Apr 7, 2018

Executive Onboarding: How to Integrate a New Leader into Your Company with Success

After an extensive search, you have hired your new COO or other executive team member. What is your onboarding process?  Are you setting up the new leader to succeed? What steps have you taken to ensure that his first few months run smoothly?

It’s critical that your company have an established process that will fast track this individual to productive work and to building strong relationships in your firm.

Success isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Take, for example, family businesses. Great leadership is critical to the longevity of a business, and many firms need to plan well to ensure they last.  Yet according to a recent study by PwC, only 15% of family businesses worldwide have a plan in place for management succession. Businesses becomes fragile without sound management, and nowhere is this more evident than in family firms.

According to the Family Business Institute, only 30% of these organizations last into a second generation, 12% remain viable into a third, and 3% operate into the fourth generation or beyond.  Even those that do continue often see their value decline significantly when power changes hands at the top, according to the Harvard Business Review writers Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, Sonny Iqbal, and Jorg Ritter.

In many businesses, new executives can frequently fail to reach their first year anniversary. Research has been done on leaders who did not survive their probationary periods in a new place of work.

Among reasons cited for their failure are:

  • Poor cultural fit
  • Failure to build good relationships with staff and peers
  • Held unclear expectations about performance
  • The organization did not have a strategic, formal process to assimilate executives into the organization

In an article in Harvard Business Review entitled “Onboarding Isn’t Enough,” three executive search experts stressed that they prefer the word “integration” to describe making the new hire a fully functioning member of the team as quickly and smoothly as possible. 

Writers Mark Byford, Michael D. Watkins, and Lena Triantogiannis noted that in an online survey of 588 executives at the VP level or above conducted by international executive search firm Egon Zehnder, almost 60% reported that it took them six months to have a full impact in their new roles. Close to 20% said it took them nine months.

The HBR experts said that companies that devote substantial resources to helping new executives become fully integrated do the following:

  • Put new leaders through a structured integration program
  • Emphasize learning at all levels
  • Complete a culture questionnaire to compare practices in executive’s previous company with the new setting

When your company takes the time to point out cultural differences between your business and the new hire’s former place of employment, you will be able to reduce risks of a derailment.  You will increase the amount of time that it will take your new leader to perform ably in her new role.

Based on their research, the HBR experts identified five tasks that new executives must master in their first few months.  

Consider how your company can provide support to your new hire in these areas:

  1. Assuming operational leadership
  2. Taking charge of the team
  3. Aligning with stakeholders
  4. Engaging with the culture
  5. Defining strategic intent

If you believe in the new executive’s ability to lead and implement an innovative strategy for your company, other managers and other elements of your firm need to be aligned to provide the support to make sure the leader succeeds and delivers results.  

What kind of messages have you sent out about the new hire?  Have you stressed to other company leaders what impact you expect the new executive to have?  Have you conducted conversations with stakeholders who will influence the new person’s strategies and performance?

The more help you can provide to your new leader, the more he will be able to build credibility within the company as he shows his awareness of operational and organizational issues and can establish goodwill among his team.  

Consider ways to integrate your new hire into your culture and your company smoothly and comprehensively, and you will pave the way to success.


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