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“You’re hired to lead, now what?!”

A recent Harvard Business Review article cited that, “within the first 18 months there is a 50% chance the executive will leave the organization. This failure comes with enormous costs, not only in disruption to the organization but financially, too. One estimate puts the costs at 10 times the executive’s salary – sometimes more.”

The article goes on to state that the most common pitfalls are proposing a new vision for the organization too quickly, making too many big decisions early, telling people how you did things better at your previous organization, prioritizing external relationships over internal ones and going it alone. So how does a company help their new executive be successful? A New Leader Integration (NLI) is a way to help your leader get the best out of themselves, their teams and minimize the storming phase of team development.

The New Leader integration is a technique to compress the period during which a new leader and the people who work for the new leader to become acquainted with each other with their respect to their operating styles and expectations. The new leader, at a very early point, meets with his/her direct reports in a group session to open the communication channels and exchange views. The ideal time frame for the session is two to three weeks following the person’s start date, but can still be very effective if held within the first two to three months of a new leader’s tenure.

This session can achieve the following results:

  1. Bring the new leader “up to speed” at an accelerated clip.
  2. Reduce the level of preliminary apprehensions that may exist on the part of either the leader or the new staff.
  3. Provide a climate for the early two-way flow of information concerning such vital points as style of operation, needs of the organization, problem areas and identification of solutions.
  4. Bring the organization together with the new leader as a unit at an early point to maintain the momentum of the organization and solidify the team.
  5. Provide a forum for the new leader to introduce their ideas and philosophies to the new team.

The New Leader Integration also provides the following benefits to each of these stakeholders

For the New Leader:

  1. Organizes and plans the new job orientation period based on direct feedback from the team.
  2. Sets a productive baseline for the leader with his team and vice versa.
  3. Establishes the leader as a multi-dimensional person rather than someone that delegates work.
  4. Demonstrates the leader’s willingness to listen to the concerns of the people of the organization.
  5. Provides inputs to the leader on key issues that need to be addressed in the new job.
  6. Allows the opportunity to meet with direct reports promptly, rather than the delays that may result in multiple one on one discussions.

For the members of the New Leader’s team:

  1. Provides each member the opportunity to promptly meet with their new leader.
  2. Gives them inputs on their leader, including operating style, personal priorities, and what they expect of the team.
  3. Allows them to pose questions to the leader on potentially sensitive matters, which under normal circumstances, they may be reluctant to share with a new leader.
  4. Makes it possible to meet the new leader in a more general context, rather than in the normal course of business and decision making.
  5. Brings everyone together as a team with the common objective of getting acquainted with the new leader and making sure that they know how the group would like to function.

For the Human Resources Individual – as the facilitator:

  1. Provides a forum for the HR facilitator to be a part of the business ensuring operational success and removing potential barriers for cooperation.
  2. Allows them to establish a relationship whereby they may function as a facilitator of open communication in both directions between the leader and the team.
  3. Establishes an independent party relationship whereby they become a consultant to the new leader on human resources objectives of the operation.
  4. Makes a facilitator an active part of the new leader’s staff in identifying business priorities, concerns and plans.
New Leader Integration Process
  1. The Human Resources manager meets with the new manager and reviews the integration process to describe its objective and benefits. This contact preferably takes place in advance of the new leader reporting on the job. If the new leader is interested in using the technique to aid in their orientation, the Human Resources facilitator agrees to meet with the new staff and gain their acceptance on the process. This ensures that both sides are coming to the table willingly and with a spirit of collaboration. The facilitator shares questions for the new leader to think about but not prepare any answers. The questions are to cultivate the mindset needed for a successful two-way conversation.

The advance thought stimulators are:

  • What is your leadership style?
  • What do you do well? What do you need to improve upon?
  • What are your business values? How do you live them at work?
  • What are your expectations for your team?
  • What is your view of the business and the leadership team?
  • What were you told about the leadership team coming in?
  • What is your view of our company?
  • What are your initial thoughts for improvement?
  • What is your vision for the business?
  1. A facilitator for the NLI meeting is identified. This can be the HR Manager but another HR leader could serve as the facilitator as well if it is more beneficial for the HR Manager to participate with the group.
  2. The facilitator establishes the meeting time and place and drafts a meeting invite for the New Leader to send to his/her team members. A good NLI assimilation meeting usually takes 3 hours. There is no advance preparation required of the team members. Materials for the meeting include a flip chart, a pad of “post-its” and a medium tip felt pen. The pens provided should all be the same to help preserve anonymity. At the New Leader Assimilation meeting:
  3. At the New Leader Assimilation meeting:

The New Leader kicks-off the meeting by welcoming the team members and thanking them for their time. The Leader encourages open and honest thoughts and reinforces the anonymity of the process. The new leader then leaves the room. This portion should take about 10 minutes.

The Facilitator reviews the meeting objectives and process. The facilitator then processes 8 questions with the team using a storyboarding technique.

This portion should take about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The questions are:

  • What do we already know about the new leader?
  • What don’t we know about the new leader, but would like to know?
  • What are our concerns about the new leader in this role?
  • What should the new leader know about us as a group?
  • What do we need most from the new leader to be successful?
  • What would you like to see the new leader change?
  • What would you like the new leader to continue doing?
  • For the next 90 days – what specific advice do you have for the new leader?

For each question, the facilitator asks team members to write one thought per post it slip and then turn the post-it slip over in front of them. Usually 5 minutes per question is appropriate and team members are encouraged to produce as many thoughts as possible. The thoughts can be facts, perceptions or even rumors. During the 5 minutes, the facilitator walks around the room and without reading the notes, sticks them on a flip chart labeled with the question. At this point, order of the notes is not important and it is better if they are attached at random to reinforce anonymity. After completing each question, the facilitator attaches the flip chart containing the random post-it notes on the wall.

After all questions are processed, the facilitator assigns each team member a flip chart or question and their task is to organize the information. They are encouraged to group the post-it notes into categories and insert header cards for each category. Typically, the notes on each question are grouped into 4-5 categories.

The facilitator then asks each team member to share with the team what is contained on the flip chart they organized.

Team members are then excused and asked to return in ½ hour.

The New Leader is then brought back in the room and with the help of the facilitator reviews the questions and feedback on each flip chart (30 minutes). The facilitator talks about themes that surfaced and provides clarification on specific comments but at no time should the facilitator disclose what team member prepared a specific comment. The New Leader is encouraged to highlight post-it notes or comments they specifically want to talk about.

The team members are invited back into the room and together with the New Leader discuss the feedback. The New Leader should be coached to ask for clarification on points but not to probe for who wrote the comment.

  1. At the end of the meeting, the New Leader should thank the group and say that they will have someone capture the information on the flip charts so that the feedback from the NLI can be reviewed again with the team in three to six months. Also, the leader and team mutually decide on next steps needed to address any issue/concern.

The New Leader Integration has proven to be successful in meeting its objectives in a variety of situations including cases where the new leader comes from outside the organization/operation and is a relatively unknown quantity. It has also proven to be successful in situations where the leader has transferred from another associated operation and is somewhat known by the new staff. In these cases, while the staff may know the new leader from casual business or social contact, they are not aware of his/her philosophies and operating style. While the New Leader Integration might have less application where the new manager has emerged from the group, it has been successful in cases where the new leader is entering a large organization or where his/her management views are not fully understood. Following this process can help both the new leader and the team to establish a working relationship and avoid pitfalls that can stall the leader and the team.

© Benton+Bradford Consulting