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Onboarding a New Leader? Here’s How You Can Help Them Succeed

Follow these three steps to prevent “organ rejection” of your company’s newest senior hire.

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BY Sam Hodges - 22 Dec 2017

Onboarding a New Leader? Here's How You Can Help Them Succeed

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One of your most important jobs as a business leader is to recruit and lead an effective management team. Making a bad hire can cause serious harm to a growing organization.

By some estimates, though, upwards of 30-40 percent of new leaders fail within 18 months of their start. In my experience, failure is as often due to cultural mismatches as it has to do with skill or competency issues. Addressing this requires one part hiring acumen and one part effective onboarding.

So how do you prevent new hire "organ rejection?" Here are three steps that have worked for my company:

1. Have an honest pre-hire conversation about your company's culture.

Company culture is a much-discussed topic. As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner writes in a 2012 blog post, one simple way of thinking about culture is as a company's "collective personality."

Is the company casual or formal? Open or closed? High-energy or more moderated? Are people aggressive with each other or less so? Often the most subtle cultural miscues by a new hire can lead an organization to reject this new leader.

It's critical that early on, ideally pre-hire, you have a very direct conversation about your company's culture and what that will mean for someone stepping into it. As part of this, be clear: Are you looking for someone to turn around their team's culture, or to foster it and foment its growth?

2. Be honest about what you expect from a new leader in the first 30 days.

Assuming you're bringing a leader into a situation where most things are working well (I'd offer different advice if you're in a dire or turnaround situation) consider what you want them to do in their first 30 days.

In my experience, it's crucial for a newly onboarded leader to:

  • Be humble: Show an appreciation for what's in place today, even while sizing up and acknowledging weaknesses and shortcomings.

  • Listen and learn: Every business and team has important and sometimes subtle nuances. It's critical to a new manager to take the time to understand these, and demonstrate openness to listening and not being too quick to jump in and start firing off direction.

  • Get to know the team: Specifically, know their reports, peers, and other key stakeholders. Without investing in these relationships it will be difficult to the get the information and trust necessary to be successful.

  • Put together a plan, based on their observations: When I onboard a new manager onto our team, I always ask them to put together a list of observations and a 60- or 90-day plan, after they've been with us for around 30 days. This allows them to distill what they've learned, and helps us get aligned as to where we're going to prioritize change in the organization.

3. Gather and convey feedback early on.

Adjusting to a new company and job is a challenge for any leader, no matter how seasoned. As the leader of the organization, you need to gather and honestly convey feedback early to help ensure your new senior hire gets off on the right footing.

Ideally, you can enlist others in the organization to do this as well. In our company every new hire has an onboarding "buddy" who can help someone new get off to the right start -- be that in helping to find the office supplies, or to understand organizational dynamics.

Overall, remember that although new management hires can have a high failure rate -- and failure can be quite painful -- it's a critical part of your job as the company's overall leader to ensure that you set people up for success. Doing this, and addressing any issues early, will help you scale your team and increase the odds of success for everyone.

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