New Hiring Paradigm Sets Expectations for Immediate Results
News Flash: The honeymoon period for new hires has been reduced from a period of months to one of, at best, weeks.
This is something we've both been hearing about from friends and colleagues in new positions over the past few months. As we work with clients and consult with organizations, we've both found that the expectation on immediate performance, especially for leaders, has heightened as “timely delivery” has been reduced to a matter of weeks. In the past, most organizations considered at least the first three months to be a “honeymoon” period where new leaders absorbed the business and navigated the company culture. This seems to have shifted, particularly among the Fortune 100. A senior HR executive at a major automotive manufacturer recently summarized her view on the acculturation period for new leaders: “My honeymoon period for this job was, at best, two weeks. Our expectation is that we hire leaders and expect them to come in and make an immediate impact.”
After years of organizational focus on onboarding and acculturation, why this sudden shift?
To some extent this shift is a result of what we've pointed out in previous articles. The immediacy of just about everything in our lives — all due to technological “advancements” and five-second attention spans — has contributed to this new expectation in onboarding and assimilation.
“Technology has warped our sense of timing; everything is instant.”
Since “everything” is almost immediate and stated in minimal character descriptions (i.e., Twitter), our expectations on performance have become a byproduct of this expectation of instant gratification. This now has reached into the overall hiring process, particularly for senior-level positions. There are, of course, exceptions in academia and smaller companies as well as those that continue to be, by nature, very conservative. “Some companies want new hires to shut up for a year and earn their rights.” But this is now becoming more of an anomaly. We find that increasingly, organizations expect new leadership to perform “out of the box” and to make a difference within weeks, no longer months.
Changes in the actual hiring process also contribute to this shift. Hiring managers and internal and external staffing organizations have always spent a considerable amount of time and effort on searching and securing senior talent. And most believe that these new hires are the “right” people. The change has come in the expectations of performance. These senior hires are smart with impressive resumes and are now expected to figure out the culture more quickly and with less assistance while making changes more quickly. With the ready availability of so much more information about candidates and professional histories, organizations believe they're making better hiring decisions. Retention and performance will be the metrics used to judge this perception, and that will take some time.
The duration of the hiring process also affects this mind-set of immediacy. More often than not, organizations “sit” on hiring decisions due to timing, budget issues, strategic alignment, determination of essential candidate competencies and board/organization alignment. The need is top of mind, but for business reasons the process is delayed or slowed. Once the hire is “green lighted,” there's a greater rush to get the person on board. Once the position is filled, the hiring manager needs someone in place and performing, as he or she has moved on to other priorities. Expectations are more immediate and real, and timely handoffs rarely are sacrificed.
It's no secret that organizations have been flattened over the past 20-plus years, which have, not surprisingly, resulted in expanded leadership scope becoming more common and fluid. Furthermore, the “war for talent” may not be talked of in the same terms; however, the need hasn't diminished. In fact, it's even more intense as organizations eliminate many of the “middle” leadership layers and raise expectations as organizations evolve in a technologically rich environment. The proliferation of information available about actual talent only serves to exacerbate the belief that finding the “perfect” leader is more possible than ever. On the flip side, hiring decisions take longer as more extensive interviewing and testing follows. If the candidate is “perfect,” why not expect immediate results? Social media provides a wealth of information about these people. Couple this with the “courting” process of leadership recruitment and hiring, and the result is a mind-set that the new leader will be able to contribute immediately, needing little if any time to adapt to the organization. However, what about the organization adapting to new leadership with new and significantly different demands?.
Another contributing factor here is the decreasing appreciation for historical precedence or practice. In this age of immediate information, who has the time or need to truly verify history? Everything is moving so quickly that perspectives tend to be focused only on the future and what needs to be done to move forward rather than what's happening now and the need for transitions. Why focus on what has been done in the past? The trend towards speed in all things has replaced the richness of historical perspective and the value of that perspective.
A Couple of Cases and Some Consequences
Several years ago a number of Jack Welch’s lieutenants left GE when not anointed as his replacement. Bob Nardelli, a key lieutenant, was hired by Home Depot. Nardelli, like other Welch disciples, wasn't short on well-earned ego and confidence. His success at GE was well known, and the reputation of GE for grooming productive executives was unquestioned. Nardelli brought a mind-set that he could and would take what he perceived to be a sluggish home improvement and construction supply business and transform it into an upscale home design business, using many of the practices and processes he learned at GE.
On paper this may not have seemed ill conceived, but there were a few problems that arose when Nardelli quickly began introducing and implementing GE business practices without truly understanding the Home Depot culture and fundamental business philosophy: provide effective and well-priced home improvement and construction supplies and services to the home improvement “geek” and/or novice. The organization did little to “educate” Nardelli on the “Home Depot way.” He was brought in to integrate new and fresh ideas to a “sleeping giant.” The strategic focus shifted to more upscale building products and new, expensive high-end showcase brick-and-mortar retail operations. Gone was the emphasis on customer service in-store due to massive employee cuts needed to finance the “new Home Depot.”
All that may have gotten Home Depot to where it was, but it was history and history wasn't the platform for future growth. Not surprisingly, this new strategic shift didn't work. Customers became alienated as those who relied on customer service to help them get supplies and instructions for whatever building, remodeling project was under way could no longer rely upon those who provided direction and assistance. The result: an expensive leadership change and an intense rebuild aimed at returning Home Depot to its original business model.
A second case illustrates a related issue. Alan Mulally was hired to be CEO of Ford in 2006. He had been CEO of Boeing, and though he had no automotive experience, he did know how to manage a massive manufacturing organization. Mulally took a slightly different approach when he joined Ford. He felt that getting to know the culture and nuances of automotive businesses was critical to his success and Ford’s turnaround. His challenge was how to tackle the traditional bureaucratic and hierarchical realities of the Ford structure in order to change things from within as opposed to laying change on top of an existing organization and culture.
Mulally had an effective sounding board in Bill Ford Jr., who supported him 100 percent, providing guidance along the way and pointing out potential cultural barriers before they were encountered. Mulallly affected change; he broke down many of the barriers in a more evolutionary manner and introduced “One Ford,” a methodology aimed at fundamentally altering the way the company did business. He built on what was the core of that business, respectful of historical successes and failures, forging relationships and gaining support from across the organization. All of this took time, but it was time well spent.
These cases illustrate the need for some “plan” for new leadership and for organizational change. In the 2018 business climate, organizations may not choose to have the luxury of longer onboarding periods for leadership hires. But we argue that some sense of cultural assimilation, education and oversight of what is and has been continue to be prescripts for success. Ignoring them only causes costly stumbles and potential failures of individuals and the organization overall.
And it's not simply about what may happen to key external leadership hires. The same problem of shrinking time frames for orienting internal hires into new leadership roles exists as well. This can be even more problematic because expectations are that these people don’t need any mentoring or onboarding for the new position because they've been part of the organization and, in essence, already been mentored and onboarded. Tenure in an organization doesn't mean that newly promoted individuals understand all the aspects of the new position and what needs to happen for success, nor do they necessarily know how to navigate the existing culture with a new set of responsibilities, direct reports, challenges, etc. The attention span for appropriate onboarding and acclimation to the new position is often given even less time than for that of external hires.
The risk of causing major problems or ultimate failure become even greater without some attention to orienting one into a new position, whether that individual be an internal promotion or an external hire. Some things simply don’t change, and this is one of those things.
Once again the proliferation of information and supposed accessibility and speed of gathering of that information, often without truly understanding it, is having significant effects on corporations and those who lead them.
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