CASE STUDY:              

Talent Management: On-Boarding program of a global operating bank

 


  Introduction

 

  Background information

  The leadership dilemma

  The need for on-boarding Interventions at the executive leadership level

 

  Leadership development activities for on-boarding executive leaders

 

  The design assumptions underlying the Banks executive on-boarding process

  The Banks executive on-boarding program: phases and interventions

 

  Lessons for designing on-boarding programs for upcoming executive leaders

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In this case study, you will find the detailed description of the executive on-boarding program of one of the biggest globally acting bank in the world. Through a multi-phased approach supported by comprehensive feedback and coaching mechanisms, the bank’s programs have proven highly effective at both pre-empting leadership failures and for accelerating the knowledge and relationships necessary to step into an executive role.

 

Background Information

 

This Bank example is one of the most comprehensive approaches to execu­tive on-boarding in this field today. It also has a proven track record with successful results. For example, the Bank hired more than 200 external execu­tives between 2001 and 2008 and had experienced 25 terminations - a new hire turnover rate over the period of around 13 percent. This compares to estimates as high as 40 percent turnover in many large corporations. The Bank has tested its approaches out on a very large sample of on-boarded executives - over five hundred internal and external over this period. Over the last decade, the Bank has been actively involved in acquisitions as well as organic growth. As a result, the organization must annually on-board a significant number of executives both externally and internally sourced. This demand has created many opportunities to learn about the efficacy of various executive on-boarding interventions.

 

In addition, the Banks on-boarding program is expressly designed to help new executives learn to navigate the bank’s large matrixes organi­zation as well as building and leveraging networks of relationships for career success and for implementing company initiatives. These same demands are common in most large corporations today. We think that this particular case holds lessons that readers in a wide range of organizations will therefore find useful.

 

The Leadership Dilemma

 

The first-time executive leader faces three dilemmas as he or she steps into a new role. In a brief period of time, the leader must gain mastery over a complex and demanding role. The learning demands are often the most pronounced in a manager’s career. Second, expectations are high. It is assumed that the incoming executive already has the season­ing to lead in the new situation. After all, most executives have already spent years in managerial roles beforehand. As a result, there is little developmental feedback for those at the top of organizations. These two challenges produce the third dilemma. The probability of the incoming executive’s derailment is high. Complex new role demands combined with a lack of developmental support can produce a “perfect storm” in terms of failure on the job.

 

As can easily be imagined, the price of leadership failures in the executive ranks is very costly for any organization. Beyond the direct costs of on-the-job development, severance, and recruitment, there are more significant costs to the organization, such as stalled organizational initiatives, loss of business knowledge, damage to customer and staff relationships, dampened employee morale, and lost opportunities. In addi­tion, there are the costs of recruiting a replacement as well as the replacement’s time in gaining mastery of the job and setting his or her own agenda. Given these high costs, there is a tremendous need for developmental interventions that place an emphasis on pre-empting failures in senior leadership roles.

 

While some organizations have developed formal on-boarding interventions, the typical approach tends to be quite limited in scope and does little to effectively on-board an executive leader. Most are simple orientation programs offering an oppor­tunity to network with the CEO and the executive team. They may also provide some form of overview of the corporation, its financials, and its activities. A handful of orga­nizations such as General Electric and Toyota do have more sophisticated on-boarding programs at the executive and general manager level, but such programs are very rare in the corporate world. Instead interventions to pre-empt leadership derailments tend to be dependent on performance appraisals and talent management practices. The underlying premise is that failures at the executive level can best be avoided through continuous formal performance feedback to a man­ager and through the careful selection of jobs and bosses over the life span of a manag­er’s career. We also believe that developmental interventions focused solely on the transition to the executive role are a necessity. Companies such as General Electric and PepsiCo have long designed their leadership education programs around career transitions, especially at executive levels. In other words, a comprehensive on-boarding program at the executive level has an essential place in any organization’s portfolio of leadership development initiatives.

