Expanding your leadership team is an exciting part of growing but too often the increased productivity and expertise gains are not fully realized due to poor integration. Done well, a new leader creates multiple synergies fast. Done poorly, it could set the groundwork for team dysfunction or losing that person in less than a year. A SHRM report found that almost one third of new hires are looking for a new job within 6 months.(1) Although this percentage declines as you move up the ladder, so does the cost of losing high ticket talent.
It’s about synergy and acceleration, not just good enough.
A busy team often assumes the new person will find their way. They are an experienced hire, so it is up to them, right? Unfortunately, this assumption might communicate the wrong message and set the new leader up for a slow start or even failure. It’s not that they are not capable of figuring things out and positioning themselves, it’s that it can be done better with a higher probability of success with much better impact for the organization and the team!
An analogy of poor onboarding and the damage it does, slowing or forever tainting the establishment of trust and respect.
Imagine you are sitting at a table waiting for your date who is late. 5 minutes goes by, then 10, then 15, then 30. No call. What goes through your mind? Maybe a car accident, you’ve been stood up, they are inconsiderate, they don’t value your time, would a quick call be too much trouble @#!. As time progresses you form more judgements and, as much as you try to be calm, your discomfort and emotions grow.
Now imagine you are the date — you planned to be there early, but your car didn’t start, then your cell phone died, you ran to catch a cab and they dropped you at the wrong spot, so you run some more. You have no awareness that 30 minutes has gone by since you are racing, and you have the best of intention, and are making a huge effort to get there as soon as possible so everything should be okay, right?
This reality, however, is very different from the perspective of your new date sitting awkwardly at the table, alone. You finally arrive breathless and sweaty; they are irritated and unsure to trust your many excuses and wonder if this is normal for you or an exception. Not a good start to a new relationship, agreed?
It is similar for a new hire, maybe even worse.
The team is going fast — time is flying for each member without much awareness of the days passing by. Meanwhile the new hire is sitting at their desk trying to understand the norms, the culture, who the players are, the expectations, where to find key information, and more. Time is slower for them, but the stakes are very high. Buyer’s remorse might kick in as they wonder, “Did I make the right move, will this be a good place for me, are my peers avoiding me, was my hire not important?”. With more stress they might move into less than effective stress behaviors, setting off less than productive interactions with peers who race in and out.
Avoiding the above is key but, even better would be to do the opposite and get this new leader fully operational and engaged in key relationships and in what you need them to do as soon as possible.
4 keys steps to engage a new leader faster and better:
1. Have an onboarding plan — Determine who is doing what and when — before the start date!
Think through the little and big things that will help position this person well within their team, the organization, and your community (clients, vendors, influencers). Glassdoor found that a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70
Ideas for a great start:
- Make a written announcement internally and publicly — make a big deal about it and drive some good PR for the new hire and your company (email, newsletter, LinkedIn, company pages, newspaper). Position them to be esteemed and appreciated from the start and help people get to know and connect with them by including more personal items on internal communication.
- Plan a welcome lunch including key clients and/or vendors (more connecting & good PR). Maybe even hand this over to marketing to maximize the event & use their budget.
- Provide pre-reading on company policy, org chart, profiles, news items, latest releases, etc. Help them get comfortable with current state before they walk in the door.
- Forms and benefits mapped out (a good HRIS is key here),
- Designated parking spot for the first week. Now everyone knows who they are and is queued to say welcome.
- Office space is ready with nice touches like a snack basket, disinfecting wipes, welcome card (or send it to their home office),
- Lunch or Zoom dates set up with key internal people (including the CEO or Board Chair),
- Welcome team meeting planned and catered (or at least some snacks).
2. Assign a Welcome Ambassador
Assign someone who knows the culture, the people, and the processes and who has the time to orient and help this new leader. It can be someone junior or senior to them as long as the Ambassador has been in the company for some time and knows the ropes. The Ambassador becomes their advocate to help find and get what they need since they know who to ask or where to go. The younger the company (minimal documentation and processes) or bigger the company (too much documentation and processes) the more important this role is. The new leader needs someone they can ask without being concerned about asking ‘stupid’ questions or being a ‘pest’ and it is always nice to be made to feel welcome. It sets a strong precedence for the value you place on your people.
3. Formalize a get to know you process.
New leaders in our organization do an assessment and work with a coach to help them put together a summary of how they communicate, problem solve, manage, influence, etc. — a basic operating manual on them. Their team members and manager have already done the same and, in a planned session, they share about their strengths, challenges, similarities, differences, especially where they might encounter misunderstandings or misperceptions. An executive coach facilitates the initial conversations to ensure the most important items are addressed, well understood, and even negotiated.
This ‘get to know you’ process speeds up building rapport and trust and eliminates potentially inaccurate assumptions or missteps. Overall, this sets up the dynamics for good relationships and collaborative teamwork.
4. Engage the new leader in expectation and goal setting.
Work closely with them to ensure a 30 to180-day plan is well mapped out with clear expectations agreed to and/or negotiate with key stakeholders. Don’t assume everyone knows what each other expects from this new leader. Most leaders will set out on this process themselves, but it works much better if everyone is engaged and ready to participate especially if conflicting priorities are identified.
Clarifying the shared purpose and priorities of the team and everyone’s role helps to elevate trust and effective collaboration in problem solving and innovating.
Follow the ideas above and your new leaders will create stronger alliances and build more influence within the organization which, in turn, will enable them to move faster and more effectively. Their impact will be felt sooner and synergy among the leadership team will spark faster. Everyone wins, including the bottom line, when this initial effort is made and done well. It is an invest of time and money that has a huge ROI. Do not wing it! Plan it, work it, and facilitate it.
If you would like to know more about the ‘get to know you’ process we use at Premierehire and how you can implement it into your onboarding please contact email@example.com.
Leanne Abraham is President & CEO of Premierehire Executive Search & Leadership Strategies. Leanne works closely with leaders and executive teams to hire the right fit leaders and enhance cooperation and performance both within the top team and the teams they lead. Her strategic recruiting, coaching, workshops, and application tools have helped transform teams and organizations in the US, Canada, and W. Africa. Leanne is supported by an exceptional team spread across three continents.