Why Do We Perpetuate the Myth of New Leader “Fit”?

3eb38edWe frequently hear clients talk about how they want Newly-placed Leaders to "fit" their organizational culture. And if those same New Leaders who originally were seen as the best choice later derail, it is often then attributed to a "poor fit." But, rather than using "fit" as a throwaway explanation for derailment, doesn't it make sense to better understand what is happening with these leader transitions, and then do something about it?

Certainly there are situations where an individual turns out to be the wrong choice for an organization or role (lack of qualifications, violating important cultural norms from the start, etc.). And those scenarios usually end with a parting of the ways. But how does an organization address concerns about a capable and strong leader who is struggling to find a place in the organizational culture and role?
We’ve noticed that organizations seem to define fit in their own way. This is an important conversation to engage in for a variety of reasons:

  1. To some fit could mean, "be just like us." And for most companies who want to perform better, that approach may present significant risk. Too many similar people = too many people who think the same way. Too many people who think the same way = under-representation of new ideas -- or a failure to challenge existing ideas. This carbon-copy culture can also imply something unpleasant for those who are somehow perceived as different -- that people with unique work styles, experience bases, genders, or ethnicities could find their contributions marginalized or even completely ignored.
  2. To others, fit is more about New Leaders behaving in ways that are acceptable and relevant to their new peers and colleagues. If Leaders demonstrate respect for their new colleagues and their ways of doing things, perhaps they will be more valued by others, allowed to voice opinions sooner, and as a result, become more influential. This view suggests a more dynamic, situational way of thinking about leader transition.
  3. Or, you could adopt our perspective (in addition to #2 above) that it's also the responsibility of the organization to engineer the fit of the Newly-placed Leader. If you accept the notion that companies do a pretty good job of hiring people with the "potential to fit," why wouldn't employers want to seal the deal by ensuring their new hires are truly set up for success?

If we can view failure to “fit” as a failure of an organization to cause the fit 0f the New Leader, wouldn't everyone win? Yes, the New Leader has a responsibility to engage in a way that will increase their own success. But when an organization takes mutual ownership of the transition and provides onboarding support, then positive changes are bound to happen.

With a systemic approach to onboarding support:

  1. Companies retain valued leaders.
  2. Hiring Managers have new team members who deliver in a way that is effective and sustainable.
  3. New Leaders not only keep their jobs, but also ramp up faster and less painfully.
  4. Employees have more-effective bosses.
  5. HR people can attend to what they truly want to do: develop and retain talent who will contribute to the success of the organization.

Knowing the above, why would anyone leave leader onboarding to chance?

To help New Leaders engineer their success in the culture and role, Hiring Managers should focus on establishing and maintaining role clarity, and encourage them to spend their early days learning about (and respecting) the people and the organization. You might also consider deferring any major changes until your New Leader has both a thorough understanding of the context and an opportunity to build needed support for change.

Communicate to New Leaders that relationships should be a first priority, which will make knowledge acquisition that much faster and more effective. Finally, every New Leader needs to take the initiative to obtain and act on feedback, ensuring that their decisions and actions are meeting the needs and expectations of those around them.

We’d appreciate your insight, and will post a follow-up to incorporate your perspectives. If you have any questions about onboarding best practices, contact us at [email protected].


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Posted in Advice for Hiring Managers, Advice for Internal Consultants, Advice for New Leaders, Mitigating the Risk of New Leader Transition, New Leader Paradox, OnBoarding as Risk Management.