As the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on the economy, many companies will struggle to respond. Role changes will likely be forced on some, and leadership roles can be some of the most difficult and costly positions to fill and then secure.
Typically, hiring teams have poured a substantial amount of time and resources into locking up a great fit for the organization or department. But once the leader takes the reigns, they don’t always get the support to transition into the role successfully.
You wouldn’t plan to hire a new leader with loads of experience and capacity to work half days for the entire first year, right? Well, that’s the level of productivity you’ll risk getting from your new leader if you don’t take the time to integrate him or her into the organization at the beginning.
A Harvard Business Review study found that effectively integrating new leaders into their roles immediately after hiring them reduced their time ramping to full capacity by one third, from six months to four. Companies that recognize the reward in intentional integration efforts can cover a lot more ground than others that neglect this aspect of the onboarding process.
New leaders face a set of unique challenges that have nothing to do with their level of expertise or their reputation. The biggest challenge comes in the human factor of figuring out new relationships. There’s a vacuum of unfamiliarity that exists when a new leader assumes the position.
He or she enters a group with limited knowledge about the other individuals: how they like to work, their concerns, and their ambitions. And in return, the group knows little about their new leader.
If no effort is made to fill the vacuum with accurate and actionable data, the leader and the team will begin filling it with their own assumptions. This can result in confusion, misunderstandings, low morale, frustration and slower productivity. Employees are already experiencing higher stress brought on by the pandemic and its impact on the economy. Introducing a new leader can add to the weight if not done thoughtfully.
A process referred to as new leader assimilation can help to cut these problems off at their root. New leader assimilation is a systemized process for accelerating a new leader’s integration and impact through a series of communication experiences that bring familiarity to the group and build mutual trust. It goes beyond traditional onboarding, which is really just filling out paperwork and going through policies and procedures. And it can be done virtually!
Joleen Goronkin, is a public speaker, thought leader, and the owner of People & Performance Strategies, a Human Capital consulting firm based in Austin, Texas. Goronkin has provided some of the nation’s most forward-thinking companies with a road map to begin conducting new leader assimilation meetings as an integral part of hiring and powering up new leaders.
Goronkin explains, “New leader assimilation is really the first step toward empowering a new leader and a step no company should skip, especially now. The goal is to initiate a two-way dialogue between an incoming leader and the team. That initial dialogue is critical for the leader and team to get to know each other, and it can greatly reduce the time and money spent as your new leader gains speed. Through a series of organized communication steps, everyone, not just the leader, gains clarity on each other’s intentions and expectations. In new leader assimilation, we’re seeking to maximize a leader’s effectiveness by maximizing the relationship between the leader and the team.”
New leader assimilation plays an important factor in the increasingly mobile and remote workforce with 80% of the US workforce now working remotely. Many new leaders will find themselves managing team members that only connect by virtual means or managing teams from different places and backgrounds. While those differences can add significant value and perspective, they, along with the remote relationship, can create communication barriers that stall a leader’s progress. Teams made partially or entirely of virtual collaborators, can especially benefit from going through an initial assimilation process that helps them work more effectively with one another and with their new leader.
The most successful new leader assimilation methods take place soon after a new leader begins work. They should include at least two steps: 1) collecting authentic feedback from the group, and 2) a planned meeting with two-way dialogue, in which the new leader may address the feedback in detail.
New leader assimilation plan:
Phase 1: Collect data from the team anonymously. (two weeks after the leader’s hire date)
Create a set of questions that are designed to extract important thoughts and feelings from the team, and collect feedback using survey software. Allow space for team members to voice a question or concern not addressed on the questionnaire if needed.
Example questions to Include:
What would you like to know about your leader?
What would you like your leader to know about you?
What is your greatest strength and greatest opportunity?
What do you need most from your team and your leader?
Phase 2: Provide the collected feedback to the new leader (one week of collecting feedback).
Provide the leader with the group’s feedback and allow him or her one week to process the information.
Phase 3: The leader prepares his or her responses to the team’s feedback. (one week).
Designate an experienced person within the organization, or a third-party mediator, to review the collected feedback with the leader and help him or her to form effective responses.
Phase 4: Hold an assimilation meeting (one week after the leader has been coached on responses).
Hold a one to two-hour virtual meeting that includes the new leader, the team members and the moderator.
Phase 5: Follow-up with unanswered concerns (three to six months).
Schedule a future date to address any questions or concerns that cannot or should not be addressed during the group meeting. Schedule one-on-one discussions if needed and hold a second group meeting as a follow-up.
Preparation is always key
New leader assimilation is about more than just the team meeting. For the team meeting to run smoothly and provide the greatest benefits, it’s important to coach the leader on his or her responses.
Goronkin says, “Leaders, like everyone else, don’t enjoy when they come face-to-face with questions about their character or their intentions. That’s why a best practice is to collect questions in advance and provide the feedback to the new leader prior to the team meeting, to let those emotions shake out.”
Give the new leader plenty of time, at least a week, to process the information before holding a coaching session. During the coaching session review all of the new leader’s initial responses. Then spend some time advising them on how to respond effectively to any particularly delicate feedback.
Goronkin says, “Prepping and coaching the leader helps improve the quality of the team conversation. It can help to keep everyone’s attention and get the most out of the time during the event.”
When a new leader joins your ranks, it can be hard to resist the urge to dive into the work ahead as quickly as possible, but consider an alternative approach and what new leader assimilation can mean for your team’s productivity, longer term.
Taking time in the beginning to solidify your leader’s relationships can eliminate problems and inefficiencies down the road. Make new leader assimilation a fundamental part of your forward movement to speed up your progress, and help everyone reach their maximum effectiveness when it’s needed the most.