Onboarding and Upboarding Executives – Fatal Flaw #2

You have finally made your selection to fill an open executive role.  For an external hire you have invested considerable time and effort in a search firm, interviews, assessments, reference checks and offer negotiations. That is now behind you.  For an internal senior executive promote you have tracked their career progress, discussed their strengths and vulnerabilities in talent reviews with your peers, and toiled over where they belong on the leadership talent succession map. After doing your due diligence you have committed to the promotion and are confident you have made a sound executive choice. 

In the earlier blog I discussed what I have seen as the fatal flaw of the executive him/herself when taking on a new role.  However, the other fatal flaw is with the inaccurate assumptions most companies make a newly appointed executive and at the considerable risk and potential cost I outlined in the previous blog. That assumption is “I have hired an intelligent senior person who should be able to figure things out on their own.”  In fact, you may be one of those leaders who have consciously adopted this ‘sink or swim’ approach to assimilating your new hire or promote.  Be aware that this approach can unnecessarily prolong the integration process and increase the risk of derailment, no matter how smart your new hire or promote is.

You understandably have high expectations of the person in the new role, but without support, the person is largely left alone to figure out how the organization works, who are the real sources of ‘power’ and what the unspoken cultural norms exist, among other subtleties.  Even for the most talented person, the anxiety of performing immediately in the new role can lead to floundering, serious mistakes and unintentionally bruised relationships. In such ambiguity a new externally hired executive is vulnerable to being influenced by the wrong people with their own agenda and blinded to the real issues and challenges. For the internal promote the assumption is made that s/he already knows their company. However, if the role is in a different business unit, function, geography, or has a different business challenge (new business launch, acquisition integration, struggling unit), then the assimilation process is no less challenging then for an external hire.

Michael Watkins, author of the best-selling ‘bible’ on this topic The First 90 Days, through his extensive experience and research on executive integration, has concluded that it takes about six months before there is a real sense the individual is contributing net value to their organization.  Six months!  At this point the ‘honeymoon’ period for the newly hired or promoted executive is long past and they are now seen as either part of an envisioned solution or continue to be part of the problem.  The company’s fatal flaw is not providing a structured multi-faceted support process that can dramatically accelerate the timing of the individual’s “net value” contribution in their new role.  Such a support process should be stewarded and monitored through a planned and coordinated partnership that includes the individual’s executive boss, a supportive HR partner and the executive him/herself.   Over approximately 3-6 months the process should include a portfolio of support resources such as external coaching, a structured approach to organization stakeholder management and networking, team and peer feedback, strategic market/industry education, peer mentoring and specifically designed transition workshops.

Investing in this manner to support your newly hired or promoted executive decreases the time to achieve results and sends a message to the individual and the organization that they work for a company committed to the success of their employees. It also dramatically decreases the flight risk of your high priced leadership talent thus winning another battle in the war for talent.

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