Executive Fit: A Five Point Executive Integration Plan
Both the individual and the organization share responsibility for successful integration.
The new executive seemed perfect for the job. His resume was impeccable. When the software development firm hired him as senior vice president of finance, they expected that his credentials would give him instant credibility. Soon after his hiring, however, there were signs that things would not play out as planned. The executive’s straight-laced approach and abrupt style, coupled with always seeming to be on one urgent mission or another, quickly created a wide chasm between him and the rest of the executive team. It soon became apparent to everyone that this was not working.
Some situations involving executives mismatched to positions or companies cannot be resolved – more care should have been taken to find the right person during the search process. But often, major problems can be avoided by attending to important aspects of executive integration.
Five-Point Executive Integration Plan
- Recruit realistically. When recruiting an executive from the outside, it is crucial that the organization portray the company as accurately as possible to reduce disenchantment upon entry. While organizations clearly don’t want to scare off attractive candidates, such realistic portrayals lay the groundwork for a productive long-term relationship built on trust and openness.Carefully consider the types of leadership skills and styles that will most likely succeed in the organization’s culture. Becoming blinded by a candidate’s credentials during the courting period of the recruiting process can create disaster. It is essential that a company recognizes the key compelling attributes of its executive group and builds these attributes into the specifications for positions.For example, a global high-tech manufacturing company had grown so quickly that it needed to bring in a much more sophisticated senior executive to be in charge of operations. The company’s senior executive group was so intellectually gifted that only individuals who could think as quickly and as comprehensively as the rest of the executive team would succeed in this position. This company was wise enough to recognize the intellectual capacity of the other executives and made intellectual power a key criterion of the position.2. Strategically plan entry into the company.Smoothing the way for the newcomer’s arrival and entry into the company can pay big dividends. Press announcements and articles in the company newsletter can highlight how his/her background fits in with the corporate strategic direction. When a fast growth organization that wanted to expand globally brought in its new president of the international operation, the company had a major story about the individual in the company newsletter, using the newsletter article as an opportunity to reinforce the company’s global aspirations.
It may be appropriate to alert people that the newcomer will do things somewhat differently than has been done in the past; point out that this is part of the reason the company selected the executive. Having private discussions with key veterans likely to be affected and making the new executive’s success one of the job responsibilities of the rest of the senior executive group is a key point.
As the new executive comes on board, there are many opportunities – and also pitfalls. Now is the time for the new executive to listen and grasp the complexities of a new environment. It is vital that the new executive not be swept away by his/her understandable desire to appear especially knowledgeable.
3. Build in a plan for two-way feedback early and often. Another set of interesting dynamics typically involves the boss/new hire relationship. The individual’s boss does not want to be seen as lacking confidence in the executive, and thus often manages in a hands-off fashion. Likewise, the new executive wants to demonstrate competence and seeks little supervision. However, the first few months are the very time when the new hire most needs help and guidance from the boss.
It is important for both to schedule more time with each other initially. The boss can help the new executive interpret the culture and its implications. He or she can also collect data about other people’s reactions to the new executive and discuss any need for fine-tuning.
4. Forge effective alliances. One of the key tasks for new executives is to establish effective networks of support throughout the organization. The first step is identifying key individuals inside the organization who will be crucial to continued success. Building effective cross-relationships increases the sphere of influence of the newcomer.
Executives should carefully explore others’ mental models and actively seek out common ground where multiple parties agree, leading to subsequent mutual focus of effort and resources. New executives should avoid “quick wins” that sacrifice key long-term objectives and relationships.
New executives should be particularly careful to not come in with all the answers and not to denigrate any existing systems or procedures – assume you have something to learn from each of your new colleagues. This respectful approach and careful listening to the needs of colleagues will allow the types of alliances necessary for success to develop.
5. Honor tradition – Pioneer change. Celebrating past success and valuing key pieces of an organization’s culture, while at the same time advancing new ideas and vision, is a critical challenge for new executives integrating into new companies. The ability to discriminate between those cultural norms that are vital and immutable and those that are less pivotal and more malleable is critical. This central theme will assist the new executive to successfully communicate a new vision to his or her organization and successfully transform it.
Integration Is a Shared Responsibility
The success of an executive who is new to an organization hinges on many factors and should not be left to chance. Both the executive and the organization share responsibility for planning an effective integration effort. It can be helpful to think about executive integration as spanning three critical time periods: (1) Recruiting – Selecting an external executive candidate who fits well with both the skills required by the company and the culture of the organization provides important momentum for the executive to quickly have an impact on his/her new company; (2) Orientation – begins once the individual has accepted the position and includes introductions to key people, learning new policies and procedures, and surveying the lay of the land. Executives often describe their orientations to new organizations as “drinking from a fire hose”; and (3) Socialization – For ultimate success, a longer-term process known as organizational socialization takes place. Important milestones during this period include fitting into the culture of the company and learning the informal rules of the organization, while at the same time not having the new executive’s fresh perspective co-opted by the new organization.
Successful integration requires a realistic description of the needs of the position. Outlining job-related skills and abilities is an important first step in this process. Honestly assessing the organizational
culture and factors that are key in navigating successfully inside the company is another key component to consider prior to launching the recruiting process. Selecting an external executive who fits well with both the skills required by the company and the culture of the organization provides important momentum for the executive to quickly have an impact on his/her new company.
Psychologically, orientation to the new company begins once the individual has accepted the position. Orientation incorporates a wide range of activities, including introductions to key people, learning new policies and procedures, and surveying the lay of the land. Executives often describe their orientations to new organizations as “drinking from a fire hose,” as they rapidly try to assimilate as much information as possible in a short time frame.
Too often, organizations stop thinking about executive integration after a month or two of orientation. For ultimate success, a longer-term process known as organizational
socialization takes place. Important milestones during his period include fitting into the culture of the company and learning the informal rules of it, while at the same time not having the new executive’s fresh perspective co-opted by the new organization.