There is no doubt that effective new leader assimilation is a critical part of an organization’s overall success. Because new executives hold important strategic positions, it is imperative that they are able to make impactful decisions as quickly as possible. Studies show, however, that leaders on average take over six months to reach the “breaking-even” point where they are contributing to the company as much as they are receiving from it. Furthermore, evidence demonstrates that 40% of leaders leave a company within their first 18 months, which results in a massive waste of company resources.
Why New Leader Assimilation is Challenging
Onboarding is rarely easy for any position, but for new leaders in particular, assimilation poses numerous challenges. Rapid executive assimilation is especially critical in today’s fast-paced business world because new executives are expected to hit the ground running when they join an organization. By the time they step into their new roles, most executives are expected to have a working understanding of the organization. Many will also have immediate deadlines by which they must create a strategic plan or execute some new initiative. Without a thorough understanding of the business’s needs, challenges, and opportunities, how the business functions, and where gaps must be filed, a leader simply does not have the information he or she needs to execute effectively. As a result, a leader’s success in a new position can be a hit or miss deal.
In many cases, new leaders will find themselves blocked by cultural barriers, too. When a new leader first joins a company, he or she has yet to gain the trust of his or her team members, which makes it difficult for the leader to truly understand the minute details of the company. Without the safeguard of anonymity, employees under new leadership are unlikely to share their true opinions until they have built trust and rapport with the leader.
In addition, new leaders may face resource barriers. In an increasingly global business world, more and more companies are expanding to multiple countries and continents around the world. For a leader who oversees a number of teams in different locations, the difficulties of assimilation increase exponentially. In order to truly understand the organization and what it needs, the new leader must spend time and money making multiple trips to each separate location in order to gather the necessary organizational intelligence.
New leaders who do not assimilate effectively will frequently find their strategic plans and initiatives are not implemented successfully. If they do not understand the organizations or departments they have entered, many new leaders will miss the mark in their strategic planning. Some will attempt to turn their new teams into their old teams, fitting the new organization into the structure of the old. Trying to force new organizational structure, systems, and processes can seem unnatural and unnecessary, and it may cause resentment among employees. New leaders are often tempted to make a difference and institute organizational changes prematurely, but these changes are often not necessary and can even be harmful. It is imperative, therefore, for new leaders to really understand the level of change their new organizations need and how to best implement that change.
Ineffective new leader assimilation can thus not only hurt a new leader, but can also cripple the organization as a whole, as leaders are forced to make decisions they are not ready to make and money is wasted in fruitless onboarding.
A new way of handling new leader assimilation
Given the criticality of new leader assimilation, there exist numerous tools and strategies for successful assimilation. What a new leader truly needs in order to assimilate successfully, however, is simple:rapid, easily accessible organizational intelligence. Organizational intelligence is a thorough understanding of every part of an organization, gathered from employees, the people who know the business best. In order to gather organizational intelligence, a new leader needs a way to have a conversation with each team member, as rapidly as possible, anonymously, across all global regions. This organizational intelligence will then inform the new leader as to the real needs of the business.
Case Study:Fortune 200 Leader Uses 9Lenses Software to Assimilate Rapidly and Create a Successful Strategic Plan
A leader at a Fortune 200 company was moving into a new position with 52 direct reports across seven regions. As part of her leadership assimilation, she was expected to develop a 60-day strategic plan to move the business forward. In order to do so, she needed to be able to rapidly and thoroughly understand the current state of the business. The leader traveled to each of the seven regions to meet her teams in person, but in order to obtain the level of insight she needed, she would have had to make a number of additional trips. Moreover, the leader recognized the difficulty of gaining an accurate understanding of the business through initial team meetings, as employees are frequently reluctant to share their perceptions with a new leader.
The leader turned to 9Lenses in order to reduce the lead-time for strategic onboarding and quickly design a plan that would allow her to make informed decisions to move her teams forward. Designed to capture high-level perspectives on the effectiveness of the department, the 9Lenses interview targeted the basics of organizational health such as communication effectiveness, innovation opportunities, and operational efficiency.
Over a period of twelve days, the interview collected over 11,000 data points from 55 participants at a 95% participation rate. Because the interview was anonymous, the leader was able to circumvent political barriers to gain a thorough perspective. The data revealed a number of immediate focus areas, highlighting tools that were not as useful as assumed and issues around alignment of the organization with other parts of the business.
The leader communicated the interview results to her team members to ensure everyone was aligned. With the data collected from the interview, she was able to gain an accelerated understanding of the business and create a 60-day plan to meet her goal. Because the plan was based on hard data and rich insights from the employees, she was able to forge ahead with the confidence that her plan was what the business needed to move forward. The company as a whole saw the value of aligning leadership with team members and identified a number of additional opportunities to leverage 9Lenses software.