 

 

The Need for On-Boarding Interventions at the Executive Leadership Level

 

The transition from line management to an executive role is a significant jump in terms of scale and complexity of the job. Executives operate at the boundary between their organization and the external environment, whereas most managers are more organizationally and functionally oriented. Executives must also formulate company - wide strategies and play a critical role in their implementation - roles which they played to a far lesser degree prior to their executive appointments. Their decisions around staffing, rewards, measurement systems, and culture create a context that shapes the strategic choices made by managers and specialists throughout the organization.

 

The executive role comes with enormous visibility and accountability. It is extremely demanding with little time for learning on the job. At the same time, devel­opmental feedback and coaching for executives tend to be minimal. There are the occasional opportunities for formal coaching and executive education programs. But beyond these interventions, there is usually little else. In conclusion, for many manag­ers, the promotion to an executive leadership role will be the steepest jump in their career history, and paradoxically the one with the least amount of transition support.

The limited developmental support is a result of several factors. First, it is assumed by most organizations that their senior - most talent is well seasoned, given the many years of managerial experiences required for entry into the executive suite. Yet posi­tions in functional line management roles are rarely broad enough to provide sufficient preparatory experience.

 

Second, the promotion itself and the many years of prior management experience can produce an often misplaced self-confidence in new executives that they are up to the task. This sense of self-assurance may discourage new executives from seeking out developmental feedback and from being more proactive in self-reflection and learn­ing. There is a natural desire to appear in charge -in other words, to be seen as an effective leader immediately. Seeking coaching and feedback would dispel this impression, and therefore executives may be hesitant to seek either.

 

Third, in the executive suite, the environment is also more politicized. Peers at the executive level are often competitors jousting for the top roles. As a result, developmen­tal support and feedback from colleagues tend to be far more difficult to obtain. In addi­tion, many CEOs do not see coaching their executives as an essential part of their role. So the new executive’s superior may provide limited or no developmental guidance.

 

All of these forces coalesce to increase the probability of leadership derailments at the senior - most levels of organizations. The problem is even more extreme for organi­zations when outsiders are hired into executive jobs. As noted earlier, one estimate is that 40 percent of senior managers hired from the outside fail within their first eighteen months in the role. Given the above discussion, it is easy to see why a developmentally oriented program to help transition managers into execu­tive leadership roles might not only be helpful but essential. But what exactly should be the aim of such interventions and how best to design them?

 

Ideally, a well-designed on-boarding intervention can and should achieve three outcomes. The first is to minimize the possibility of derailment on the job. By accelerating the new executive’s understanding of the role demands and by providing support through constructive feedback, coaching, and follow -up, a well- designed program can and should pre-empt failures. The second outcome is to accelerate the performance results of the new leader. For example, research suggests that a senior - level manager requires an average of 6 months to reach a break-even point the moment at which the new leader’s contribution to the organization exceeds the costs of bringing him or her on board and he or she has acquired a critical base of insight into the job. Effective on-boarding interventions should shorten this cycle of learning by accelerating the development of a network of critical relationships, clarifying leader­ship and performance expectations, and facilitating the formulation of more realistic short- and medium- term performance objectives.

 

A third outcome for on-boarding interventions concerns organizations that are aggressively pursuing acquisitions or experiencing high growth rates. In both cases, they must grapple with socializing an influx of outside senior managers. An effective on-boarding intervention should facilitate a far smoother integration and socialization experience for these incoming executives. It accomplishes this by helping them to rapidly acquire an understanding of the business environment, socializing them into the organization’s culture and politics, building a network of critical relationships, and familiarizing them with the operating dynamics of the executive team. In the sections to follow, readers will see how the Banks on-boarding program success­fully achieves these outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES FOR EXECUTIVE LEADERS

 

The impetus for the Banks interest in executive on-boarding is a product of its own corporate history. Over the last decades, the bank has experienced dramatic growth through acquisitions. It began as a small regional bank and has grown into one of the largest companies in the world. As a result of this history of aggressive acquisitions, it discovered a need to more effectively on-board executive leaders from acquired companies and to quickly assimilate them into the Banks standards and expectations for performance. The organization’s leadership development group was very familiar with the research on executive derailment, which showed high failure rates for executives who were on-boarded into acquiring companies. In response, the bank developed on-boarding interventions. Over time, these programs have been expanded to the organization’s internal executive promotions to ensure that these individuals will succeed as well as feel that they were receiving attention equal to the outsiders.

 

It is important to note, however, that executive on-boarding is only one of several processes that the bank deploys for the leadership development of its executive talent. While we explore this one activity in depth in this case study, the banks success with leadership talent is a product of its multi-faceted approach to development at the executive level, along with his executive leadership team unwavering support for leadership development. The latter is a critical driver of the banks success in this area. As illustrated in Figure 1, the range of the banks executive leadership development activities is extensive and includes selection, on-boarding, performance management, processes to upgrade executive talent, developmental experiences, and compensation.

 

 

FIGURE 1 Executive Development at the Bank

 

A critical factor is that the executive development strategy is championed by the banks CEO. In overview fashion, Figure 1 highlights the core dimensions of executive development at the bank. In addition, the CEO meets every summer with his top executives to review the organizational health and development strategies of each business. These meetings are personal in nature, with no presentation decks or thick books outlining HR procedures. But they are rigorous. Business leaders come to the sessions with a concise document (the goal being three pages or fewer to ensure sim­plicity) that describes strengths and weaknesses in their units leadership talent pipe­lines, given business challenges and goals. During these conversations, executives make specific commitments regarding current or potential leaders - identifying the next assignment, special projects, promotions, and the like. The CEO follows up with his executives in his quarterly business reviews to ensure that they have fulfilled their commitments. With this active commitment at the very top of the organization, leaders throughout the Bank sense that leadership development is a critical activ­ity for the company. As a result, it is a widely held belief that leadership talent directly affects the performance of the bank. This belief sets up a mandate for the organization to hire and keep great leadership talent.

 

Finally, the organizational culture promoted by the CEO and his board member fellows is one that encourages candor, trust, teamwork, and accountability at all levels in the organization, especially at the executive level. The company has a deep comfort with differentiating individual performance (based on what is achieved as well as on how these achievements are attained). There is also a belief that today s top performers are not necessarily tomor­row’s - that even the best leaders can fall behind or derail. As a result, the corporate culture is one in which the truth is more highly valued than politeness or tolerance for average or poor performance. These beliefs drive what and how the bank builds and measures leadership success, whether it is in programs, performance man­agement, or selection. This overarching environment is critical to the success of the bank’s executive on-boarding program. One cannot understand the on-boarding process without first appreciating the bank’s commitment to leadership and high performance.

 

The Design Assumptions Underlying the Banks Executive On-Boarding Process

 

Underpinning the Banks on-boarding interventions is a set of fundamental assumptions that have shaped its design features. These assumptions are the product of “lessons learned” from earlier experiences with on-boarding interventions and experi­ments. The baseline assumption is that successful on-boarding occurs over time -spe­cifically during the new executives first twelve to eighteen months on the job. Thus, any on-boarding process must be supported by multiple interventions instead of a single event, say at entry into the executive role. Interventions must occur at intervals over the executive’s first year to eighteen months, rather than solely within the first few months into the job. To be effective, on-boarding must also be supported by multiple resources, especially in terms of stakeholder resources. To engage solely the new executive’s superior (the hiring executive) is not sufficient to ensure a successful on-boarding experience. Instead the fullest possible spectrum of stakeholders must be involved in the new executive’s selection, entry, and on-boarding. Finally, interven­tions are completely dependent on the quality of the interaction between the executive and his or her stakeholders. A purely paperwork - driven or bureaucratic process will not produce optimum results. The approach must therefore focus on the quality of dialogue and interaction, rather than on documentation and formal processes.

 

These assumptions have directly shaped the on - boarding interventions that the Bank deploys. For example, the bank’s program is designed around multiple phases. Different kinds of interventions occur in each phase. It engages the new executive’s many stakeholders in a simple, transparent process, with the aim of achieving a broad range of outcomes. Dialogue and feedback are at the core of all of the vari­ous interventions. In the discussion that follows, we will examine how these design assumptions play out in each of the major phases of the on -boarding process.

 

The Banks Executive On-Boarding Program: Phases and Interventions

 

The on-boarding experience spans four core phases - selection of the new executive, initial entry into the executive role, a mid-point phase of 100 to 130 days on the job, and a final review phase at the end of the first year. We will examine each of these phases, its central activities, and its goals.

 

Selection Phase The first element of a successful on - boarding process is the selection process itself. While expertise and experience are the overriding criterion, there are additional dimensions when it comes to selection at the Banks: leadership ability and cultural fit. If the new executive is lacking leadership and interpersonal skills and cultural sensitivity, he or she will have a much higher probability of derail­ing. To ensure this does not happen, the human resources function at the Banks devotes a great deal of attention to its partnerships with executive search firms. Recruiters must understand the banks culture and leadership requirements when hired to conduct an executive-level search. In addition, a leadership develop­ment officer from HR will often interview the candidate to assess cultural fit with bank, value to the team, and leadership approach. This information is meant to complement data from other potential stake­holders who are interviewing the candidate about his or her expertise and experience. The HR partner will solicit responses to the following types of questions from all the interviewers:

 

1.    Would you personally trust your career to this person [the candidate]?

 

2.    Do you see yourself learning from him or her?

 

3.    Is this person capable of putting enterprise objectives ahead of his or her own goals and working well across lines of business and constituents?

 

4.    Would this person complement the direct team that he or she would be a part of?

 

5.    Would this person be able to accept, process, and apply candid coaching and feedback in order to continuously improve?

 

6.    Can you see this person leading from and living the company’s core values? Would he or she fit our culture? ”

 

7.    Does this person have the potential to assume more responsibility in the future?

 

 

 

Answers to these questions provide insights into the candidate’s potential for a fit or misfit with the bank’s culture and for his or her credibility as a leader. If the candi­date is hired, the answers to these and other interview questions are then provided to the individual upon his or her arrival into the job. The sources of feedback, however, remain anonymous.

 

Job design is another essential part of the selection process. A clear and calibrated job specification is spelled out and supported by stakeholders before a search begins. Critical stakeholders will be interviewed by the HR partners about what is required in the job, as well as other dimensions that are not critical but helpful for the candidate to possess. This selection process is designed so that the hiring executive does not make a blind selection - say hiring someone with a similar style to his or her own. The multi-stakeholder involvement also ensures that the hiring executive has a clear sense of the demands of the job from the perspectives of the widest range of stakeholders.

 

Critical to this phase is the role of the HR partner. This individual acts as a “chief talent officer” during the hiring process and on - boarding process of each new execu­tive. Usually with ten to fifteen years of experience, they normally possess a leader­ship development and/or organization development background. Most have deep experience in hiring and developing executives. As a result, these HR partners have a strong degree of credibility in the eyes of the new executive and his or her stakehold­ers. The HR partner’s responsibilities are broad. They follow essentially the executive’s on-boarding process from beginning to end.

 

Entry Phase  Following hiring, the new executive’s initial few weeks on the job are critical ones. During this time, he or she must accomplish four outcomes: (1) develop business acumen specific to the new role, (2) learn the organizational culture, (3) master the role’s leadership demands, and (4) build critical organizational relationships.

 

From the standpoint of business acumen, the new executive must be able to efficiently and quickly learn customer and financial information specific to the new role. In turn, he or she must set realistic goals and objectives based on this information. On the cultural dimension, he or she must acquire an understanding of the written and unwritten norms of behavior within the organization. From the standpoint of leader­ship demands, new executives must be able to rapidly determine the organization’s expectations of them as well as establish leadership expectations within their teams. Finally, it is imperative that the new executive be able to identify and build relationships with key organizational stakeholders.

 

To meet these demands, three major categories of interventions are used: (1) tools and processes, (2) orientation forums, and (3) coaching and support. Tools and proc­esses include an on-boarding plan and new leader/team and new leader/peer integra­tion processes. Orientation forums include a general new employee orientation and a new executive orientation program. For coaching and support, there are three primary providers: the hiring executive, an HR generalist, and the HR partner.

 

Each of these interventions are described below:

 

During the first week on the job, the HR partner prepares the on-boarding plan for the executive. This early engagement with the HR partner ensures that from the very start the HR partner will be viewed as a critical resource for the newly appointed exec­utive. The integration plan itself has two primary outcomes. One is to provide the new leaders with basic yet critical information about the business they will soon be lead­ing. They are given an overview of their units ’ financials, the units ’ business plans, key initiatives, assessments of their teams ’ leadership talent, and other important back­ground information such as biographies of key managers, customer surveys, and recent presentations on key issues in the units. The second outcome is to have the executives define successes for their first ninety days on the job. They must identify these along three dimensions: financial, leadership, and organizational. The plan also explores early obstacles the executives are likely to face in terms of people, processes, and technology. The new executives must look at their own developmental issues and how they can best address these. At this time, the executives are given the names of their peer coaches (fellow executives) and senior advisors (typically at the same level or above). The peer coaches are resources for “insider” information. They will have ben­efited from having their own peer coaches in the past, and therefore see the importance of their role. To accelerate the relationship between executives and peer coaches, the HR partners will often try to find some common ground in backgrounds, such as attending the same college or experience in similar industries or companies. Consider­ation is also given to those who are known internally to be good coaches and who will be candid with the new executives. The senior advisors provide the new executives with mentoring around their careers. In contrast to the peer coaches, the advisors have a broader view of the organization, given their seniority. Often these are people with whom the new executives may need to undertake extensive near - term projects. They often are chosen from outside the lines of business as the newly hired individuals, as projects at the executive level often require cross -company partnerships.

 

In the first one to three weeks, further planning is used to identify emerging chal­lenges in the new role, people - related issues, key relationships that must be built, and ongoing management processes that need to be established. This planning is captured in the New Leader - Team Integration Session — a critical experience in the entry phase. The objective of this process is to facilitate an effective working relationship between the new leader and his or her team. The process creates an opportunity for both the leader and the team to establish open channels of communication, exchange views, and become more acquainted with their respective operating styles and expectations. When this planning process is done well, it can dramatically shorten the time required for the new executive to become effective on the job.

 

The New Leader - Team Integration Session ideally occurs within the first thirty to sixty days of the new assignment. The process involves three steps, all of which are facilitated by the HR partner (sometimes and often in partnership with an HR partner). In the first step, the HR partner meets with the new executive leader prior to the inte­gration session. The HR partner provides the new executive with an overview of the integration session ’ s objectives and mechanics, identifies the executive’s own objec­tives for the session, and selects the questions that will be used to create a mutually beneficial dialogue between the executive and his or her new team. In addition, the HR partner gauges the new leader’s interests and concerns. Questions to solicit this infor­mation for the new executive include:

 

1.    What do you need to know about your team?

 

2.    What don’t you know about your team?

 

3.    What are your concerns?

 

4.    What things are most important to you as a leader?

 

5.    What does the team need to know about your expectations and operating style?

 

6.    How can the team best support you in your transition into the new role?

 

7.    What key messages would you like to send to the team?

 

 

Following this meeting with the executive, the HR partner meets with the new leader’s team - either individually or preferably and more often as a group - without the new leader. The purpose of this second step is to develop a preliminary under­standing of the group’s issues and concerns. Typically, the HR partner will solicit this information using questions such as the following:

 

1.    What do you already know about the new executive?

 

2.    What don’t you know, but would like to know?

 

3.    What advice do you have for the new executive that will help him or her be even more effective?

 

4.    What questions do you have for the new executive?

 

5.    What are your concerns about him or her becoming the leader of the team?

 

6.    What major obstacles are you encountering as a team? What opportunities exist?

 

7.    What is going well that you would like to keep? What is not going well that you would like to change?

 

 

8.    What do you need from the new executive to allow us to be even more effective?

 

 

Following these two preliminary meetings for data - gathering, the New Leader - Team Integration Session is conducted over a half-day period. After describing the meeting objectives and ground rules, the team goes off without the executive to gather responses to their new superior’s “questions to the team.” In the meantime, the new leader is debriefed on the group’s interview responses, and he or she prepares responses to these for the team. The team and the leader then meet together for two hours of dia­logue. The environment is a non - threatening one. The HR partner begins by reviewing the group’s overall messages to the leader. For example, an insight might emerge that direct reports are interpreting certain of their superior’s behavior in a negative light. The leader comments on the team’s responses as well as communicates his or her key messages to the team and how he or she plans to address the feedback. Facilitated by the HR partner, both the leader and the team establish formal commitments to one another and identify future issues to be addressed. For example, the new executive may commit to a new behavior or set of actions or a clearer vision. The leader might shift his or her management practices so that more time is spent on addressing future issues.

 

In addition to the New Leader - Team Integration Session, there is also a New Peer Integration Session, which is also held within the first thirty to sixty days of the new executive’s arrival. This session creates an opportunity for the executive to network with new peers, to seek advice and guidance on on - boarding, to learn about norms, and to obtain general support. It also allows the individual’s peers to learn about their new colleague’s background, operating style, and priorities and to build an initial working relationship. Similar in design to the New Leader - Team Integration Session, it involves three stages. First, the HR partner meets with the new executive to describe the process, select discussion questions, and explore special issues and concerns. Typical interview questions for the preparation phase include:

 

 

1.    What would you like your new peers to know about you?

 

2.    What would you like to know about your new peers?

 

3.    Provide a summary of your personal and work history that others might not know.

 

4.    What are you interested in outside of work?

 

5.    How can your new peers support you as you transition into the executive team?

 

 

The HR partner then meets with the executive’s new peers and solicits responses to the following questions:

 

1.    What would you like your new peers to know about you?

 

2.    How would you describe the team’ s written and unwritten rules

 

3.    What would you like your new peer to know about the team?

 

4.    The things that make a person successful on this team include

 

5.    The things that can derail a person on this team include

 

6.    The things that help a person integrate well into this company include

 

7.    What can you tell your new peer about each team member’s operating style?

 

 

In addition to responses to these questions, the HR partner also gathers from mem­bers of the peer team information on their areas of competence for which they might serve as a resource to the new executive, their interests outside of work, and the names of their spouses and children. This data is recorded on index cards for the new executive.

 

 

The integration session is broken into three parts. There is a short overview, a set­ting of objectives, and an introduction of the team and the new peer. This is followed by the peer team and the new peer gathering responses to each other’s questions in separate rooms. Each side’s responses are recorded on flip charts. The team and their new peer then gather together in a conference room. Facilitated by the HR partner, there is sharing of the responses and dialogue. Basically, the session enables transpar­ency and partnering - both cornerstones of success in the Banks culture. It drives joint ownership for success as well, and, like the New Team Integration Ses­sion, it facilitates the acceleration of relationships with peers - individually and collectively.

 

Earlier, we had mentioned that orientation programs were a component of the entry phase. Within the first week on the job, the new leader attends a welcome orien­tation (providing an overview of the Bank’s business, history, culture, values), which is run on every Monday for all new employees. Leaders then meet with their HR part­ners to discuss the on-boarding plan. Within the leaders’ first few months, they are automatically registered to attend the New Executive Orientation Program. This pro­gram is sponsored directly by the CEO. Its purpose is for the executive to network with other new executives as well as the CEO and with his executive team as well as other executives previously hired into the bank from the outside. The program itself is one-and-a-half days long. On the first day of the program, there is an informal panel with executives who have been hired into the bank within the last two years. The panel of executives shares their own on-boarding experiences. They explain their experi­ences, what the new executives can expect, their personal “lessons learned.” This is followed by presentations by the CEO and top executives, who cover topics such as the corporate values and culture, leadership philosophies and expectations, company strategy and finances, as well as other key business units’ growth strategies and key enterprise initiatives. A social networking event then follows hosted by the CEO and his executive team. This orientation provides the new executives with insights into the business, the bank’s culture, the CEO expectations for leaders, and how executives can derail. Beyond the information provided in the orientation, a parallel goal is to create a cohort identity for the new executives. This is important, as they will likely need to work with one another on key projects or business initiatives in the future. The cohort also provides the new executives with a safe haven or resource group to ask questions and to help navigate the complexities of the bank.

 

Mid - Point Phase (100 to 130 days): Three to four months into their new assign­ments, the executives take part in the Key Stakeholder Check-In Session. This inter­vention involves receiving written and verbal feedback from a select list of their key stakeholders. The experience is designed to accelerate the development of effective working relationships between the new leaders and the stakeholders, who now share responsibility for the new leaders’ success. It also aids in helping the newly hired executives understand the feedback and coaching culture that is unique to the Banks rich feedback environment. It is essentially a process for the new leaders to seek and receive early feedback regarding how their stakeholders view the leaders ’ on-boarding process, operating style, leadership approach, and cultural fit. It can uncover whether there are potential disconnects between others’ perceptions and the leaders’ actual intentions. It can also further clarify the expectations of key stakeholders. Most importantly, it can be used to allow the executives to make early adjustments in their approaches and in turn avoid their own potential derailment. Like the earlier integra­tion sessions, it also gives voice to the stakeholders. They can take advantage of a proc­ess that permits them to surface potentially sensitive issues or concerns in an anonymous manner. They can share organizational insights that are not readily appar­ent to the new leaders. They can also communicate special needs to their new leaders.

 

In terms of its timing, the bank discovered (using a six sigma process and tools) that stakeholder reviews held close to a new leader’s entry were not effective. The executive did not always have sufficient self-confidence to respond positively to the feedback received from stakeholders. Similarly, staff did not possess well-formed opinions of their superiors or peers before the three-month timeframe. They may not have seen enough of a particular behavior to determine whether it was a pattern or not. On the other hand, within three to four months, patterns in the executive’s behavior become quite clear. With a timeframe within 130 days, it was harder for new execu­tives to discount feedback that was more critical of their approach. They could not claim that their behavior was simply due to a one-time event. That said, delaying feed­back to the executive until the six-month mark or later created a serious dilemma. By that point, the executive’s behavior may become typecast. After six months in the job, it was very difficult for the executive to escape the label. For this reason, the feedback occurs ideally by the 130 -day milestone.

 

The process behind the Key Stakeholder Check-In involves an initial planning ses­sion with the new leader and the HR partner in which they review and revise the ques­tions that will be used to solicit insights. For example, the HR partner will identify specific areas in which the leader would like to receive feedback and from whom. The HR partner then contacts the leader’s key stakeholders to conduct an anonymous fifteen-to thirty-minute interview with each stakeholder. Beyond the questions identified by the new leader, there are additional questions to stakeholders. These often include:

 

 

1.    What are your initial impressions of your new leader’s strengths?

 

2.    What are the potential landmines/obstacles that he or she may come up against?

 

3.    What advice would you give to the new leader to be even more effective and to accelerate performance in the role?

 

4.    What one to three things do you specifically need from this individual?

 

5.    To increase effectiveness, what does this individual need to (1) continue doing, (2) stop doing, and (3) start doing?

 

The HR partner then organizes the interview responses, identifies themes, and records specific verbatim comments from specific stakeholders. They then meet with the new leader and share the interview results. In the review session, the executive constructs an action plan to address specific feedback items and prepares for a discussion with their boss. With their superior, they review the action plan and the overall on-boarding experience overall. The HR partner and the leader hold follow-up meetings to evaluate progress on the action plan and for further coaching. Sometimes these discussions will uncover a problem that even the individual’s boss was unaware of. It is worth noting that the boss is not one of the people the HR partner interviews for this very reason.

 

This comprehensive check-in process brings great clarity to identifying the new leader’s strengths but also highlights development needs and problem areas. For example, new executives might learn that they possess strong interpersonal skills and are perceived as highly competent and action-oriented. On the other hand, the same executives might learn that they still need to build stronger connections with key leaders and learn various business strategies and initiatives at a more granular level. They also may receive feedback that they must spend more time on developing a clearer business vision and communicating to their team. Staff might wish more one-on-one time with the executive. Out of the action planning process, concrete steps will be identified that this executive must undertake over the coming months to build on the identified strengths and address the problem areas.

 

The Final Phase (1 to 1.5 years): Typically 12 to 18 months after their stakeholder reviews, the new executives will receive a 360-degree feedback assessment, which provides the leaders with feedback on their leadership competencies (see Figure 2 or the Bank’s leadership competencies). The timing is designed so that the executives have had an opportunity to make significant progress on the development areas identified in their stakeholder reviews. They now also have had complete performance cycles under their belts. If executives are successful, their improvements will show up in the 360 feedback data. The tool itself is designed around the bank’s leadership model as well as common derailing behaviors. When leaders receive their 360 feedback, they will again sit down with their HR partners to review it, compare it to stakeholder feedback, and use the outputs to further shape their devel­opment plans and actions. This process also triggers another more formal develop­ment discussion between the individual executive and his or her boss. The 360 feedback is used along with other data and feedback mechanisms as input into the individual’s performance ratings and reviews.

 

 

FIGURE 2   The Bank Senior Executive Model

 

 

LESSONS FOR DESIGNING ON - BOARDING FOR EXECUTIVE LEADERS

 

Sooner or later in their first year in the executive role, most leaders will face some type of major stumbling block. An executive on-boarding process can and should provide the support and feedback that will assist executives in successfully address­ing hurdles. The most effective programs also act as early warning systems that allow the executive and the organization to preempt the possibility of derailment. As we have noted, the process must be supported by multiple interventions that occur at intervals over the executive’s first year rather than solely at the moment of entry into the job. It must also proactively engage the new executive’s multiple stakeholders from the moment of selection to the end of the on-boarding cycle. Effective engage­ment is completely dependent on the quality of interaction between the new executives and their full range of stakeholders. In addition, stakeholders must feel a high degree of ownership in the process itself, which increases their ownership in the executives’ success.

 

In assessing how well your own organization on-boards it’s most talented future executives, there are several critical questions to ask. Does your organization treat on-boarding as a one-time orientation event or as a longitudinal process? What is the breadth of interventions it employs from integration tools to coaches to formal feedback? Does it proactively engage all the new executive’s stakeholders in a candid process that generates constructive feedback and clarifies expectations? Does the process deploy interventions at regular intervals throughout the first year for the new executive? Are these “toll gates ” built around critical learning and feedback windows or are they more arbitrary or shaped by the corporate calendar? Are the interventions in time to gather critical and valid feedback for the new executive so that he or she can constructively respond and maintain credibility?

 

While such programs have traditionally been geared to external executive hires, internally promoted executives can benefit as greatly from formal on-boarding. While the internal hire may understand the corporate culture well, the role demands of executive leadership are as great for the internal hire as the external one. So it is useful to ask whether your organization treats its insider promotions differently. Does the organization assume they do not need on-boarding support? What are patterns in how insider promotions fail? What might be done to assist insiders in a more proactive and constructive manner in their own on -boarding experiences?

 

In this case study, their use of HR partners and the various dia­logue and feedback - based integration experiences allow the new executives to obtain rich, candid, and ongoing information on their progress over the first year. What vehicles if any does your organization provide to new executives to rapidly gain constructive feedback on their leadership approaches and performance? What sup­port does your organization provide in helping the executives to act on that information?

 

For on-boarding to be effective, a number of individuals need to “own” the new leader’s success. In this regard, one of the more important lessons from the case study is the pivotal role of the HR partner. This individual in essence owns the executive’s success from the moment of selection to the end of his or her first year on the job. Their job is to make certain the executives successfully on-board. In addition, they engage the new executives’ superior, several peers, and the subordinates in the ownership process. Therefore some questions to ask about your own organization’s process include: Does your organization have individuals who are dedicated to ensuring the success of new executives? Are they influential at all stages of the executives’ on-boarding experience? Ideally, there are multiple own­ers such as peers and senior advisors. What ways, if any, does your organization engage the peers and superiors of the new executives in supporting their successful on-boarding?

 

As we noted at the beginning of this case study, an effective on-boarding process does not exist in a vacuum. It is highly dependent on a supportive culture. Finally we would highlight that it is important to assess more broadly your organization’s commitment to talent management. Questions to ask would include: How deeply committed are your CEO and senior team to leadership development? Does the firm have a clear talent management strategy? Does the culture encourage individuals to learn and adapt? Is it a culture in which candid constructive feedback is available and rewarded? What are the breadth and depth of your organization’s talent management and development interventions? Are they supported by well-aligned rewards, performance feedback processes, useful metrics, and the culture?