As the first month of the new year unfolds, some of you may be facing the challenge of starting a new job, or at least a new or expanded role. Psychologically, many people seem to prefer starting new life challenges like this at major milestones, like the turning of the year. Whether that is the case for you, or you're in the equally challenging position of hiring a new starter, you know how vital it is to start well and make a positive impression.
Anxiety about this type of change has, of course, fueled a whole industry of self-help books and management advice. Perhaps the most famous text on the subject is "The First 90 Days," by Michael Watkins. Although his approach to the first three months can feel like a relentless standard to meet, the structure does discipline you to: set goals; network with stakeholders effectively; listen to your team; and determine actions to be taken (rather than getting trapped in analysis-paralysis on strategy). So, I would recommend it as the classic text on the subject.
However, both from my own experience and from seeing too many new leaders struggle and fail to achieve what is expected, I believe more support is needed to ensure senior hires succeed. This is crucial not just for them, but also for the organization and individuals who hired them. With the high costs of recruitment and potential doubling of those costs if a replacement needs to be found, it is more important than ever to invest in helping your appointment succeed.
A recent article in Coaching at Work magazine, "Gainful Employment," by Pacifica Goddard, caught my eye as it looked into this very challenge. She quotes Lynne Hardman, CEO of Working Transitions, who has found that the recent recession and cost of recruitment have caused companies to reduce the number of on-boarding programs, even though 40% of new hires don't work and even though research shows that programs significantly reduce the likelihood that new hires will leave before the cost of their recruitment is recouped.
Given that the costs of hiring a senior customer insight leader can be anything from 50%-200% of annual salary, more businesses are seriously looking at on-boarding strategies. One growing solution, investigated in the Coaching at Work article, is on-boarding coaching, which allows people in senior roles to get more comfortable with not having all the answers. It provides a safe environment for the expression of concerns or issues that would otherwise feel too vulnerable. Such new hires also mention the benefit of having time set aside in their busy schedules to look at the bigger picture (something I've heard before from my clients).
Top tips from the "Gainful Employment" article include:
- Arrange to first meet new hires prior to start date or induction;
- Plan to achieve goals of individual and the organization;
- Identify "quick wins" and support early actions to generate support and feedback;
- Provide feedback -- to client, line manager and stakeholders, identifying next stages, goals the necessary continuing dialogue.
The growing evidence that such interventions are helpful and cost-effective does not surprise me. What is of interest is that a technique that had previously been reserved for the more senior directors is becoming more widely applied to empower strong early performance across key senior and middle-management roles. So, this is of direct relevance for new customer insight leader hires.
While speaking at industry events throughout 2014, I became aware of the scale of the talent wars happening in the customer insight recruitment market. Many companies are struggling to recruit even the analysts they need, let alone their customer insight leader, and are finding the need to pay more and take gambles on imperfect candidates to achieve their targets. Although this is a problem for the industry, it should also be an opportunity for coaches with a background in customer insight.
It will be interesting to see how the fusion of niche technical expertise and coaching practice develops to meet the needs of all those companies who need to ensure their new customer insight leader has a productive first 90 days.