Why do so many successful executives fail to successfully onboard to new companies or positions? Seems like it would be a no-brainer with all the books and common sense advice on the subject 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 has been neglected for several years while the company was experiencing significant growth. It will come as no surprise then that the IT function had become 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 some due diligence, Joe meets with the CEO and the rest of the leadership team, and he assertively presents the long list of issues he's uncovered, 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 peers on the leadership team say in their conversations with him.
Joe walked away feeling pretty good about the meeting, but several of his peers did not. Here’s why.
1. 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.
2. By focusing on and highlighting everything that was wrong, he neglected to mention the few 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.
3. 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 were that easy, it would have been fixed by now."
4. While it was acceptable to criticize another leader in a private conversation, to call someone out in a group meeting was not common practice.
Long story short, Joe failed upfront to fully understand 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 the company and to the individual executive.