Ashwin had ambitions of heading Human resources in a global organization since he graduated from an esteemed B-school 24 years ago. His dream came true when he joined a large global organization as a Director – HR reporting in to senior Directors. Team of 4 senior GMs and an extended team of 33 people worked under him. Considering his focus and background, the organization gave him a relatively free reign as he moved many people around, got some new hires from his previous organizations. He was competitive and worked long hours as well. But, there were serious grumblings about how he handled people. Upon investigation, it was found that Ashwin and his loyalists had alienated many C-suite folks besides humiliating and insulting a few other peers. When counseled, Ashwin got extremely defensive – said he is a victim of organizational politics. Over time the faceless noise against Ashwin increased in intensity, and he was asked to leave 8 months into his new job with a severance package.
There are many people like Ashwin who work incredibly hard to get into senior positions in large esteemed organizations only to be shown the door a short time later. One might argue that Ashwin was not ‘director material’ in the first place, but on-boarding mistakes often lead senior, competent, qualified seniors to fail in organizations. One might argue that Ashwin was a hiring mistake but could seven panels and 7 hours of diverse panels /levels of interviewing and such diverse managers over 7 months together make a hiring mistake?
While there are tools like BEI and others that help the organizations check alignment to their leadership competencies and values at the onset of a hiring decision that’s only the beginning. Hiring decisions are as complex as human beings are. Assessments and many scientific predictors of success of senior hires sometimes fail purely because - the very competent candidate that you just hired is probably not a “culture fit” for your organization. This is one of the reasons why the much talked about first 90 days are so critical to a senior hires’ integration into a new organization.
The new senior hires’ role
Senior executives need to take their first 90 days very seriously. It’s important for them to gain alignment and get relationships right, to focus on absorbing the organization’s strategy, structures, dynamics, relationships embedded in those, one’s own leadership team, staffing ones department and absorbing the hardest (so called softer)aspects culture of the new organization – Culture! Culture being - the way we do things around here! The process begins much earlier though for a new senior hire. Doing your homework before getting hired (studying websites, talking to senior people from the org, people who left, turnover, and background history) is important. Post hire activities to include - Meeting the CEO and the teams, meeting peers, high potentials, business leaders, information about current initiatives, critical tasks and processes. By two months, one must ideally have obtained some external perspectives and should have understood business strategy and structures within the organization. Time must be spent in making socialization decisions, discussing substantive issues and most importantly in listening more than one speaks and getting feedback. It is about listening intently. It is about absorbing the culture aligning the team, conversing about alignment to values, then focusing on operations. This should be followed by discussing incremental ideas and then moving into the operational rhythm embracing extended teams.
The Organization’s role
The company needs help the new senior hires focus on ‘people & CULTURE’. It must focus on the strengths the new-comer brings and provide for opportunities to apply those to their jobs for which they are hired. New employees want to confirm (post purchase dissonance) they made the right decision, but often experience anxiety and discomfort when they find things are different from what they expected. Employees go through “firsts” because they lack the context of, and history with, the culture in the new organization. It is important for them to be aware of this so that they do not feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
Senior hires are usually agile in learning. Upon recruitment, new employees they want to confirm they made the right decision and so an orientation topics should include - Background Information about the organization, its culture , structure and governance , benefits, key resources, what new hires should expect, who to contact for help. Buddies help a whole lot in case of senior hires.
The Manager’s role
Managers of new senior hires must initiate conversations within the first one month to help them assimilate to their new job, the organization, the culture, and the work environment. It is important for managers to share basic information (e.g., about the institution, team) and then ask questions to confirm the new hire’s understanding to uncover any additional questions, concerns and expectations. The appropriate discussions may include- Business Strategy, culture, performance ethic, the teams they are going to handle, communication, motivation.After three to six months on the job, managers should initiate conversations about the new hires’ learning and development.
How does he learn
Different people have different learning styles. New senior employees often worry that if they ask questions, they will be viewed as incompetent/less competent. The organization needs to create a non-threatening environment where new employees feel comfortable asking questions. One could begin by holding managers accountable for the onboarding process of their new lateral hires by linking onboarding experiences of their hires to the managers’ performance appraisals.
Senior hire integration
Another way to accelerate the integration of a new leader is by conducting a leader integration session, a process to help a team to learn about its new leader and to reach a common understanding about his/her expectations and operating style. This type of session can help avoid any early misperceptions and help the leader get a fast start. Other ways are to have the new leader learn from other people’s mistakes - collect stories of what other leaders have tried to do in the past and why it worked or didn’t work, encourage new leaders to spend a little time in “learning mode” prior to making any large changes, advising them to get feedback on their ideas and pilot test changes where appropriate. This helps the new hires test their own assumptions and get feedback. It is important to provide opportunities for new leaders to learn about and interact with other areas of the business and to help them network with other people and learn about the various interdependencies among key areas of the business. It may even be useful for the new leader to interview his predecessor to gain his/her perspective about the job and discuss future challenges (of course if this is feasible and appropriate)
In closing, the onboarding process is not over at the end of a few months. HR professionals and managers need to continue to work together to meet the needs of these new senior hires and assess how they fare at it continuously either through surveys or interviewing the new hires about their experiences. And use these results to tweak the organization’s onboarding strategies appropriately. It may also be useful to share the results with business leaders to make the case for investing in further on boarding activities.