Organisations typically invest significant time and resources to find the best leaders to run their businesses. Leadership hiring, more often than not, is a lengthy process involving multiple stakeholders using various methods like assessments, case studies and other ways to measure fitment. A lot of energy and effort goes in to get the right person.
Yet, multiple studies show that over 40 percent of leaders quit, are fired or forced out in 18 months. Those odds are not very favorable no matter which way you look at it. In fact, given the impact that a good leader has on an organization’s fortunes, those odds are pretty alarming.
Generally, the belief is that the new leader will come on board and magically, the world will change. One of the toughest adjustments to make for senior-level leaders is adapting to a new environment. This is even more enhanced when they join the new company at a higher level than what they were playing in the previous organization. Not only do they need to unlearn, they need to understand how to navigate in the new environment, get better clarity on their role and expectations, understand and live the values and drive the culture of the company.
With so much effort put into hiring the right person or elevating people internally, it is surprising how little is done in helping leaders transition seamlessly into their new role. Most organizations fall short when it comes to designing structured, thought through approaches that allow new leaders to embrace their new roles.
Instead, induction processes are often focused on just basic documentation and cursory introductions. Orientation is mostly around areas such as HR, administration, safety compliance etc. with very little on business and culture.
Most of the time, induction processes focus largely on the ‘What’ and ‘How’ but neglect the crucial ‘Why’ of the organisation.
Senior management is rarely involved even though they are best placed to talk about the organization’s vision, mission, goals, culture and customer expectations. The fact is that these are areas where new leaders are expected to make the biggest impact and are likely to hit roadblocks in the initial days.
For new leaders to be truly effective, organizations need to focus on integration, rather than simply ‘onboarding.’
Effective integration of new leaders into the organization can be broken into three areas:
Overall Perspective of the Organization
Any integration process needs to begin with a thorough understanding of the overall organizational structure, its goals, vision, mission, and values, for it to be truly effective. Additionally, a thorough ‘cultural integration’ is necessary to make sure that the incoming leader understands the ground rules. Understanding the lay of the land in terms of the role played by each function, their key drivers and stakeholders are also extremely helpful.
It is important to set expectation on the behaviors expected and what the leader needs to drive. Hopefully, these were also discussed during the interview process so that there are no surprises. The manager of the new leader should be deeply involved in the integration process. They should help the new leader navigate through the new system and communicate frequently to remove the hurdles. They stand to gain a whole lot in the long term if they make this investment of time and effort upfront.
Business Unit or Department
Once there is overall clarity on the organizational goals, the integration process needs to drill down into the new leader’s specific function/department. They need to not only appreciate how the particular function contributes to overall organizational goals but also get a firm handle on departments expectations and priorities. Sometimes, goals and focus areas may not be clear. Clarity on this itself is a big step in effective integration for the new leader. Integration into the team’s culture, ground rules, and dynamics will make it that much easier to navigate and build strong relationships.
The new leader is as good as his or her team. Engaging with the team and spending a lot of time upfront to bring everyone on the same page on the direction and operations of the function eases the start.
Individual Responsibilities and Success Parameters
Surprisingly enough, leaders’ understanding of the role for which they are hired is vague, leading to a serious disparity with the organization’s expectation. For a successful partnership, aligning of expectations to ensure a common vision and goals is very important. At the same time, factors such as expected outcomes and productivity measures, management styles, parameters to define success, support offered by peers and seniors and other ‘unwritten’ rules also need to be understood and internalized.
Then, there’s the WIIFM (what's-in-it-for-me). Incoming leaders need to know what to expect in terms of success measures, growth potential, and career trajectory. Also, because performance measurement parameters vary from one organization to another, understanding what success looks like is key.
Critically analyzing one’s strengths and weaknesses in the form a self-SWOT analysis might be a useful exercise can also prove immensely valuable too.
One good way to structure the integration process is to ensure that the incoming leader meets all key leaders to get their viewpoints. Deep dive sessions on culture and value should also be part of the process. Setting short-term goals and priorities can lay the ground for future actions.
For any comprehensive integration program to be successful, there needs to be active participation and on-going support from the leadership teams. A cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work; the program needs to be customised based on the role. A well-defined integration strategy, however, can be a great first step to set the new leader up for success.