Most of executive onboarding is just common sense. Still, different people latch on to different nuggets that help their own chances of success in a world in which 40% of new leaders fail in their first 18-months. These 40 tips all nest under the importance of converging and then evolving by I) Getting a head start, II) Managing the message, III) Setting direction and building the team and IV) Sustaining momentum and delivering results.
1. Fit in. The mismatch between personal preferences and cultural behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and environment is the #1 risk and #1 cause of failure.
2. Deliver. Failure to deliver is the #2 cause of failure. Sooner, rather than later, get done what they need you to get done.
3. Adjust. Obviously, a big part of converging upfront is adjusting to the culture. But adjusting never ends. Keep your eyes open and adjust to changes down the road from anemic to pandemic.
GET A HEAD START
4. Think through a five-step career plan including
- Your likes and dislikes.
- Long-term goals.
- Ideal job criteria.
- Create options.
- Choose the right option given your long-term goal sand ideal job criteria.
- Do a gut check.
5. Adopt a 90/10 positioning. 60/40 winners tend to the mean and come in 2nd place 6 out of 10 times. 90/10 losers get ruled out immediately 90% of the time and get the job 10% of the time.
6. Differentiate between what you talk about, will do, and will not do. Make the piece you talk about as focused as possible. At the same time, know that just because you don’t talk about some things doesn’t mean you won’t do them. But, be clear on what you won’t do.
7. Avoid the consultant’s roller coaster, selling, selling, selling until you reach capacity, then putting all your time and attention into delivering the work you’ve sold, leaving no time for selling, so that when the work is done, you have no pipeline. Instead, always keep 20% of your time focused on business development.
Some executives in transition do some consulting work to generate income and keep their skills current. It’s a good idea – unless it’s taking all your time and keeping you from working your job search. Keep 20% of your time free for your job search.
8. Know there are only three interview questions – ever.
- Can you do the job? (Strengths)
- Will you love the job? (Motivation)
- Can we tolerate working with you? (Fit)
9. No one cares about you. They care about what you can do for them.
10. Prepare answers to the only three interview questions – from their perspective.
- Strengths that they need
- Motivation to do their job
- Fit with their culture.
11. Avoid the 100-Day Plan for interviews trap. If asked to prepare a 100-Day Plan for a final interview, remember it’s not about you. Position your plan in the context of their overall objectives and 12-month goals. This leads to what your team needs to get done and then and only then, your 100-Day Plan.
12. Virtual tip #1: Think classical, not jazz. Live meetings can have jazz-like flexible agendas. Virtual meetings need deliberate and detailed content, meeting flow, and technology planning, preparation and rehearsals – like a classical orchestra.
Note these tips apply to all virtual meetings including interviews, pre-start conversations, workshops, and the like.
13. Virtual tip #2: Flip the classroom. Send people pre-reads ahead of virtual meetings so you can focus on discussions during those meetings.
14. Virtual tip #3: Keep breakouts to 3-4 people. The perfect size for a live team meeting is 7 people +/- 2. Less than 5 and you risk not having the full range of diverse perspectives. More than 9 and people are fighting for air time. But with virtual meetings it’s hard to have a real conversation with more than four people on at a time.
15. Interviews are about selling. Everything is part of the interview. Every interaction with anyone. Every question. Everything you say and do should communicate the strengths, motivation and fit they’re looking for. You can’t turn down a job offer you don’t have. So, sell before you buy.
16. Then do your due diligence. If you paid attention to tip #15 and focused 100% on selling, you have to do a real due diligence after you’ve been offered and before you accept the job.
17. Answer three due diligence questions:
- What is the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage? (Organizational risk.)
- Did anyone have concerns about this role; and, if so, what was done to mitigate them? (Role risk)
- What, specifically, about me, led the organization to offer me the job? (Personal risk.)
18. Dig into the culture. The BRAVE framework can help. Make sure you understand:
- Behaviors: Flexible vs. stable discipline | Interdependent vs. independent | Enjoyment vs. order
- Relationships: Purpose vs. authority | Informal vs. formal communications | Diffused vs. hierarchical decisions
- Attitudes: Innovation vs. minimum viable strategy | Proactive vs. responsive | Learning vs. safety
- Values: Purpose as intended vs .as written | Open/shared vs. directed learning | Caring vs. results focus
- Environment: Open vs. closed layout | Casual vs. formal décor | Work-life balance vs. work-focused facilities
19. Assess the overall onboarding risk.
- If it’s low, do nothing out of the ordinary. (But keep your eyes open for the inevitable changes.)
- If it’s manageable, manage it in the normal course of events.
