Helping New Leaders Succeed

  • The Corporate Leadership Council reports that, on average, half of newly hired executives in their study quit or were fired within their first three years.In hindsight, it’s easy to see where the best-laid executive hiring plans go awry, says Vistage associate Kathleen Phillips, Ph.D.  Like newlyweds, executives and their employers can be torn asunder by expectations and assumptions on both sides.From the corporate side, new leaders are expected to be able to “hit the ground running.” That is, they must produce results quickly while simultaneously assimilating into the organization. The result is that a large number of newly recruited or promoted managers fail within 18 months of starting new jobs. Here are some of the reasons why.
  • They fail to fit into the culture.
  • They don’t build a team, or become part of one.
  • They are unclear about their bosses’ expectations.
  • They fail to execute in their plan.
  • They lack savvy about internal politics.
  • There is no process to assimilate executives into the firm.An assimilation process not only provides support to the newly hired executive, but it also helps the hiring company protect their investment.
  • A Model for Assimilation Every organization has unique issues to address when assimilating new leaders into its culture. However, there are stages of the assimilation process that are applicable to all new leaders and all organizations.Diane Downey, in her book Assimilating New Leaders: The Key to Executive Retention, identifies those stages as:
  • Anticipating and planning
  • Entering and exploring
  • Building
  • ContributingIt takes one to three years before a new executive reaches the “contributing stage,” according to some sources.Both the individual and the organization are responsible for successful assimilation. Specific actions can be taken by each party to ensure success. Downey says these are the five desired assimilation goals:
  • Achieving a business agenda
  • Understanding organizational dynamics and how to best work within these dynamics to accomplish the business agenda
  • Forming relationships with key influencers within the organization
  • Taking command of a new team in a new environment
  • Aligning the organization’s systems (e.g. strategy, structure, people, processes, and metrics) with the business agendaOrganizations can create a structure that facilitates the assimilation of new leaders into their culture.
  • How Companies Can Ease Assimilation New executive hires can be given the optimum opportunity to succeed if organizations follow simple steps, Phillips explains. Among them:
  • Evaluating what introductory information the executive needs, and making that available before he or she reports for the first day of work.
  • Introducing the new executive to other key executives and employees who can “champion” his or her cause at the organization — also before his or her official start date.
  • Inviting the new hire to call any of these points of contact to ask questions.
  • Giving the new executive a “roadmap” of stakeholders, so he or she is familiar with the organizational structure, the names of direct reports and where they all fit into the organization as a whole.
  • Helping the executive understand the corporate culture and how it evolved.
  • Making the new hire aware of any major change initiatives that are underway in the company.
  • Inviting the executive, before his or her official start date, to key meetings.”By giving new, senior level executives access to the information they need and the people they will work with, employers can enhance their new hires’ ability to come in with good knowledge of what needs to be done,” says Phillips.She also recommends that an internal mentor be appointed. “This could be a senior HR executive, or a person who championed the new hire from the internal search committee. Or it could be someone else who recently came through the experience of being a ‘new’ employee at the company,” she suggests.”There are lots of people who can be positioned ahead of time to help a new leader succeed,” she says.
  • Coaching New Executive Hires Another way a company can help is by offering executive assimilation coaching to a newly hired or newly promoted individual who will be serving in a senior leadership position. The executive coach is usually external to the organization.However, an internal coach can add significant value to the process and facilitate the assimilation process.

    Phillips fulfilled that role for Ernst & Young’s Chicago offices. “I used to speak at every new orientation program, and explained that coaching was available to them when they wanted or needed it. I talked about how it might help with their struggles — and it wasn’t reported back to anyone,” says Phillips. “This gave them a neutral place to go with their concerns that they didn’t necessarily want to bring to their boss.”

    She served as a coach for people who were at all levels of the organization, from new consultants to vice presidents. In a large company, a coach might come from the ranks of the organizational development/training department.

    “Coaching–whether external or internal–really is part of a retention strategy,” she explains.

    An external coach is retained to help a key executive through the critical three, six or 12 months of assimilation.

    After an initial two to three hour session that introduces the executive to the concept of coaching, the process involves one-on-one meetings between the coach and newly hired/promoted executive that usually occur two to four times each month. Meetings can be in person or on the phone, and run from 30 minutes to two hours in length. After several weeks, the coach may spend an entire day with the executive as he/she interacts with others in the organizations. This process is called shadow coaching.

    Assessment tools, like the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), Leadership Effectiveness Analysis, Emotional Competence Inventory, etc. may be used, but are not always necessary.

    Executive assimilation coaching can address:

  • Communicating a vision
  • Clarifying expectations
  • Setting goals and creating a strategy for moving forward with them
  • Establishing credibility                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The added value of working with an external coach is that it provides the new leader with a safe and confidential place to “try out” new ideas and get direct feedback without feeling judged. In addition, it has been shown that employees’ value professional development and work/life balance even more than money. Assimilation coaching can address these important considerations from day one.”Research shows that assimilation coaching reduces overall turnover cost,” says Phillips. “It also provides professional development, creates a foundation for success, accelerates integration into company culture, and reduces overall recruitment cost. The bottom line is that it sends a vital message to the executive that the organization is committed to him or to her.”

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