Set Up to Fail

Poor design of C-suite jobs can block executives from succeeding in their roles.

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Richard Mia/

Why is the average tenure of a C-suite executive a brief 5.3 years? And why do chief marketing and chief information officers last barely more than four years in the job, on average?1

The answer may lie between the lines of the job specifications shopped around by executive recruiters. One of us (Kimberly A. Whitler) was approached to gauge interest in a CMO position and, as she reviewed the 12-page job spec, realized that she couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone for the role. Based on the responsibilities, expectations, and ideal candidate qualifications described in that document, the role was poorly designed. It was setting up the incoming CMO for failure.

Unfortunately, based on our experience and research, many C-level jobs are poorly designed — and the individuals interviewing for these jobs are unaware of it. We shared that CMO job spec with a group of senior-level marketers and asked how many would be interested in the role, assuming it offered competitive compensation and an attractive location. A large majority of the executives were interested: They had no idea how to assess how well aligned the responsibilities, performance expectations, and qualifications were — and whether the job design set them up to succeed or fail.

An Expensive Problem

What makes the short C-level tenure surprising is that it is similar to that of average salaried workers, despite the much greater effort, expense, and time spent identifying and filling C-level roles.2 Companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to executive recruiting firms and may involve other C-suite executives, including the CEO, and potentially the board of directors, in defining and approving C-level roles.



1. See “Age and Tenure in the C-Suite,” Korn Ferry, Feb. 14, 2017,

2. See J. Scherman, “Employee Tenure Trends: Recent Retention, Millennials, and More,” Rasmussen University, Oct. 29, 2018,

3. K.A. Whitler, D.E. Boyd, and N.A. Morgan, “The Power Partnership: CMO & CIO,” Harvard Business Review 95, no. 4 (July-August 2017): 55.

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