How to Mitigate Against ‘Failure Rate’ for Key Senior Management Hires in Africa

How to Mitigate Against ‘Failure Rate’ for Key Senior Management Hires in Africa

At Executives in Africa we believe in delivering long term value to our clients.  We are proud of the fact that 99.4% of candidates we have placed, have stayed for at least a year and the majority have gone on to be promoted and deliver quantifiable results.  That is a ‘failure rate’ of under 1%.

When comparing this to the Search sector as a whole, this statistic is quite remarkable on an international stage, let alone for roles based in Africa, which arguably is a more challenging continent in which to get it right and deliver sustainable hires.  Recent studies suggest the ‘failure rate’ of new Executive level hires is usually between 30- 40% with the Harvard Business Review stating the overall failure rate of all new Senior Management hires internationally could be as high as 40-60%.

So where are companies going wrong when hiring for key strategic positions?  It is clear from our experience in Africa that the main options available to companies are either hiring through direct contacts within their own networks or using low-cost local contingent recruitment firms.   Unfortunately, both of these options represent an extremely limited exploration of the total available talent pool, typically covering as low as 16% of potentially suitable candidates, because they both rely on considering only those candidates who actively looking for a new role.  And most of the successful high performing candidates aren’t actively looking.

So the first way to mitigate against failure, is to ensure you are proactively sourcing the best candidates for the job, not just considering those who are actively looking.  And to do that, you need to actively head hunt candidates or engage a Search Firm who can do that for you.

So what do we do differently at Executives in Africa that helps our clients beat the industry average and attract world-class talent who stay and successfully develop their businesses?  Put simply, we believe in long-term appointments not short-term hires, and to deliver that, we get it right through our thorough market mapping, proactive headhunting and rigorous assessments which make up our proven Search Process.

Having sourced the best candidates in the market, we thoroughly assess not only their key skills, but also overall fit of each candidate for that particular ‘role environment’ to ensure they can meet the needs of the company at that point in time as well as delivering what is needed over the next few years.  We do this through a rigorous evidential interview followed by a second behavioural assessment which challenges the candidate to a greater depth than most have experienced before.

By the time they are short listed and then meet the client, they are clear why they are right for the role and have thought carefully about what skills and experiences will be of value in order to deliver the needs of the role.  We believe that well prepared candidates who can clearly present their most relevant experience is a critical factor when many line managers are not experts in interviewing.


Interestingly, those firms who are prepared to invest in sourcing the best talent in the first place (through partnering with a Search firm), often also have the best interviewing and on boarding processes.  This is the second way to mitigate against failure.

Clients sometimes forget that when they engage in a proactive Search, that we have asked the candidate to consider their opportunity.  This is a fundamentally different mind-set to attracting a candidate who has applied to a job.  The Client needs to ‘woo’ the candidate and ensure they are selling the company and opportunity to them at the same time they are assessing their suitability for the job.

As such, clients should have a well thought out interview process, with each interviewer assessing different areas and ensuring interview feedback is shared centrally so all interviewers have a good understanding of each candidate being considered for the role.  A slick interview process is important in creating a strong first impression and is key to ultimately getting a candidate to accept an offer.

Likewise, the on boarding process should not be overlooked.  A new employee should feel that the company is well prepared for their arrival, has a good induction program and is supported through the early months with the appropriate resources which were discussed and promised during the interview.

Clearly it takes a certain type of individual to be successful in a senior management role in Africa.  Our extensive experience working on over 350 mandates across the continent mean we understand what it takes to operate effectively on the continent.  ‘Resourceful’, ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘solution finder’ are often essential traits, and it is true that this sort of person should be able to settle in to a role pretty well on their own.  However if you want long term commitment from your new hire, you need to ensure you are showing the same commitment back, especially during the critical first six months.

The financial impact of failure of a key senior management hire to a company cannot be understated.  An immediate focus on the ‘recruitment fee cost’ is just the tip of the iceberg and the true indirect cost of hiring the wrong person goes far deeper when these hires fail to meet the strategic and commercial objectives of their businesses.  To consider this more thoroughly, please do read John Agnew’s article ‘My $600k mistake and how to avoid it’!  – My $600,000 mistake and how you can avoid it. By John Agnew

We want our Clients to regard us as a key extension of their own business representing them in the local market and internationally, and critically to rely on us to find them business leaders who will have a positive and lasting impact on their operations in Africa.

To find out more about how we can work in partnership with your business, please contact Adam Waterhouse at

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