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Leadership coach Joe Scherrer offers an alternative to the “sink or swim” approach companies take to newly hired CIOs.

Your executive recruiter has just given you the good news: you’ve been hired into the C-suite IT position you’ve aspired to for years.

But then reality sets in. Expectations of you as the CIO are high. You’ve got to perform.

Are you ready?

I hope so because the cold, hard fact is that the new executive leader failure rate consistently ranges from 40 to 50%. Nearly half of new senior leaders fail to succeed in their roles, and many do so within their first two years. The statistics are indeed alarming, but this hidden crisis has largely gone unnoticed.

Studies are also showing that for most new leaders hired or promoted, what they do or fail to do in their first three months has a substantial impact on their ultimate success or failure. In other words, the first 90 days are critical.

Michael Watkins, author of the groundbreaking book, The First 90 Days, says, “Given the stakes, it is surprising how little good guidance is available to new leaders about how to transition more effectively into new roles.” He concludes, “Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating executive transitions can yield big returns for organizations.”

Failing to Prepare for New CIO Integration

Although many organizations have intensified their selection process for new senior leaders, once these new leaders come on-board, it is common for organizations to take a “sink or swim” position regarding the new leader’s ultimate success—hoping for the best. The logic of such an approach is inexplicable.

“The success of a new leader should be as important to track as key business performance indicators and the balance sheet.”

Why take such a cavalier attitude with regard to brand new senior leaders when they are accountable for critical business functions? The success of a new leader should be as important to track as key business performance indicators and the balance sheet. It’s clear that new leader failure has broad and extended negative consequences for the organization.

The bottom line is that there is no acceptable reason to leave a new CIO’s success to chance.

Unfortunately, most new-leader “on-boarding” programs are self-directed. This is extremely difficult to accomplish when you’re figuratively drinking from of a fire hose. A better approach is for organizations to have a managed, structured approach to get the new CIO quickly and surely up-to-speed.

Formal Executive Integration Programs

Executive Integration provides the new leader insight, advice, and accountability throughout the transition process and for up to a year following their start date.

The objectives of executive integration are to:

  • Compress the new CIO’s integration time (in order to get the right results quickly)
  • Avoid costly, preventable and potentially career ending mistakes
  • Minimize staff productivity declines and turnover related to leadership changes
  • Accelerate team cohesiveness with new CIOs and their stakeholders (boss, peers and direct reports)
  • Rapidly gain credibility with other key stakeholders, such as key customers, major vendors, trustees, board members, etc.
  • Make the leader transition as efficient as possible
  • Sustain the new CIO’s early successes over the long-term

Although some on-boarding programs provide parts and pieces of an executive integration process, few address specifically what it takes for a new leader to be successful both in the short- and long-term.

What Executive Integration Looks Like

The goal of executive integration is to dramatically increase the probability of a new leader’s success, avoid failure and avert the costs associated with it. The combination of a structured process and the objective, expert assistance of the integrator-coach helps assure these outcomes for the new CIO and the organization.

Executive integration begins when an offer is accepted, kicks off in earnest the first day the new CIO is on the job, and is sustained over the next 12 months through executive coaching.

Here is an example of a six stage executive integration process:

  1. Integrator Entry. The organization and the integrator set mutual expectations for the new hire. The integrator orients the new hire to the executive integration process and conducts a series of leadership assessments.

  2. Stakeholder Interviews. The integrator conducts interviews with the new CIO’s boss, peers, direct reports, and other key stakeholders. Each interviewee is asked a set of purposeful questions to elicit “ground truth” information that will help the new CIO orient to the new surroundings quickly and start producing results sooner.

  3. Construct the New Hire’s “Blueprint for Success”. The integrator writes a detailed action plan for the new CIO using the expectations, assessments, and results of the interviews. The Blueprint is an “intelligence briefing” for the new CIO. It describes in detail the cultural, operational and interpersonal environment s/he is entering.

  4. Debriefing the Incoming CIO on the Information Gathered. The integrator sits down with the new hire (before the first day on the job) and goes over the Blueprint for Success. In this way the new CIO is well-prepped on the inter-organizational dynamics and normally hidden expectations of those he or she works with as well as the performance requirements needed for success.

  5. Facilitating a Kick-Off Meeting with the New CIO and Direct Reports. The first day on the job, the new CIO meets with direct reports. This meeting is a structured icebreaker designed to accelerate the trust and team-building process and answer the burning questions all direct reports have about their new boss.

  6. Follow-Up Coaching with the New CIO. The integrator provides ongoing executive coaching to assist the new CIO to lock-in performance improvement, generate results, overcome challenges, and solve problems.

Executive Integration programs can be employed below the C-level. If you are a CIO, here are five things you can do now to implement Executive Integration to help incoming members of your senior team get the strongest start possible, and maximize their chances at success.

  1. Read These Two Books. Before Onboarding: How to Integrate New Leaders for Quick and Sustained Results by Michael Burroughs and The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins. These two books are the definitive references on the ins and outs of leader integration.

  2. Build a Repeatable Process. It’s not enough to say you do onboarding. Nor is it enough to have a written policy. The key is to establish an integration process that can be applied similarly for all new leaders that come into your organization. This means assigning people to conduct the process, providing the appropriate resources, and tracking results on a regular basis.

  3. Partner with HR. If you work in an organization that has its own human resources department, consider partnering with them to set up, resource, and run the integration program. Be careful to establish an arrangement that allows you to retain sufficient control and oversight so that integration occurs in a way that is responsive to the needs of your organization.

  4. Use Professional Coaching. Although you might be tempted to assign one of your own people to advise the new leader throughout the process, the better option is to bring in a leadership coach. Not only will s/he receive coaching from a trained expert, but it will ensure that your people are able to focus on their particular job responsibilities—for which they are the experts.

  5. Hire the Pros. As is often the case, you and your team are probably up to your eyeballs in alligators just ensuring that you deliver high quality IT to the organization. Therefore, it’s often difficult to find the bandwidth to conduct a successful leader integration process when you do not have the time or the wherewithal to do so. Bringing on professional integrators to “manufacture time” and assume the responsibility for integration, allows you to focus on your core mission while also knowing that a vital function—leader integration—is being carried out by those who know what they’re doing.

  6. Be Personally Engaged. Like any new program, you must support it by word and action. This means taking a personal interest in the progress of new leaders as well as their ultimate success.
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