Ensure your execs fit in

Many organisations assume that once a newly-hired executive has actually started work, the demanding and often gruelling recruitment challenge is at an end. This, however, is as short-sighted a perception as the idea that bringing a new computer system into an organisation is just a question of plugging it in and switching it on.

As for executives, their integration can be far trickier, although this should perhaps not surprise us. After all, people are very much more complex than computers.

Executive integration means ensuring the smooth and successful integration of a new executive into an organisation. It has never been a more important task than it is today, when an uncertain economic climate combines with burgeoning new sources of competition to create an environment where the success of newly-appointed executives is a key element in the organisation’s competitiveness.

Recent research reveals more than 70% of newly hired senior executives leave their positions within the first two years (Assimilating New Leaders, The Key to Executive Retention, American Management Association, 2001).

Furthermore, in today’s ’24/7′ business climate it is no longer realistic for organisations to wait say, six to nine months for a new executive to get their sea legs.

Proper planning and management of the integration process increases the chances of a smooth and productive relationship forming between the new executive and the company. In particular, the organisation should ensure the following four measures, all fundamental to a successful integration, are pursued with rigour and sensitivity.

Firstly: it is essential to examine earlier successes and failures of the company in integrating executives from the outside. A detailed examination of these will reveal much about organisational issues that enhance integration or detract from it. It is especially important that the following questions are all addressed without delay and answers found.

  • What knowledge must the new executive acquire in order to operate to maximum effectiveness?
  • What are the first actions the individual must take to maximise the chance of creating a lasting impact in the organisation?
  • How can the organisation accelerate the new executive’s understanding of its corporate culture? For example what are the unwritten cultural ‘dos’ and ‘donts’?
  • What actions can be taken to help ensure their employees build successful careers?

Secondly: it is important to recruit realistically. A key difficulty here is that both parties are likely to want to believe positive things about each other and will often subconsciously look for confirmation of this.

An honest assessment of the candidate must ascertain not only the extent to which they possess the characteristics associated with the job but also ‘integration-related’ requirements essential to the organisation.

Thirdly: be aware of a new executive’s first steps and manage the orientation period. Successful executive integration is a two-way process. All things being equal, the new executive will be well motivated to make the interaction a success. Yet the onus doesn’t only lie on the shoulders of the new individual.

The organisation must play a role in maximising the likelihood that the process is a success by committing itself to three key activities.

In particular, the person to whom the new executive reports must make the time to hold regular in-depth discussions with the new executive once they have started work.

These should be frank, open discussions directed at gaining a real insight into, and an understanding of, the executive’s aspirations in the new role, while challenges and potential problems that are already presenting themselves can be identified.

The organisation also needs to promote and initiate dialogue between the new executive and all those with a significant interest in the success of the new appointment. As well as providing an excellent grounding for the exchange of information, this dialogue will also help create a mutual bond of trust between the company and the executive.

The organisation needs to take steps to ensure working styles are being aligned and are compatible. Sometimes a cultural gap will emerge between the established team and the newly appointed executive, which may prevent or inhibit an effective harmonious working relationship. The solution here is for the organisation to encourage teamwork between the new executive and colleagues to harmonise style and objectives.

Fourthly: recognise a major change has been brought into effect. Bringing in outside talent, by its nature, causes a change in how the organisation does things. The company needs to face the fact that a new executive will create change within the status quo, with the impact all the greater the more senior the appointment.

Many organisations take extensive measures to ensure their executive recruitment procedure is thorough, intelligent, objective and aimed at meeting the organisation’s commercial objectives. The process of integration also requires a similarly rigorous, thoughtful, results-orientated and humane approach. Such an approach will pay dividends in the struggle for maximum competitive effectiveness.

  • Dr Robert Kovach is managing director of the UK office of the global management psychology firm RHR International.

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