Hiring is expensive.  Mis-hires are even more expensive, as we recently discussed in the staggering cost of an executive mis-hire.   We all know hiring mistakes happen occasionally, but just how often is acceptable?

In a recent interview with Financial Times, Kevin Kelly, the CEO of global executive search powerhouse Heidrick & Struggles, revealed the results of an internal study of  20,000 executive searches performed by his firm:

“We’ve found that 40 per cent of executives hired at the senior level are pushed out, fail or quit within 18 months”

Astonishing. He’s describing a 40% failure rate by one of the most trusted and reputable brands in the executive search business.  (If that statistic is true, I’m glad they didn’t build my house or service the brakes on my car).

Mr. Kelly concluded from this research that more follow-up was called for.  The article noted that Heidrick “now offers companies everything from initial training and early feedback for their new recruits to regular assessments of current executives and succession planning and staff development programs.”

I applaud Mr. Kelly’s candor – he had no obligation to share this internal information.  I presume he did so as part of his ongoing effort to spur much needed change and innovation within the executive search industry.

Hey, I did not see the details of his research, so perhaps his conclusion is correct.  But a 40% failure rate?   I’m not sure what that says to you, but to me, it screams “perhaps we have a problem in our process.”   Surely some of those mis-hires could be avoided by using a better hiring process.  As quality guru W. Edwards Deming famously observed  “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

So, if you want to outperform those elite search professionals and keep your executive hire failure rate below 40%, here are a few aspects of your hiring process you might want to improve: