Executive Performance

How to integrate new senior talent into a company with a strong culture

When organizations with a strong culture identify the need to make an external hire for a senior leadership role, there is a strong focus on dedicating the required resources to attract and recruit for it.

However, too little thought and resource is often dedicated to setting this new talent up for success. In several recent cases we’ve seen, this results in regrettable turnover and its associated costs, both for the organization and individual involved.

Why does this happen? In brief, within a strong organizational culture, those who are “less culturally aligned” tend to be perceived to have less competent judgement and weaker leadership potential. This challenge gets exacerbated in matrix organizations, where stakeholder engagement and career advancement are closely tied to signaling cultural alignment.

So while the new talent may be warmly welcomed and experience positive engagement to start, over time, there is a gradual and disproportionate uptick in doubts expressed about their approach and work, and in the amount of constructive feedback they get about their communication and leadership style. The new talent may start to get lukewarm or delayed responses from previous champions, may face unreasonable impatience about when their projects will deliver results, and can start to meet unwarranted antagonism from their line manager’s peers or other direct reports.

The shift in temperature from warm welcome to cool reception typically happens within 7-12 months of the new talent joining the organization. Their subsequent departure, or conformity to the existing culture, typically takes place at the 12-month mark.

So what can organizations with strong cultures do to set new senior talent up for success? Here are four things to do in the first 12 months:

One

Before the new senior hire joins the business, communicate cultural norms clearly and include concrete examples about stakeholder engagement. The impression the new senior talent makes in their first interactions can have a lasting impact. Providing new senior talent with insight about cultural norms doesn’t mean they have to conform to them: it gives them the opportunity to decide how they want to approach those interactions informed by a better understanding of how stakeholder engagement works at the organization.

Two

Schedule quarterly 1:1s between the new senior hire and the CEO. If something isn’t working about their appointment or if they need resources or a decision to drive impact, new senior talent is typically more comfortable speaking directly with the CEO about it, particularly where their appointment regards a critical or highly-visible mandate. Equally, this creates a key opportunity for the CEO to have more immediate, unfiltered access to the progress of key strategic projects, and for them to hear fresh strategic perspectives on what’s working and what could be improved at their business.

Three

Provide the new talent with two mentors: one from their function and zone, one removed from both. Both mentors ideally have a track record of developing talent at your organization, have a notably good relationship with at least 2 chiefs, and can be counted on to meet with the new talent monthly. It’s key that new talent can regularly touch base with company veterans that understand its “unwritten rules”, especially regarding stakeholder engagement.

Four

Make an external executive coach and/or mentor available to the new talent. This resource should have extensive experience working with the organization and its leadership, and crucially, be bound to keeping the new talent’s confidentiality. Such a sounding board provides a safe space for the new talent to share any challenges or concerns, but importantly also, to adapt and finesse their style and strategies to succeed at their new role and company.

Further reading

Five leadership behaviors create an inclusive culture

Creating an inclusive culture starts at the top: how leaders act sets the standard across your organization. Discover the five leadership behaviors that create an inclusive culture.

How dominant groups threaten organizational performance

Organizational culture can become a description of the values and beliefs of the dominant group within it. How does this impact organizational performance?