Boosting organisational performance: the story of Karen

How long does it take before a senior exec is delivering what was expected whilst staying fit and healthy at the same time? Three months, six months a year maybe? When I asked a few Chief Human Resource Officers a few weeks ago they all tended to agree on something between 4-8 months. And if you could speed that up with 3-4 months? And maybe reach a higher performance level as well?  Without working harder and longer?  Can it be done?  Read the story of Karen.

Karen was recruited 2 levels below the C suite after a 15 year career in several finance roles in different countries. It was a great opportunity for her that came at exactly the right moment. Her position was transferred to the HQ at a different continent. For a number of reasons Karen had decided not to follow. Within a couple of months something too good to be true landed on her doorstep.  After a few interviews it became clear that she was the ideal candidate. As an outsider from a different but related industry she would bring different perspectives on the business model. Her strategic insights were creative, innovative and would complimentary to the rest of the senior team. And next to this, as the age distribution in the finance community was rather skewed towards retirement age, the 45 year old was a potential candidate to take a top position in a few years. Karen felt excited about joining a different industry with a lot of potential, a different professional environment and different people to work with. What could go wrong? 

The first couple of weeks were an absolute nightmare.  Although the team were nice and supportive, there were no hidden disasters; Karen felt she was totally caged and isolated. She is good observer and equipped with strong analytical skills and creativity. After a few weeks she wanted to share and express here ideas about the several business models, strategic direction, how employees were behaving, and what clients were telling her but there was no opportunity and forum to do this. The cultural and political climate also turned out to be more ambiguous than expected.

The introduction program didn’t help either. It was clearly targeting shop floor and middle management personnel. Karen found the programme a great opportunity to learn and understand what was going on at these levels but felt pretty isolated. She was the only SVP in that group which made everybody silent when she made comments or asked questions. And Karen had tons of ideas, observations that she wanted to share. It became worse when she had found out that the company had two other new hires of the same level.  From rumours and hearing him bragging about his achievements in the past she concluded that at least one of them was also on a fast track scheme to the CFO position. That was not how her career path was presented to her. When she asked her boss she was vague and unsure ‘but would ask HR to clarify’.  Which they did. And as always the situation was again very different than what she had perceived until now. Karen is the type who fights to make things better. Not just for herself but also for the organisation she worked for. Together with the CHRO she used her very bad experiences to design an OnBoarding programme 100% tailored towards the needs of senior executives. Here are three of the many best practices they have put in their framework.  

Tailor made and Level specific
They had immediately done away with the one size fits all approach.  Instead they designed a dedicated programme for senior execs.  One of the new elements was the 4 week call out with the Board. New hires from VP level and up were encouraged during VC meeting to share their observations. Board members were trained not to be too jumpy and defensive but to listen. It led to strategic discussions on business models, client segmentation, and employee engagement and for the first time the input from the new hires was being used. In the end that was one of the reasons going external. This principle was copied to new hires at shop floor and middle management level that now had similar meetings with division boards.   The company is now learning and making use of fresh ideas. And the new hires feel that they are listened to and already add value in the very first few weeks. An expensive consultant could not do any better.

It had turned out that nobody actually ‘owned’ the onboarding process. Nobody felt accountable for the process. That was changed, it is now a Board responsibility and one of the more senior hr director acts as the supporting consultant.  One of the results is that onboarding is a fixed item on the agenda once every 8 weeks with a standard framework of criteria to make sure all onboarding will stay on track.

Onboarding mentors: Guides to cross cultural and political minefields
New hires Cleary indicated that they wanted a mentor to help them during the first 6 month. As a result senior directors were trained to become mentors in the field of onboarding and guide new hires safely through the cultural and political minefield that you have to go through when entering a new company.

Organisational performance is up
The results are very promising. The company is in control again and the new leaders find themselves supported by a professional onboarding framework. ‘Everything’ communicates to them that they have joined the right company.  The new ideas, observations reach the top quickly and are being dealt with. Good for the esteem of the new leader and a good boost for organizational performance.  And a massive reduction of stress, frustration and energy.  

Simple things, in a consistent framework  that are well executed have big impact on organizational performance. What are you waiting for? 

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