- If it’s mission-crippling, resolve or mitigate before accepting the role.
- If the barriers are insurmountable, walk away.
20. Leverage the Fuzzy Front End between accepting and starting a job to
- Map your stakeholders.
- Develop a personal 100-Day Action Plan.
- Get set up.
- Jump-start learning.
- Get aligned with your “up” stakeholders and jump-start your key relationships.
For many of you, leveraging the Fuzzy Front End is an important, new idea. Jump-starting relationships not only builds personal bonds but is a key contributor to developing your organizing concept in a way that is impactful and resonates per tip #30.
21. Figure out your onboarding approach: assimilating, converging and evolving fast or slow, or shocking the system based on the organization’s need to change, willingness to change, and your risk profile.
22. Get help figuring out which side of the road to drive on as every organization drives on different sides of the road in all sorts of different ways which are not going to be intuitively obvious to you. Leverage scouts (who went before,) seconds (committed to helping you,) and spies (helping you behind the scenes.)
23. In a hot landing, like all landings in a pandemic,
- Jump right in to help
- Learn with everyone else
- Let your leadership emerge over time.
MANAGE THE MESSAGE
24. Identify the contributors, watchers, and detractors. Contributors share your agenda. Detractors want to stop you. Watchers haven’t decided yet.
25. Move them one step at a time. You’re not going to turn the detractors into contributors. Instead, turn the contributors into champions, the watchers into contributors, and get the detractors out of the way.
26. Be. Do. Say. No one will believe what you say. They will believe what you do. But if your actions match your words and not your fundamental, underlying beliefs, you will get caught. This is why you have to start there.
27. MAP your communication efforts across Message, Amplifiers, Perseverance. Turn the “old guard” into allies and amplifiers by 1) switching the “we” immediately, never talking about your old company again, 2) standing on the shoulders of giants (the old guard) as you go forward, and 3) leveraging new external platforms for change to enroll the old guard as partners.
28. Do not start by talking about yourself. No one cares about you. Their only question is “What does this mean for me?” In particular, this means do not come in with a presentation about yourself, your values and your ideas.
29. Do start by answering their questions. (Knowing the only question that matters per tip #28.)
30. Clarify your organizing concept. This is the strategy or concept behind your communication points. Get that right so you can flex on the rest.
31. Make your communication emotional, rational and inspirational – in that order. Emotionally connect with people first. Then lay out the brutal, rational facts of the situation. Then inspire them to be part of the solution with a specific call to action inspiring new emotions.
SET DIRECTION. BUILD THE TEAM.
32. Co-create a burning imperative. This is the pivot from converging to evolving.
- If you tell people to do something, the best you can ever get is compliance.
- If you want their contribution, sell, test or consult.
- If you want their commitment, you need to co-create.
33. Put in place a milestone management system. Strategies are theoretically elegant and practically useless until turned into actions with clarity around what’s getting done by when by whom. Make sure someone owns the process and follows through on milestone tracking on a regular basis.
34. Over-invest to accelerate the delivery of one or more projects as early wins to give the team confidence in themselves.
35. Get the right people in the right roles early on. The #1 regret experienced leaders have looking back on their careers is not moving fast enough on people.
- Invest in under-performing people in the right role.
- Support effective people in the right role.
- Cherish outstanding people in the right role.
- Move out under-performing people in the wrong role.
- Move over effective people in the wrong role.
- Move up outstanding people in the wrong role.
SUSTAIN MOMENTUM. DELIVER RESULTS.
36. Evolve people, plans and practices over time.
37. Systematize a management cadence
- Manage core talent, strategic, capability and operating processes annually/quarterly.
- Track programs monthly.
- Track projects weekly.
- Track tasks daily – perhaps with huddles.
38. Take a strategic approach to risk management: Observe. Assess. Plan. Act.
- Downplay minor and temporary changes. Control and stay focused on priorities.
- Evolve through minor and enduring changes, factoring into ongoing team evolution.
- Manage major and temporary changes. Deploy your incident management response plan.
- Restart following a major and enduring change. Jump-shifting your strategy, organization and operations to lead through the point of inflection.
- Think Stockdale Paradox confronting the brutal facts head on with optimism about the future.
- Keep all eyes on your purpose (mission, vision, values/guiding principles)
- Act by i) assessing the situation and scenarios, ii) confirming objectives and intent, iii) laying out options and expected outcomes, iv) prioritizing with accountabilities, v) executing, monitoring, iterating.
- Communicate emotionally, rationally, inspirationally.
40. Keep going. Keep growing, conducting a self-assessment and getting stakeholder feedback to inform course corrections in culture, priorities and leadership approach.
Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #649) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.