As the famous saying goes – “The hard work starts now”. Clarendon’s Anne Daley considers the importance of post-recruitment support and development as a critical, but often overlooked phase in the executive lifecycle.
Executive selection is often an adrenalin-fuelled, multi-stage process, culminating in a need for the successful candidate to make a major, potentially life altering albeit exciting decision.
It will involve many stressful elements – understanding unfamiliar terms and conditions, negotiating a new compensation package, leaving behind good friends and colleagues, and perhaps even relocating to a new city. We should not underestimate the effects of this period of upheaval on new hires who are then expected to perform immediately.
All new employees, regardless of the level they are operating at, need to feel confident in their ability to do the job, have a high degree of clarity around their role, become socially integrated within the organisation quickly and have a knowledge of company culture, goals, values, politics and even the language used in the new organisation.
Recent research* carried out over a 10 year period found that 50-70% of executives within the first 18 months of their appointment can struggle regardless of whether they come from inside or outside an organisation unless a support system is in place when they begin their new role.
Researchers found common reasons for failure, including a tendency for new executives to rely on what they did successfully in their old company – instead of taking time to understand the new culture and adapt; underestimating the importance of getting to know the key stakeholders and forming critical connections and relationships at an early stage; failing to spend time acquiring the necessary breadth and depth of knowledge of the organisation. In the light of their findings the authors of this research suggest a need to ‘hit the ground learning, not running’.
Often induction and on-boarding procedures seem to focus more on practical and logistical matters – completion of the necessary paperwork/ location of car parking spaces/the whereabouts of the canteen/ IT support. Of course, these are important and necessary things to cover, but we also need to incorporate ways to better nurture and support new hires as they step into their new roles, providing a moment to pause and catch their breath, enabling them to start well, to integrate more easily and to begin to make their presence felt quickly and positively.
We have recently had the privilege of working with a newly formed executive team within a major public sector organisation. Having worked with the CEO and Board on recruiting three new directors into key positions, we had the opportunity to continue to work with the successful appointees as they took up their roles.
As professional recruiters, we had already built strong, trusting relationships with the key stakeholders - candidates, the CEO, and the Board - in the context of the recruitment exercise.
This agreement to enter a new phase of our relationship brought a sense of continuity and natural evolution that felt very comfortable to all. It enabled us to build further on the information gleaned throughout the recruitment process, through interviews, assessment, leadership personality profiles and ad hoc communications - initially at an individual level – and then within the context of the new team.
Individual sessions with the new directors aimed to explore their view of themselves – their preferred way of working and leading and what that might mean in the context of their new position.
Sessions also provided the new directors with an opportunity to articulate their hopes for what they wanted to achieve in their new role and what made them most fearful and anxious about embarking on a new stage in their career. Building further on the individual meetings, team workshops helped team members to really get to know each other, the organisation and its vision for the future.
In our case, we had an entire leadership team entering an organisation and therefore a need to start at the beginning, helping the new Directors at an individual level and then working with the team on ways to build an effective, high performing senior team as quickly as possible. However even if just one or two new members join a team it can be a good opportunity to take stock, review the existing modus operandi in the team and consider how new members can best integrate.
Often companies initiate team-building sessions as a remedial exercise when the dysfunctions of a team have become all too obvious or when business performance goes into a decline and poor team working is part of the diagnosis. Team building or team effectiveness interventions are often viewed by team members at best as a chance to get some time away from the desk and at worst as a complete waste of time.
It doesn’t need to be this way. Team sessions can be simple and uncomplicated. Chairs, a few flip charts and one or two experienced facilitators, ideally from outside the organisation, is all that is required for a really a constructive session.
For a new team the process might start with some disclosure – team members, either new or existing, describing themselves, their style of working, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears.
Breakout sessions can incorporate discussions around elements of the organisational vision, values, strategic goals, culture – or anything else that team members need and want to talk about. This builds trust, knowledge and understanding at a deep, personal level that’s not possible to achieve in operational meetings.
Team members will end the session knowing more about their colleagues, and with a much better understanding of the vision, culture, values and strategy. Each person should also walk away having committed to taking one or two actions on specific points with agreement on checking in with each other and reviewing progress. This ensures that the team sees the value in the session, that it can lead to action and change and is not a meaningless, time-wasting exercise.
Further down the line, incorporating some elements of a good team effectiveness session should arguably become part of a senior management team’s regular routine. A complementary initiative might also include coaching for new executives, providing a listening ear and sounding board as they find their feet in the organisation.
Post-recruitment is a critical phase in the employee lifecycle. It needs to incorporate a considered, thoughtful and careful on-boarding program in the very early stages that aims, at an individual and team level, to minimize the risk of under-performance or outright failure and seeks instead to optimize integration and contribution.
After the excitement and relief at receiving the signed offer and contract, the available research and statistics should provide a sobering reminder to organisations that they really need to think about what happens next.
*Carucci and Hansen, 2015
Clarendon Group, 12b Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock, Belfast, BT1 3BG