has started and exited multiple companies. As founder and CEO of Metasys, Inc., he grew that company to a ranking of 151 on the Inc. 500. An international speaker, he has presented before thousands of businesses in the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. Currently, he is CEO of Rhythm Systems.