by George Bradt, Contributor at Forbes
The most effective executive onboarding includes:
1. Getting a head start
2. Managing the message
3. Building the team
Failures in new roles almost always come back to either poor fit, not getting done what needed to get done, or something changing. Everyone involved tends to blame someone else.
Failed executives say, “They turned out to be different,” or “They didn’t give me the resources I needed,” or “They changed.” Conversely, the bosses of the failed executive say he or she, “Wasn’t what we expected,” or “Didn’t get done what we needed,” or “They changed.”
Writing for Fortune, Anne Fisher points out in her article New Job? Get a Head Start Now on February 17, 2012 that “About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.” She goes on to note that research shows that failure rate has “stood at about 40% for at least 15 years now.”
Whose fault is it really when a new executive fails? It’s everyone’s fault. If everyone paid attention to the basics of executive onboarding, there would be far fewer failures.
Get a Head Start
As football coach Vince Lombardi put it, “The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.” Getting a head start begins with crafting a new leader’s 100-day action plan. If you don’t have a plan, you’re relying on the kindness of others for your success. Your career is too important to leave it up to that.
Then, take advantage of the “fuzzy front end,” which is the period between accepting a job and actually starting. Use this time to begin implementing your plan to get ahead of the curve on set up, learning, and most importantly, jump-starting relationships with some pre-start conversations keeping in mind the power of vulnerability.
Obvious candidates for these conversations include your boss, team members and direct reports, but leaders often forget to speak with:
• Your boss’s assistant
• Key clients and customers (external and internal)
• Key founders or “shadow” board members who may not have a significant role in the day-to-day operations, but still wield significant influence
Determining who these people are will be difficult, but generally speaking there will be a human resource contact and/or internal mentor who can help identify them.
Good examples of this include Larry Page getting a head start before assuming the CEO role at Google, and Ajay Banga easing into the CEO role at MasterCard.
Manage the Message
Everything communicates. Everything you say and do and don’t say and don’t do communicates. If you haven’t clarified your message, you’ll be reacting in the moment and improvising on the fly. This works for some. For most, it’s far more effective to have thought it through in advance.
Also, keep in mind these common mistakes that leaders make on day one:
• Don’t tell anything but the mildest joke.
• Don’t decorate your office.
• Don’t say anything (good or bad) about your former company.
• Don’t say anything negative about anybody in your new company.
• Don’t use a PowerPoint presentation to introduce yourself.
• Don’t tell too much information about your personal life. One good example of this is how the Red Cross’s Charley Shimanski oozed his message from every pore in the early days of his new role.
Build the Team
The only thing a new leader can do all by himself or herself after day one is fail. All success at that level requires a team effort. The most successful leaders over-invest in building their teams over their first 100 days by jump-starting their strategic, operational and organizational processes, often using an imperative workshop as the turning point between converging and evolving.
One of the easier and more effective strategies new leaders can utilize is identifying and over-investing in an early win during the first six months. When the goal is accomplished, celebrate it publicly. This will give the team confidence in itself and you as a leader.
Witness Sam Martin’s story at A&P or Sue Hed’s early wins at IBM.
Mitigating those same issues of poor fit, poor delivery, and an inability to adjust to change from the hiring manager’s side requires a slightly different perspective. A good analogy is putting on a show and thinking sequentially like a producer, director and then stage manager.
As the producer, focus on assembling the right team to mitigate the fit risk. Get people aligned around the new role. Acquire talent in the right way, leveraging The Only Three True Job Interview Questions. As the director, get new employees’ expectations aligned to mitigate the poor delivery risk. As the stage manager, follow through, supporting the new executive behind the scenes and helping them identify and manage the inevitable changes.
The author surveyed 5,600 workers from various industries from January 2019 to December 2021, finding that worker dissatisfaction not only starts as early as age 25 — it’s been here since before the pandemic started. Her advice: aim for work-life alignment, not work-life balance. Find out what drives them as an individual — and reshape their jobs together. Engage them in the recruiting process.
There’s been a lot of buzz about a 4-day workweek. But it will be the ‘4 + 1’ workweek that ultimately wins out: 4 days of “work” and 1 day of “learning.” Several forces are converging in a way that point toward the inevitability of this workplace future.
How can leaders help their teams combat change exhaustion — or step out of its clutches? Too often, organizations simply encourage their employees to be resilient, placing the burden of finding ways to feel better solely on individuals. Leaders need to recognize that change exhaustion is not an individual issue, but a collective one that needs to be addressed at the team or organization level.