I previously co-wrote with Carole Field, a series of books called Foreigner In Charge, which were written for expatriate leaders taking on new roles in new countries. In our research we had identified similar findings to Ty’s – that organisations were poorly equipped in offering successful leadership transition support. Our research suggested organisations offered:
Little or no support
The organisation provides very basic relocation, transport, accommodation assistance and basic information about office logistics. This satisfies the basic, short-term transactional needs and rarely goes beyond the first week after arrival in the new role. Think of this is basic onboarding and nothing else!
Many organisations offer short programs on explaining the cultural differences between the new country an expat leader is headed to and their home country. The family of the executive are often included. While most executives are grateful for the information, many comment that it is while learning to lead the organisation over the ensuing three, six and twelve months that they really start to understand the new country culture. For leaders joining an organisation within their current country, culture can still trip people up. Understanding industry and company culture remains a key hurdle that inhibits successful transitions.
Executive coaching is a well utilised and known mechanism for supporting executives to transition into the role. Learning to elevate the level of thinking that needs to be employed, the level of leadership to the new position and the level of influence across the organisation is as much a nurtured and learnt framework as it is a natural ability. Many organisations support executives by providing an internal or external coach to work alongside them for the first three or six months. Traditionally an executive coach will focus on the role only and will not take into account the multiple transitions the executive is experiencing.
Onboarding versus Effective Leadership Transition and Integration
Onboarding should be a well-designed and thought through process designed to help leaders learn the behaviours, skills and knowledge to succeed in their new organisation. But most organisations, if they have an onboarding program, focus on the hygiene factors and logistics. “Here is your computer, your carpark, keys and there is the toilet”.
Effective transition support acts like an insurance policy for the organisation against executive derailment. Executive onboarding should be a distinct process to general employee onboarding, Effective programs are designed to address the critical areas of weaknesses for leaders, align their leadership style with the culture of the business, help develop effective relationships and optimise the most desirable skills for their new role.
Ty shared from his research that effective support includes increasing a leader’s understanding of the role demands, avoiding opportunities for the leader to make mistakes and decreasing time to productivity. It should also include reducing the chance of derailment, mitigating the risks of termination and the resulting costs of replacement. Stories of successful programs report the impact of the support helped those leaders build alliances with their teams, helped the leader develop a sense of belonging and provided support and feedback during the transition period.