You hire executives because of their knowledge, experience and skills, and you expect them to be as successful as they were in their previous positions. But they can't do it alone-and when they fail, the overall damage can be significant. The techniques used to help new execs are basically the same ones used for any new hire, but the angle is slightly different. Here's what David B. Peterson, senior vice president with Personnel Decisions International, a management and human resources consulting firm in Minneapolis, suggests:
Clearly define specific expectations. Even the most brilliant people can't read your mind.
Explain what is valued in your culture. Help new executives understand your company's unspoken values, and, just as important, tell them what isn't valued. Peterson says new executives often come in confident of their track records and ready to put their own stamps on the organization. But if they're not functioning within the existing culture, they're going to fail.
Compounding the problem, companies are often overly tolerant of new star employees, expecting them to figure out things over time. But it doesn't always happen. So the first time you see someone operating contrary to your culture, say something. "Make it a casual, simple conversation just to let them know that's not how you do things," Peterson advises. "Say, 'We hired you because of [your skills], but you have to fit in here.' "
Foster a culture for learning. Certainly this is important for all employees, but many senior staffers may feel as if they were hired because of what they know already and therefore don't need to develop further. Make it clear that everyone is expected to continue improving with time-that you expect them not only to be good now, but to be even better in three months, six months and so on.
Offer feedback regularly. This basic management process often falls through the cracks when it comes to executives. Peterson recommends discussing expectations and performance weekly for the first month or so, then every other week for a few months, then monthly. These sessions don't need to be formal evaluations; Peterson says they might be just 15-minute conversations to see how the executive is doing, what kind of progress is being made and what the organization can do to help.
"Over and over, our surveys have shown that executives are less likely to have a development plan, they're less likely to know what's expected of them, and they're less likely to get feedback from their boss than people at lower levels," Peterson says. "That gets compounded when you bring in somebody new from the outside." If you've hired senior-level people before, take a look at your track record before you hire again. "Figure out who has been successful, what made them successful, who failed and why," Peterson says. "Then design a process to circumvent those reasons for failure."
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 14 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.