In the vast majority of cases, converging and evolving are the right leadership skills to apply to transition management when onboarding. (Please see my earlier post, "Onboarding Context and Culture".) Sometimes new leaders can just assimilate in. Sometimes they must shock the system for its own survival. But, most of the time, converging and evolving is the answer.
It's worth digging into what converging and evolving are all about in terms of 1) converging, 2) evolving, 3) point of inflection. The critical decision is when to switch the weight from assimilation to acceleration.
A study of IBM interns in 2004 by Chang et al. found that the success of those interns’ socialization into the group was directly correlated with their propensity to return to IBM full time after the internship. (1) They found four strong predictors of propensity to return. (Read that as a proxy for onboarding success.) The four predictors were:
- Awareness: How well the knowledge and skills of each person is understood.
- Information access: Extent to which each person was accessible within a sufficient time frame with needed information or advice.
- Information seeking: How often information or advice is sought on projects, work or operations from other individuals.
- Social closeness: How often each person is met with for non work-related activities.
Not all stakeholders are created equally. It's important to converge with those stakeholders whose behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and work environment preferences most closely align with where you and the organization are heading. At the same time, you need to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of doom surrounding stakeholders who oppose where the organization is heading.
For the most part, converging is about conversations in which the new leader does a lot of listening, asking questions about others' perspective on the situation, priorities, and culture.
The best leaders never stop having conversations in which they're doing a lot of listening, continuing to get others perspective on how things are going. They continue to learn so they can make sure the organization is continuing to adapt. The difference is that learning before the point of inflection is about converging into the way things are, while learning after the point of inflection is about evolving to the way things need to be.
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." – Attributed to Charles Darwin
Where the weight of the conversations before was on listening, there's more leading after the point of inflection. This is about managing the message and building the team – which are, of course, integrally linked.
No one will ever evolve into anything until they believe 1) they can't stay where they are, 2) the new way will be good for them, and 3) they know how they can be part of the process of the evolution. The message comes out of this.
If they believe these things, then it becomes much easier to align people, plans and practices around a shared purpose – critical components of building a team.
Point of Inflection
We've found that an imperative workshop serves as a great point of inflection. Imperative workshops are team continental divides with everything before the workshop influenced by the old way and everything after the workshop flowing into the new way.
Almost inevitably, the people that actually attend the workshop have a much higher propensity to become "believers", understanding why they need to change, where they're going, and their role in making it happen. Just by attending the workshop, they play a role in getting it started. Almost everyone that does not attend the workshop wishes they had.
So, run a workshop. Run it in your first 30 days when you're ready to transition from converging to evolving. Include the nucleus of your new team.
(1) Chang, K, Ehrlich, K. and Millen, K. (2004, November) Getting on Board: A Social Network Analysis of the Transformation of New Hires into Full-Time Employees. Paper presented at the meeting of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Workshop on Social Networks, Chicago, IL