Why On-Boarding Fails

The case

Valerie is the new VP of Product Management. Her references are impeccable. To ensure her success in the new role, Valerie was assigned an on-boarding consultant who worked with Valerie on her entrance strategy and supporting tactics.

After one year in the firm, Valerie left the company in the first dramatic failure of her career. The Head of R&D had cut her out of all strategic decisions and the Office of Project Management cut her out of the tactics.

Valerie was caught in a power struggle at the top and was knocked off in cross fire.

What’s the moral of this story?

We all remember Aesop’s Fables, don’t we? All stories need a moral!

On-boarding activity is often aimed and tailored for the individual. This is a strategic error. On-boarding especially at senior levels is not only a skill or get-used-to-the-culture issue. A critical success factor of senior on-boarding is often a system change, which pre and post on-boarding process need to address. 

We have all seen senior management recruiting Superman to solve a system problem, hoping for a quick fix or someone to hang. In the case above, Valerie was thrown into the fray to address the systemic power imbalance between R&D, Project Management and Product Management. 

A proper on-boarding intervention would have to be aimed at Valerie and her warring colleagues, with the active participation of the CEO.

Simplistic on-boarding aimed at the individual fail; on-boarding must be a system intervention. If the on-boarding is aimed for the “fresh meat” as an individual,  on-boarding efforts become what the Chinese call “对牛弹琴” or playing the piano to the cow“, IE, an exercise in futility.

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Developing Political Intelligence about an organization (revised)

In January 2014,  past year, I began a series of short posts illustrating how to get executives to  develop  better political awareness.

In a widely read post in this series, I related to a lack of systematic initiation into organizational politics, resulting in talented and motivated people losing out to folks with more political acumen.

The goal of these posts has not been to prescribe behaviour, rather to illustrate a gamut of frequently observed political behaviours, both positive and negative. It is my belief that in the same way that young kids should not learn sex from watching porn stars, neither should young managers learn organizational politics by being screwed, or by listening to some idealistic consultant or coach describe organizational life as it “should” be.

This is final post series. In this post, I will relate to 5 question that should be addressed upon entering a new organization and/or a new role.

The answers to these 5 questions provide a  guide for a street-smart “initiation” into the inevitable political web that will encountered  in all organizations post 2008.

1) Who comprises the “power elite”?  This elite may be managers, board members, assistants,  wives, mistresses, technical heroes,etc.

2) What is the dominant way that executives really get things done? It may be lobbying, looking good, overpromising, being exact, being vague, serving someone’s agenda etc..

3) What does the organization really award? It may be ass-licking, innovation, blind loyalty, conservatism, heroism, not standing out etc.

4) What is the main gap between what the organization says it does, and what it really does? For example, it says it values service, but it really emphasis low cost of service and “slogan-ism”. This is probably the most important question of all.

5)To what extent are budgeting and planning exercises real and transparent ? Many very political organizations go thru budgeting and planning as ceremonies to please stakeholders, but in reality, the plans are not real and budgeting is an anthropological ceremony.

In the political coaching that I do with my clients, I tend to focus on 5 and 2.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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