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Integration versus ‘Sink or Swim’: Why Supporting the Success of New Leaders Benefits Teams and Organizations

Integration versus ‘Sink or Swim’: Why Supporting the Success of New Leaders Benefits Teams and Organizations

Over the years, I have enjoyed serving as a senior human resources executive in some of the world’s largest and most admired companies. During this time, I observed that many organizations spend significant resources and focus on building a robust leadership recruitment/selection process. However, these same companies fail to invest adequately in an integration process to help ensure the success of new leaders. Leadership integration is simply a strategic and intentional process to assimilate a new leader by equipping them with a roadmap for success.

Success or failure of new executives can have broad implications
Sadly, most companies unintentionally force their carefully recruited new executives to “sink-or-swim” when introducing them to the organization. Far too often, new leaders drop into their new roles without a thoughtful plan or time to adequately acclimate to the new environment. I have seen this unfortunate scenario not only in large for-profit companies, but in nonprofit institutions and churches as well. This lack of attention to leadership integration holds true both for external hires and internal promotions. Perhaps counter-intuitively, those promoted internally benefit just as much from leadership integration as do those externally recruited leaders

To illustrate the importance of leadership integration, I can describe what I witnessed first-hand at a firm. This company hired a senior vice president of strategy to lead and drive the organization’s multi-year transformation plan. The successful candidate held multiple degrees from top universities and brought deep experience with a proven track record of success. Everyone who interviewed this person agreed that he was highly qualified and that his past performance would be predictive of his future success.

Thrown into the deep end
However upon hire, this executive was immediately thrown into his role without time to acclimate to the company’s relationship-centric culture and highly matrixed operating model. He left the organization after eight months, damaging both the firm and his reputation.

Sadly, this story is not uncommon. The lack of investment in a defined leadership integration process is a key contributing factor to high failure rates for new leaders. Harvard Business Review in a Nov. 13, 2017 article by Ron Carucci reported that 61% of executives are not prepared for their new leadership roles, and 50 to 60 percent of executives fail within the first 18 months on the job. Further, Mary Meaney and Scott Keller cite in their book Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths (Bloomsbury Business, 2017), that 75 percent of new executives feel unprepared for their new roles. The failure of a new leader wreaks devastating impact on an organization for many years to come.  According to Meany and Scott, when a leader fails, the performance of their direct reports falls 15 percent lower than it would be with high-performing leaders. The direct reports also are 20 percent more likely to be disengaged or to leave the organization. Effects often can reach outside an organization, impacting both customers and shareholders.

While failure numbers are high for new leaders, organizations big and small can avoid joining the negative statistics. Organizations can reduce significantly the risk of seeing their new leaders fail by taking the time intentionally to integrate new executives across the functional, cultural and organizational dimensions of their companies.

Start small when creating an integration plan
Creating integration plans from scratch can be daunting. Start small and focus on a few key roles initially. Avoid making the plans overly complicated. While integration plans will differ from organization to organization, certain critical elements form the foundation. Strong Leadership Integration plans should address the following dimensions:

  • Functional – What core skills and experiences will a leader need to succeed in the role and the company?
  • Cultural – What are the values, purpose and mission for the organization and how must the leader act or behave to succeed?
  • Organizational – What core leadership competencies does the organization require?

While a strong on-boarding and integration process will not guarantee success for all new leaders, a well-planned approach will reduce the overall failure rate. Gallagher can help you customize an integration plan for your next executive hire to avoid costly downstream effects of leadership failure and help your organization face the future with confidence.

To learn how leadership integration accelerates success for new leaders, contact us or visit www.HumanCapitalGroup.com. Reach David Alexander directly at david_alexander@ajg.com.


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David Alexander

David Alexander is Managing Director with The Human Capital Group, a part of Gallagher’s Human Resources & Compensation Consulting executive search practice.

With more than 30 years of executive recruitment and talent management experience, Mr. Alexander is passionate about helping organizations find people who will thrive in their unique business and operating culture. Prior to joining The Human Capital Group, he served as a senior human resources executive for such world-class firms as SAP, AT&T, Washington ...

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