What exactly do new directors need to get off to a great start? HBR have published a lengthy study on on-boarding. Summarised below, it outlines what actions are good and how they could be great. I’ve added some ‘real-life’ pointers on why such time-investments might be worthwhile. And alternative ideas where some actions are just not possible. This was originally directed towards senior talent directors but should be of interest to hiring managers or new directors preparing to on-board. If any of these actions can take place before day one, even better.
Assuming strategic and operational leadership
- Business plans and structured introductions.
- Conversations with key stakeholders on strategic challenges.
- Opportunities to sit-in on strategic meetings.
- Immersive experiences in unfamiliar areas of the business.
- A leader gets closer to the important detail in a live time-efficient fashion. If some of this occurs before day one, he can begin to test his thinking before tackling the full mandate.
- Copies of strategy or change presentations (not necessarily the latest or annual ones) and a chat with an available stakeholder on how those plans were received by different groups across the company.
Engaging with culture
- Briefing on culture and ways of getting things done, evidenced with specific examples. Access to internal events.
- A “cultural interpreter” to provide insight. A briefing on former and current cultures and how and where behaviours might persist.
- Think about any ‘no-nos’ they might not immediately be aware of. Declining pre 9am meetings for example – they might not get an unspoken code that early morning means really important.
- Access to ‘buddies’ when possible, if not ahead of start date.
- Being socialised into strategically important business units – even via video call introductions. If relevant, there may be peripheral units that already demonstrate best practice behaviours. Getting a feel for those environments, even if small scale, may mean a new leader brings something fresh and relevant to the head office table on day one.
Taking charge of the team
- Team member career histories, assessment and performance data. Briefings on individuals’ strengths and weaknesses.
- Briefings on team dynamics and histories.
- Opportunity to witness workshops with the team; for example a “stop, start, continue” workshop on team performance at the end of project or product launch. A great way to weigh up who is the alpha, what ideas are being overlooked and how people react to being in the spotlight.
- Understanding motivators and aspirations (said and unsaid, evidenced and perceived) is essential in shaping and motivating a team and getting the very best from individuals.
- A great to opportunity to see team dynamics in action.
- Conversations with the most senior of the direct reports (the right hand man/woman) to secure a solid basis for team capabilities, limits and motivators. An informal setting should encourage a mood for disclosure and possibly constructive coaching type questioning.
Aligning with stakeholders
- Organisational charts. A list of senior stakeholders in a prioritised order and introductory meetings with the most important.
- The above plus a list of external stakeholders. And full briefings on their agendas and how those agendas might change.
- Change can never be enacted by a single individual and even a briefing only permits a snapshot in time. What should be aimed for is an understanding of where these people are coming from and what they’re aiming for.
- In the absence of some structured data (may be inappropriate to share some materials with those who aren’t yet employees), endeavour to socialise the new joiner as far is possible. Make it clear that they have access to individuals across their sphere of influence, facilitate those introductions even if simply by email. And be clear that this is purposeful strategic support rather than simply being polite!
When the CEO hired a direct report from outside the company (which was still a relatively rare occurrence), he invested significantly in that executive’s integration support and challenged others on the senior team to raise their game in this area. He worked closely with the new leader and a third party to identify potential problems and address them openly.