MT EXPERT: The fall of Manchester United's David Moyes will send shivers around boardrooms

David Moyes' exit 10 months into his job will resonate in the corporate world, where tenures of CEOs are falling as expectations rise. New leaders should be 'turbo-charged' from the start, says Mark Byford.

by Mark Byford
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2014

It’s not just football: almost every day brings news of a business leader heading for the exit. And when you strip away the details, the underlying reasons often boil down to disappointment that the outcomes fell well short of what was hoped for, and perhaps promised, at the start. Yet for global companies, like football clubs, the stakes are high and rising. Chief executives are expected to address increasingly complex challenges and deliver tangible results – fast. There is no dress rehearsal. Which is why more needs to be done to help new leaders hit the ground running, and accelerate their ability to deliver results. 

Falling tenure and rising expectations

The average tenure of chief executives has been falling internationally and is now on average around six years. A 2012 analysis of CEO tenure in major global markets by Egon Zehnder also exposed the extent of leadership ‘churn’. In the preceding five years, for instance, almost half the companies in the FTSE 100 had changed their CEO. This compares to 34% in the US S&P500; 24% in China’s Hang Seng Index and 23% in Germany’s DAX. So at any one time many businesses and people– at the highest level and below – are coping with the transition to new leadership. Smoothing this process, to integrate and accelerate a new leader’s delivery, has to make business sense.


Unfortunately, though, organisations often have a blind spot when it comes to bedding in senior talent. Last year we asked over 500 senior executives from a range of global companies about the support they received when moving into a new role.

Only 30% received any formal support at all, despite that fact that 81% found it helpful and over half noted it took them over six months to get fully up to speed.

They also reported a mismatch between the support they typically received – generally practical help and information - and what they actually need, which centres more on the culture, dynamics and internal politics associated with the new role. This chimes with our own experience, suggesting these ‘softer issues’, around culture and relationships, most often determine the eventual success of an incoming leader. 

Unmasking hidden risks

This is why businesses need to develop a more in-depth approach to executive integration which focuses on culture, stakeholder and team dynamics, personal style and effectiveness – critical but often neglected aspects of the ‘bedding in’ process. It’s clear some new appointees are more at risk than others – notably those from outside and diversity candidates who are less likely to be accepted easily into the prevailing culture. But it’s interesting that internal candidates promoted to a major leadership role in the same organisation can be at almost as much risk - because they are most likely to be ‘forgotten’ in terms of support, amid assumptions (often wrong) that they already know the ropes. 

Turbo charge at the start

So if you’re in line for a promotion, or a big move to a new role in another company, what can you do to minimise your risk of things not working out – or not working out fast enough to be deemed a success? Use the golden time, before starting your new role, to gain as many insights as you can on the challenges you may face, particularly on the soft issues. Whatever the route, the goal has to be better insight and understanding of the culture, politics and dynamics you may face – feeding into a road map that allows you to avoid potential obstacles and build the trust and knowledge needed to take better decisions faster. 

- Mark Byford is joint head of the global Accelerated Integration practice at the international executive search and advisory firm Egon Zehnder.   

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