Why do so many successful executives fail to successfully onboard to new companies or positions? Seems like a no brainer with all the books on the subject and common sense advice that is out there, right? WRONG!!!
Typically when executives are brought in from the outside there usually is a gap within the organization in terms of specific leadership or functional capabilities and/or availability of internal talent with the required skillset or experience. So it’s no surprise that during the interview process the new executive often walks away thinking that they have been hired to bring substantial change to the organization or in some cases succeed where others have failed.
Take for example, Joe Strong who has just been hired to transform the IT function that had been neglected for several years while the company was experiencing significant growth. No surprise then that the IT function was the highest source of pain and dissatisfaction from within the company and was also impacting the company’s ability to introduce innovative technology solutions to the market. So the platform for change was definitely burning.
Joe was hired because of his previous experience successfully responding to similar challenges at his last employer and his bold confidence as a change agent. So how come Joe ends up exiting the organization approximately 20 months later?
About 90 days into his tenure and after completing his due diligence, Joe meets with CEO and the rest of the leadership team and he assertively presents the long list of issues he’s uncovered as well as what needs to be fixed and his high level plan for doing so. Joe concludes by saying “the last guy really didn’t know what he was doing” essentially echoing what he heard the CEO and several of his peers on the leadership team say in their conversations with him.
Joe walks away feeling pretty good about the meeting but several of his peers did NOT… and here’s why.
First, Joe showed a lack of appreciation for the complexity of the situation and some of the barriers that his predecessor, and the IT leaders within the business segments faced, and are facing.
Second, by focusing and highlighting everything that was wrong he neglected to mention the things that were working or were somewhat positive. In fact, two of his general management peers believed that they had implemented some effective stop gap measures within their businesses and the IT leaders reporting to them were pretty competent.
Third, he created a false expectation that he was going to be able turn things around rather quickly… which we know … is never good. As the saying goes “if it was that easy it would have been fixed by now.”
And fourth, while it was acceptable to criticize another leader in a private conversation …to call someone out in a group meeting was not common practice at the company.
Long story short… Joe failed upfront to fully understand his key stakeholders perspectives and build initial alliances, as well as fully grasp the unwritten rules for how things work in the organization before presenting and pushing his change agenda forward. Making the case, yet again, for how important successful executive onboarding is to both a company and to the individual executive joining it.
Please share similar experiences or stories below, and contact me if you would like assistance with your onboarding or that of a new leader within your company.