How to Thrive as a New Leader
Executives hired into new positions need to quickly assess and adapt on multiple fronts: new boss, team members, peers, expectations, etc. Add in learning a new organizational culture, industry and competitive markets and it’s no wonder that approximately 50% fail in their first 18 months on the job.
New leaders are expected to make positive organizational changes; often the people who hired them think improvements should be made imminently. The disconnect between expectations on timing and magnitude of change by hiring executives and what’s achievable for new leaders is another reason for the high failure rate.
“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” – Marshall Goldsmith
Taking on a new position requires adjustments to how you may have operated in the past based on a different culture, industry challenges or capabilities of your team, to name just a few variables. To achieve what you were hired to do, you also will need to learn and adapt.
Successful leaders find ways to navigate in and through these difficult realities by pulling together a blueprint for success – an executive onboarding plan that serves as a catalyst for their positive impact based on proper information and insights from multiple perspectives.
The following seven elements are part of successful onboarding plans that I’ve seen work as both an executive coach and as an HR VP:
- Agree on a timetable. When accepting the job, have a clear understanding with the hiring manager regarding her perspective on what’s working well and what needs to change in your organization. Let her know you will need some time to assess the situation for yourself and you would like to get other stakeholder input on this as well. Gain agreement that you’ll need some time, likely up to 90 days, to come back to her with a well-thought-out plan that reflects what you’ve learned.
- Partner with an executive coach. Coaches experienced in executive onboarding help leaders navigate the many challenges that come with a new organization and culture. Using a skilled executive coach early in the hiring phase leads to more inclusive processes and provides you with additional perspectives and best practices to consider. Coaching is a fraction of the cost of the overall hiring process and can be the difference between a successful transition and one that fails.
- Do a new leader assimilation. This process, which can be facilitated by an executive coach, is designed to allow direct and indirect staff to collectively learn about their new boss and begin to understand what their new leader needs and expects. This process also helps leaders learn more about their individual team members, the challenges they face and their ideas on how to address them.
- Meet with stakeholders. Executives have many different stakeholders. All are important. They also are interested in how you can make a positive difference, not only in your group, but also for them in their roles. Set up initial and then periodic meetings with key stakeholders to learn more about their organizations, interdependencies with your team, and what they view as strengths and opportunities for the team and organization you lead. Get their take on how your enterprise is positioned compared to leading industry competitors, adding to what you’ve been learning about industry positioning. Listen openly and take notes. Stakeholders appreciate being asked for their insights. Thank them for their time with you and let them know that once you’ve developed your future vision and obtained your manager’s approval, you’ll share the changes you plan to implement.
- Regularly meet with your staff: Set up a meeting cadence of one-on-one and team staff meetings. You will want to have staff update you on their projects and what help they may need from you. Ask about their insights into what’s working well and opportunities for improvement. Also take the time to learn what motivates them, find out what they are most proud of. Be curious about their career goals and ask how you can help them reach their full potential.
- Develop your vision and gain approval: As you gain all this information in your first months, you’re ready to formulate an informed vision for success. Your vision may include changes within your organization— both people and structural —based on your assessment of team member capabilities, individual career discussions, required skill sets and competencies needed for success, stakeholder feedback and industry trends. Prepare current and proposed organizational charts to present to your manager for input and perspective. Be prepared to make changes based on feedback from your manager.
- Announce and implement changes: Once approved, you are ready to implement your initial plans with greater opportunity for success. Your manager will also know you’ve done the homework necessary and that you were willing to listen and make suggested changes.
Taking these seven essential steps will give you confidence to move forward and lead authentically. Your staff and other stakeholders also will appreciate that you are striving to learn their culture and bring about positive change designed to work in your industry.
How can coaching help you or your organization improve retention and performance with executive onboarding?
Lance Hazzard, PCC, CPCC, is a certified Executive Coach and Executive Team Coach helping people and organizations achieve success. Lance and Eric T. Hicks, Ph.D., co-authored Accelerating Leadership, published in June 2019. Lance is Executive Coach and President at Oppnå® Executive & Achievement Coaching. More information on the book, Lance and Oppnå® Coaching can be found at the links below: