How people manage executive onboarding leaves a lasting impact on all involved. It is a crucible of leadership -- a transformational experience that helps shape all involved. During the first 100 days of a new job, the journey and the relationships built are just as important as the end point.
Whether you are a new leader yourself or are helping a new leader transition into a new job or assignment, give executive onboarding the attention it deserves by thinking in terms of destination, context and communication.
Step One: Destination
"After two months, we reached the very top of Everest. It was pitch black. I was hypoxic. At -50 degrees Fahrenheit, my camera froze after two shots. We needed to get down quickly...
It was not about the experience on the top of the world. It was about the journey and the relationships... the lasting, enduring memories, experiences and moments we suffered through and enjoyed together."
This story was told to me by Michael Moniz, avid alpine climber and CEO of Circadence, as he explored the parallels between executive onboarding and mountain climbing.
Circadence designs and builds technologies for delivering data across networks of all types. To best take advantage of the remarkable adoption rate of smartphones and tablets and the tremendous increase in mobile network traffic, the company brought on Gary Morton as SVP of Engineering to lead development of its new mobile platforms.
Like a first mountain ascent, those tackling a new market "have to be excited about challenging the impossible," Moniz said. His new SVP had the strengths required for the role and seemed to fit with the team so the focus was making sure he had real a burning desire to tackle the challenge. (See my earlier article on the only three true interview questions).
Step Two: Context
Before even getting to a mountain, Moniz studies the terrain and the weather, and looks for patterns in others' successes or failures. Then he chooses the team, route and resources appropriate for the context.
New SVP Morton faced similar challenges in building Circadence's mobile solutions. He had to pull together a team from a limited global pool of talent. Of the infinite possibilities, Morton had to pick the most promising route/architecture for the new solutions. And he had to get the right balance of resources -- neither too few nor too many at any moment.
Step Three: Communication
The most successful mountaineers and businesspeople constantly think through scenarios and options, looking for different ways through the next crevasse field.
Just as Moniz and his Sherpa Chewang Lindu, are literally tethered together by their climbs, he and his new SVP had to partner for success. They spent time together both in and outside the office (including a long winter climb) until the new SVP's belief in Moniz and understanding of his vision gave him -- according to Moniz -- a "platform of confidence to build his team."
Moniz built on that platform, giving his new SVP:
- The latitude and resources to execute
- Realistic boundaries so he could operate safely for himself and the team
- Assistance in bridging relationships across the entire team
New leaders fail because of poor fit, poor delivery, or an inability to adjust to surprises. Moniz said that his new SVP is now "comfortable coming to me with breakthroughs and issues." He fits. He has delivered a new generation of technology and applications that have resulted in new customers. He has adjusted to surprises -- including losing a key senior engineer and going through personal challenges. He has become adept at triaging product marketing and sales requests by focusing all on what's really essential. It's a great example of coming through the leadership crucible of onboarding well.
The New Leader's Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis' managing director, and co-author of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011) and the freemium iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.