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Onboarding Leaders: The Importance of Integration

  • Publish Date: Posted almost 6 years ago
  • Author:by Thomas Lennon

So you’ve hired a fantastic new leader, but do you have an effective integration programme in place? When companies are onboarding leaders, many fail to cover more than the administrative requirements and initial introductions. Following a basic induction, new leaders are often left to fend for themselves and this sink-or-swim approach is risky. Especially at an executive level, where slow-moving transitions are costly.

In a survey of almost 200 HR executives, only 52% reported that they were effective in aligning expectations of teams and bosses. What’s even more concerning is that only 33% reported they were effective in organising meetings with stakeholders and 29% felt they were effective in familiarising a new hire with the organisational culture.

Integration takes onboarding leaders that step further, ensuring all is done to make the new executive a fully operational team member as quickly and fluidly as possible. A strong integration process allows a new leader to gain momentum early on, improving retention and decreasing the chance of resignation or termination.

In a study that surveyed newly hired executives across the globe, less than one third of respondents felt they had received any meaningful support throughout their onboarding. In situations that did lead to resignation or termination, 69% reported the primary reason for failure was a poor understanding of how the organisation works, followed by a poor fit with the culture (65%). Other reasons included difficulty forging an alliance with their peers (57%), a lack of understanding of the business model (48%), ineffective decision making (31%), disagreement over strategy (28%), and lack of experience or skill (26%).

According to integration experts Mark Byford, Michael Watkins and Lena Triantogiannis these are the five critical tasks that leaders must address in their first few months and therefore the areas that require the greatest integration support:

Assume operational leadership

Addressing urgent issues and capitalising on quick wins demonstrates awareness and builds credibility. This establishes one’s reputation as an effective leader early on. A new executive doesn’t need to be coddled, but it’s good to provide them with an onboarding mentor whom they can contact for general queries.

Take charge of the team

It’s important to strike a balance between allowing a new leader to assess the wider team with fresh eyes and sharing insights from HR about team members’ performance and development. This requires facilitated sessions between the leader and their team during the first few weeks, ensuring a safe environment to provide feedback and ask potentially awkward questions in the beginning stages of a new working relationship. This not only helps build trust, but worries and misconceptions can be addressed before they turn in to problems.

Align with stakeholders

In addition to gaining support from internal teams, it’s important for new leaders to build trust among bosses, peers and other colleagues. They need to invest time and energy in to building their internal network- and make it a priority. This will help them identify how decision making works and who the key decision influencers are.

Define strategic intent

It’s important for a new leader to define strategy early on and remain clear about the path ahead. They need to have a solid understanding of current structures and talent/performance management processes to help navigate the best way forward.

Engage with the culture

It’s important to keep in mind that when hiring a leader, past successes aren’t necessarily good predictors of future achievement especially if the new environment is drastically different. It’s crucial for a new leader to become familiar with organisational values, and the cultural norms that define acceptable behaviour. A culture clash will most certainly have a negative impact on the perception of their capabilities and intentions.

This is where market-leading assessments can help measure more hidden elements of emotional intelligence, communication and leadership styles, as well as workplace behaviours.

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