Onboarding Isn’t Enough: Cultural Integration of New Executives is a Holistic Venture

Without cultural integration, what has to be a smooth activity can become utter chaos. Hiring new entrants into an organization always makes waves. The employee takes time to adjust and get to know the new surroundings while the others get to know the new hire and settle around to continue delivering on their respective roles. The time taken to achieve a new status-quo is considerably higher in the case of a top-level executive who has hierarchical considerations both above and below his/her level.

For one, these top leaders come with a tenure of several years of work experience. This may lead to them being set in their ways, and taking time for cultural integration at the workplace can be challenging.

It isn’t enough to merely define the role that the new hire is supposed to fill – this happens at the time of recruitment anyway. Introducing all the relevant stakeholders to the new hire is also an essential activity in the onboarding function. In truth, sinking into the new work environment is something that should ideally be a process that happens over several days or weeks.

How onboarding differs from cultural integration – starting with the language used

A clear clarification of terminology is in order here. Business gurus now use the term ‘integration’ as opposed to ‘onboarding’ because there is an evident connotation with the latter word that a senior employee brought newly into an organization learns the ropes from the existing rules and goes with the flow. Where onboarding is done on paper, the new hire finds his/her ‘own way’ of doing things. This can often lead to rupture and loss of precious time in smoothing out ruffled sentiments. To prevent a clash of egos, the better approach is to see ‘integration’ as the entire process of bringing a new leader on board and dedicating some time for the new way of working to settle in quickly. This latter method is simpler and more comfortable to acclimatize to and engenders a peaceful workplace culture for all involved.

Surveys of top-level executives reveal that integration and training are necessary at every level. New hires benefit from learning about the organizational culture and the path they’re supposed to take vis-à-vis, say, decision-making. Others can see one manager’s method of making quick decisions and announcing them to the rest of the organization as being secretive or guarded, even suspicious.

This brings us to the most crucial point of organizational culture — the cultural and political challenges that a top executive faces. Cultural integration is by far the most significant challenge faced by any new entrant at the top rungs – and studies show that the C-suite welcomes a chance to understand the work culture through a proper integration program. A severe lack of communication of the company’s rules concerning the work environment was observed in the area of aligning new leaders with their teams. This relationship, according to the survey, is mostly left to the individual. This can be a hit or a miss, and such a game can misfire with rapid developments that lead to loss of not only funds but time and resources as well. The other part that is often left out or merely touched upon is setting up the work environment for meetings with stakeholders, and being transparent about the approach toward these important players.

A fine balance in cultural integration and executive development in their own way

The vital point for organizations to understand is that cultural integration into the workplace environment does not mean that the new hire is not allowed to bring in his/her ideas. They are often asked to be upfront about their plans and what they hope to achieve as soon as they don the mantle.

The major takeaway is this: when an organization has a procedure of integrating a new hire with patience over a range of activities including initiation in building a rapport with the existing team, and knowledge-transfer on the practices and workplace culture, the time taken for the new employee to become self-sufficient is significantly reduced.

This saved time, among other resources, adds significantly to the wealth of the organization. Areas in which a difference can be made include:

Day-to-day decisions: These operational matters should be understood as early as possible and put in place by new entrants. Having these questions squared off gives immediate confidence and also starts to build a solid reputation.

Where HR leaders come in: A team is formed or reconstitutes itself upon the entry of a new leader. New roles have to be defined and filled. Chiefs of HR, Operations and other staff managers can offer insights on how a team ought to be built and the nature of each candidate’s strengths and opportunities, but it also helps to let a new leader decide for himself/herself what their new team should look like. Moderators like HR leaders can facilitate interactions between an organization and their new leader so that feedback is offered and new relationships form on an even keel under the watchful eye of a neutral party.

Getting to know stakeholders: This essential and common function of a new executive is building relationships even with those lines and functional staff heads that are not in the direct hierarchy. Having a free and easy relationship translates to better communication when cross-functional work needs arise.

Learning to belong: There are written and unwritten rules about what constitutes acceptable behaviour within an organization and what doesn’t. An alert manager can pick up on these cues from interactions on informal occasions. This is not to say such mores cannot be changed. But sensitive movements are called for.

Recalling and dedicating oneself to a cause: Executives from outside are usually brought in to guide organizational change. There will be a period of proving their expertise and command, and this crucial time is essential to building trust as a capable person.

Developing long-term strategy: A person whose expertise is wished for should also be ready to give some and take some. Having a capable person on board is not the end; it’s beginning of bringing about a solution.

The list of areas in which new executives need to make headway shows why they would appreciate having clear, measurable goals.

Mark Byford, Onboarding Isn’t Enough, Harvard Business Review, From the May–June 2017 Issue

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