20 Tips To Avoid The 40% Failure Rate When Onboarding A New Leader

Most of the onboarding of new leaders and managers is common sense. Still, different people latch on to different nuggets that help their chances of success in a world where 40% of new leaders fail in their first 18 months.

These tips all nest under the importance of getting a head start, managing the message, setting direction, building the team and delivering results.

1. Failure to deliver is the #2 cause of failure. Get done what they need you to get done.

2. Adjusting to the culture. Keep your eyes open and adjust to changes as they arise.

3. No one cares about you. They care about what you can do for them.

4. Avoid the 100-Day Plan for Interviews trap. If asked to prepare a 100-day Plan for a final interview, position your plan in the context of the company’s objectives and 12-month goals.

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5. Plan your meetings. Live meetings can have flexible agendas. Virtual meetings need deliberate and detailed content, meeting flow, and technology planning, preparation, and rehearsals.

6. Answer three due diligence questions:

      • What is the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage? (Organizational risk.)
      • Did anyone have concerns about this role; and, if so, what was done to mitigate them? (Role risk)
      • What, specifically, about me, led the organization to offer me the job? (Personal risk.)

7. Dig into the culture. Make sure you understand:

      • Behaviours: Flexible vs. stable discipline | Interdependent vs. independent | Enjoyment vs. order
      • Relationships: Purpose vs. authority | Informal vs. formal communications | Diffused vs. hierarchical decisions
      • Attitudes: Innovation vs. minimum viable strategy | Proactive vs. responsive | Learning vs. safety
      • Values: Purpose as intended vs as written | Open/shared vs. directed learning | Caring vs. results focus

8. Assess the onboarding risk. 

      • If it’s low, do nothing out of the ordinary. 
      • If it’s manageable, manage it in the normal course of events.
      • If it’s mission-crippling, resolve or mitigate before accepting the role.
      • If the barriers are insurmountable, walk away.

9. Identify the contributors, watchers, and detractors. Contributors share your agenda. Detractors want to stop you. Watchers haven’t decided yet. Turn the contributors into champions, the watchers into contributors, and get the detractors out of the way.

10. No one will believe what you say. They will believe what you do.

11. MAP your communication efforts across Messages.

      • Switching the “we” immediately, never talking about your old company again,
      • Stand on the shoulders of those who built the organization as you go forward,
      • leverage new change models to turn the old guard into partners.

12. Do not talk about yourself. No one cares about you. Their only question is “What does this mean for me?” 

13. Clarify your organizing concept. Get the strategy behind your communication points right.

14. Make your communication emotional, rational, and inspirational– in that order. Emotionally connect with people, then be honest about the truth and facts of the situation. Then provide an inspired solution with a specific call to action to inspire.

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15. Create an imperative.

      • If you tell people to do something, the best you can hope for is compliance.
      • If you want people to contribute, sell, test, or consult.
      • If you want their commitment, you need to co-create.

16. Put in place milestones. Strategies are practically useless until turned into actions with clarity. Make sure someone owns the process and follows through on milestone tracking regularly.

17. Get the right people in the right roles early on. The #1 regret leaders have when reflecting on their careers is not moving fast enough on people.

      • Invest in under-performing people in the right role.
      • Support effective people in the right role.
      • Move out under-performing people in the wrong role.
      • Move up outstanding people who are in the wrong role.

18. Systematize a management cadence. Manage core talent, strategic, capability and operating processes annually/quarterly.

      • Track programs monthly.
      • Track projects weekly.
      • Track tasks daily – perhaps with huddles.

19. Observe. Assess. Plan. Act.

      • Downplay minor and temporary changes. Control and stay focused on priorities.
      • Evolve through minor and enduring changes, factoring into ongoing team evolution.
      • Manage major and temporary changes. Deploy your incident management response plan.
      • Restart following a major and enduring change. Jump-shifting your strategy, organization, and operations to lead through the point of inflection.

20. Keep going. Keep growing, conducting a self-assessment, and getting stakeholder feedback to inform course corrections in culture, priorities, and leadership approach.

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