Insights from Mark Elliott on challenges, solutions, and best practices for onboarding new leaders and keys to effective onboarding of leaders and managers in the expanding remote/hybrid workplace. 

About the Guest:

Onboarding Services, LLC, founder Mark Elliott has decades of experience in talent management consulting worldwide. He has worked with hundreds of companies in a broad range of industries on leadership assessment and development, executive recruitment and assimilation, leader onboarding, succession, and organizational development. Mark’s practice currently focuses on executive coaching; he has used his insight and experience to successfully counsel more than 400 senior leaders. 

Mark is also the developer of PowerStart Onboarding, a proprietary onboarding process that provides coaching support and leadership development for newly placed leaders at all organizational levels. He has designed and implemented several leadership development courses.

Read more about Mark Elliott at:

https://onboardingservices.com/mark-elliott-biography/

 

About the Host:

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues. Debra is a co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams. 

Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership. Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience Debra brings to her work. As a nationally recognized expert on the virtual workplace, has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught “Leadership in the Virtual Workplace,” an online graduate-level course offered by Duquesne University. Previously, Debra was a teleworking executive and has worked from her home office for more than two decades.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/debradinnocenzo/

www.DinnocenzoSpeaks.com

www.RemoteLeadershipBook.com

www.virtualworkswell.com

 

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Transcript
Debra Dinnocenzo:

Welcome to the Remote Leadership Podcast. I'm Deborah Dinnocenzo and I'll be your host and guide as we explore new challenges and proven keys to success for leaders and teams who must get results from a distance. For more than two decades, I've helped organizations and leaders successfully go virtual. Now that we're all on a trajectory toward the next normal of work from anywhere and hybrid teams, I'm excited to share with you the insights and expertise that 1000s of leaders and teams have acquired through my books, coaching, training, and presentations. Join me to learn tips, techniques and skills that leaders and teams in your organization can implement now to achieve effectiveness in our evolving remote workplaces.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of the remote leadership podcast. And I'm excited today to focus on onboarding new leaders with my guest, Mark Elliott, who is the founder of onboarding services, and has been around the block for a lot of decades and knows his stuff. Mark is a friend and a colleague, and extremely knowledgeable and that the area of onboarding and welcome Mark, and please add anything else you'd like people to know about you.

Mark Elliot:

That kind of covers it. So the only good thing about being old is it means you have a lot of experience.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Exactly, exactly. We and we want to leverage that today. And because I've been hearing a lot of questions about the challenge of onboarding, as the remote and hybrid workplace has expanded, particularly during COVID, there was a little bit of a panic about how do we bring on new people. And of course, we've all been through the experience of hiring new people who left before we ever got to meet them, which really drives home the importance of onboarding, which is why I am thrilled that you could join us today. So let's start first mark with what is onboarding? What's the definition of onboarding? How do you define it as you've worked with it?

Mark Elliot:

Well, the first thing is that I would focus in on onboarding for new managers and new leaders. Organizations have onboarding processes, and most of them do progressive ones do. For some of them, it's just a renamed orientation program. But when it comes to a new manager, or a new leader, that what's at stake is so much more than just a rank and file employee. what the impact is, when when a new manager a new leader is hired, or even promoted from within, when a leader is put in a position, it isn't to fill a position, it's with the expectation that they will produce some results that are needed by the organization. And sometimes those results can be life or death of the business. And so organizations understand that at senior leadership level, and even managers underneath them, that what's at stake requires a different level of support. So it's not just an everyday onboarding process, it's a specialized one for new leaders.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So you mentioned new leaders, not necessarily we're not necessarily talking about onboarding for new employees who are coming into the organization, which might really remind us of traditional orientation kinds of programs, so elaborate on that a little bit.

Mark Elliot:

Sure. Um, it's a, it's a myth. And just a mistake by a lot of organizations that they assume that when they promote from within that the and part of the reason they did that was gee, we have somebody who can quote, quote, hit the road running. And we have somebody who already knows the culture. And we have somebody who already has built relationships with key stakeholders. And so why do we need to support that person with an onboarding support process? And the answer is pretty simple. That, first of all, when you go up a table, so when you go from the table, the management table, you've been sitting around, and now you're at the senior leadership table, there's a different culture. Yes, the corporate culture may be the same, but the executive culture changes pretty dramatically. You know, who speaks who has power? how are decisions made? How do you disagree? All of those things are part of the culture around that executive table. And those have to be taught. And hopefully you're not teaching them by making mistakes. Okay, they're learning the hard way. An onboarding process will say, recognize that there's a new culture around On that boardroom table around that executive table, I said that that person is believed to come with relationships. Well, I'm sorry, some of those relationships, were going out in bowling or playing golf or having drinks with. And now you're their boss. You were appear yesterday, and now you're their boss. That's a whole different relationship.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

And some of those experiences for multinational organizations or organizations that have just become truly hybrid, and remote and or expanding in that way, can't replicate some of those face to face experiences, all of which we all admit are important. So how does an organization deal with that? How do they replace those?

