Integrating a new executive

The
task of integrating a new executive into an organisation is no less vital than
the recruitment challenge itself. By Dr Robert Kovach

Many
organisations assume that once a newly hired executive has 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. In fact, the job of integrating a new computer network into a
company’s existing IT infrastructure is notorious for presenting difficulties.
As for executives, their integration can be far trickier. After all, people are
much more complex than computers.

Executive
integration means ensuring the smooth and successful transition and absorption
of a new executive into an organisation. This has never been more important
than today, when an uncertain economic climate combines with new sources of
competition to create an environment where the success rate of an
organisation’s new executive is a key element in its competitiveness.
Recruiting and integrating new executives needs to be seen as part and parcel
of the same process.

But
don’t most people naturally integrate into their new organisation? In theory,
yes, but in practice recent research reveals that more than 70 per cent 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 business climate, it is no longer realistic for organisations to
wait six to nine months for a new executive to get their "sea legs".
Companies need to take every reasonable step to accelerate the integration
process and shorten the time between the executive joining and reaching their
full potential. There is simply no alternative, either from a financial or
operational perspective.

Proper
planning and management of the integration process greatly enhances the chances
of a smooth and productive relationship between the new employee and the
company. The organisation should ensure the following measures, all fundamental
to a successful executive integration, are pursued.

Examine earlier successes and failures of the company in
integrating executives from the outside

A
detailed examination of the company’s previous successes and failures will
reveal much about organisational proclivities that enhance integration or
detract from it. It is especially important that, in the proper planning of an
executive’s integration, the following matters are resolved as soon as
possible:

  1. What knowledge must the new
    executive acquire to operate to maximum effectiveness?
  2. What are the first actions
    the individual must take to create a lasting impact in the organisation?
  3. How can the organisation
    successfully accelerate the new executive’s understanding of its corporate
    culture? For example, what are the organisation’s unwritten cultural dos
    and don’ts?
  4. What actions can the
    organisation take to help ensure its employees build successful careers?

Recruit realistically

The
recruitment process often bears a surprisingly close resemblance to a romantic
courtship. And just as in romantic courtship, there is always a danger the
parties will fall in love with an illusion rather than the reality. The
difficulty is that both are likely to want to believe positive things about the
other and will often subconsciously look for confirmation of these beliefs. An
honest assessment of the candidate must discover not only the extent to which
they possess the vital characteristics for the job, but also specific
‘integration-related’ requirements essential for the smooth running of the
organisation.

Be
aware of a new executive’s first steps and manage the orientation period.

Successful
executive integration is a two-way process. Other things being equal, the new
executive will be well motivated to make the interaction a success. Yet the
onus of a successful integration does not only lie with the new individual. The
organisation must play an active role in the success of the integration by
committing itself to three key activities:

  1. The person to whom the new
    executive reports must make time to hold regular discussions with the new
    employee. These should be an open forum to gain an insight into, and an
    understanding of, the executive’s aspirations in the role. Potential
    problems already presenting themselves can also be identified
  2. The organisation 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 trust between the company and the
    executive
  3. 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
    new executive which may inhibit an effective working relationship. The
    solution is for the organisation to encourage teamwork to harmonise style
    and objectives

Recognise the system is changing

Bringing
in outside talent causes a change in a company’s current system. The
organisation needs to realise bringing a new executive on board will create
change within the company’s status quo, with the turbulence of the change
likely to be all the greater the more senior the appointment. The organisation
must ask itself whether it is prepared to face a time of change. If not, it
should not be recruiting.

Many
organisations have taken extensive steps to ensure their executive recruitment
procedure is thorough, intelligent, objective and aimed at meeting the organisation’s
commercial objectives. The process of executive integration also requires a
similarly rigorous, thoughtful, results-orientated and humane approach. Such an
approach will pay considerable 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 rkovach@rhrinternational.com

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