When an organization makes a decision to hire a new incoming executive, we find there are a few reasons for the hire; there’s something to be “fixed”, the existing leader has resigned or there’s a radical change in strategy. Once this executive is hired, the single biggest challenge is how to effectively onboard into the organization. I often hear “we got this covered”.
One of the most glaring mistakes I’ve seen organizations make is compromising on quality for speed. CEOs frequently say “we waited so long to get this executive onboard, we just need to get going” or “we just need the problem fixed with a sense of urgency”. This puts immense pressure on the incoming executive and also on the existing team. This challenge is even more prevalent now than it was only a few years ago due to the speed of change and technology. Change is now pretty much a constant versus an event. Layer on top of that the complexities of a multi-generational workforce and the implications for executives leading these types of teams and suddenly you have a complex transition to work through.
The costs to the business when we get this wrong are huge. There are the more obvious costs of search fees, salary, time to productivity. There are also the less evident costs of engagement and morale and the ripple effect that reverberates through the organization when there are mistakes. My suggestions for organizations onboarding incoming executives are:
- GO SLOW TO GO FAST. I learned this during my career when I lived and worked in Asia, after a number of missteps. TP Yuen, one of our executives in Singapore, was instrumental in showing us how to “go slow to go fast”. But what does this mean practically? For new executives, this means first applying the principle of “listen and learn”. It means being intentional about building authentic relationships before getting to the task work. It means getting to know your internal network on multiple levels, and it means not making any assumptions as you get to know your new organization. This takes patience for this to be longer than a 30-day process.
- BE PURPOSEFUL ABOUT HELPING THE NEW EXECUTIVE NAVIGATE THE SOCIAL MAP WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION. Help the new executive navigate the social map of your organization. Of course, you’ll provide an organizational chart, but you must not overlook the subtleties. Where are the opinion leaders in the organization, are there any high potentials that have been passed over for this role? are there individuals who have incredible insights that need to be taken into account? What are the personalities that exist in the infrastructure? Are they social?, are they strategic?, are they tactical?, are they detail oriented?, or are they a combination of the aforementioned types? All of this matters.
- INVEST IN ‘NEW EXECUTIVE ASSIMILATION’. This is a 3-step process with highly correlated results to shortening the performance curve. It involves spending time with the new executive’s team asking them some critical questions and sharing the results with the new executive.
- IDENTIFY A CREDIBLE LEADER AS A MENTOR. The mentor’s role is to shine a torch for the new executive and be intentional about what it’s going to take to be successful. Use the ‘critical incident’ technique to uncover and illuminate examples of things that have gone well and to expose where things need improvement. Story telling is a great strategy to identify landmines.
- CONSIDER HOW WORK GETS DONE. What actually happens outside of the organizational structure? It’s just quite simply more complicated in a digital era. It can seem obvious to people who’ve been in the organization a long time but to the new executives these structures and sometimes ‘invisible lines’ can be tough to navigate, particularly for “Born Digital” leaders who may not have as many opportunities to build this capability as they’ve developed their career.
This backdrop of digital provides for a complex environment that needs to be carefully navigated, but there’s good news! There’s a proven formula that I’ve used many times with executives. This formula has always served my clients well. DEVELOP A BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS. When it’s followed, you’ll yield many benefits; when it’s compromised, the transition is messy at best. Develop your blueprint during the hiring process and be well prepared for the new executive joining. You can’t be seduced by the allure of “speedy execution”. The costs of a bad hire cannot be underestimated! And, when this is at an executive level in an organization the costs multiply many times over!