Mark Elliot:

So first of all, what is the appreciation and the understanding of what's at stake, that promotion from within is not automatic success, or Accelerated success, that recruiting from the outside, while science has made it better, there are so much better assessment processes, and therefore better decision making. The role of a really good comprehensive onboarding process for new managers and new leaders is to take the person who is supposed to be successful, and help ensure that they will be successful, and that they'll achieve that success faster. Yeah, so that's the purpose of of having a comprehensive onboarding support process. So the definition changes, the definition is an extended process, not a couple of days, not a week, it's an extended process of support. And in my case, that's typically three to six months of supporting a new leader who's supposed to be successful, and having them be assured of success and contributing to the bottom line faster. The other part of the definition is the new person, the organization's typically responsible for orientation, and whatever onboarding currently exists. This says it's a shared responsibility, where the new leader has a responsibility to to come in and not screw up, to not ignore the differences in the culture to not ignore. Well, in fact, I'll say it another way. Decades of research have shown that there are more than a dozen common keyword, common missteps and mistakes that all new leaders are at risk of making. So they come in and a few of them, they come in, and they have high expectations of themselves, and they try to do too much too soon. They they introduce change, before they've built the foundation for that change, they come in with thinking they know the answer and trying to tell answers too quickly. They may even start with not even a clear understanding of their mandate and their expectations, the list goes on. Right? Any one of those, any one of those can cause the person to fail, or at a minimum to stumble and slow down their progress and, and to cause the organization to have some disruptions.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

And I just think about the complexity of that when people are face to face every day, versus the confusion and added complexity when people aren't together and aren't able to bump into each other to talk about things. And what I really love about your your view of onboarding, which is a three to six month process is it really supports what Jason Warwick and I wrote about in our book on remote leadership is the importance of coaching for success. So, you know, your your approach to onboarding really is an extensive coaching for Success Initiative, it seems like to me,

Mark Elliot:

Well, absolutely. And another piece that is often missed is that when you onboard a new leader or a new manager, the assumption is that that's the focus the entire focus. And the fact of the matter is that there's an extensive amount of coaching for that person's boss, to have them be a better boss that will facilitate the success of the new person here. Here's a quick scenario. Almost all of us who've gone to a new job, have had our new boss on day one, stick out their hand and say Welcome aboard. I'm here for you if you need me. Okay, two things wrong with that statement. I'm here for you if you need me, one, if you need me, it makes me reticent to come to you because then I look needy. Right. Okay. All right. And the other part is, I'm here for you if you need me, well, even before the remote work environment, that boss wasn't that boss either had all kinds of closed door meetings all day long scheduled. That boss was away at visiting other work sites. That boss was at business conferences, whatever that was, that boss was not immediately available. And oh, by the way you just made be reticent to come to you. Yeah, so a lot of the onboarding coaching is to help the boss be a better boss that will facilitate that new manager or leader who's coming with the organization.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So well, it's the new manager or leader that's being on boarded, there are critical components to that beyond just that person and what they need to learn or learn how to do.

Mark Elliot:

Yeah, absolutely. When there's a coach involved, a coach will, will do back channel communication. And And again, this in the age in the age before remote. That meant walking the halls of that business location, and sitting down with somebody and saying, how's Deborah doing, that she made any missteps early on, and so informal collection of information, because then you go to Deborah, who's the onboarding new manager or leader? And you say, So Deborah, how did your meeting go with Shawn? You go, wow, it was great. It was fantastic. Blah, blah, blah. But you've already talked to Shawn, the coach has already talked to Shawn, and found out it wasn't so fantastic. Okay. And he's willing to cut her some slack. But she needs some feedback on how to deal with him. And that stakeholder relationship differently.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, you know, Shawn, is just impossible.

Mark Elliot:

Yeah, yes. He also has tenure. Yeah, exactly.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Exactly. So. So how are you as a coach, facilitating all of those kinds of connections, which, you know, people in organizations are having trouble doing some curious about how you're doing that. And your role as an executive coach? When you can't, you haven't been able to show up and walk the halls and talk to Sean?

Mark Elliot:

Yeah. So again, it was tough before, no, it was difficult before to get people's time, it was difficult before, before being before remote, it was difficult before to get the boss to set up any number of feedback sessions with a new person, what I mean by that is, an onboarding process will tell the new person, you need to be sensitive to the culture that you've just walked into, and how it might be different than cultures you've worked come from. Okay. And so there's a meeting to get set up, where after a short period of time, the person meets with the boss, the new person meets with the boss, and says, Here's my take on the cultural differences here. And the boss gets to say you nailed it, or said, Well, I could see why you'd think that, but don't be fooled. Here's the reality of it. So there are a dozen or more of those kinds of meetings, business situation analysis, who are the key stakeholders I should be building relationships with, where's the power base in this organization, all of those are meetings with the boss, those were tough to hold before remote. Now, with everybody scheduled every hour of the day for the next zoom session. That's even more difficult. And so one of the things that I have found as a best practice, is that in hybrid room, well, even in remote situations, or combination, remote and hybrid, a new leader who otherwise would be roaming the halls, or otherwise, setting up meetings with people to build those relationships and start to get organizational insight and learn about the culture and learn about the power base and all of that. And some of those could be impromptu. Well, impromptu doesn't exist anymore. Right, right. You schedule a zoom or a Skype or a WebEx or whatever meeting? Yeah, okay. And, and oh, by the way, forgive me, but oh, by the way, those video presentation tools for as good as they are. They're still not the human experience. Exactly. Then when a new person is coming in. What used to be even in a more casual work environment was the person looked pretty presentable. You know, I've seen people in their first zoom session in a new role in a new organization wear hoodies. Okay, and maybe they didn't have it up, but they were wearing a hoodie. Yeah, and, and the, the axiom is correct. You only get one shot at a first impression.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

All right. So Right. I mean, we we, understandably, lightened up during COVID. I get that, and I've seen a lot of that as well. And, you know, for decades, I've been involved in the remote workforce. We didn't call it remote, then we call it a telework, right? And, you know, we had all these rigid rules about you know, if you worked at home, if you telecommute, you had to have a dedicated office space and it had to be have a closed door and never never could you have your kids around and you should like tie up your pet in the shed. And you know, we had to let go of all of that. So we've flexed out I know, as I'm seeing it, we're not really sure what now to require. Some of that would be judgment, you would think a new leader wouldn't show up in a hoodie. But so what do you see as, as you look at it in this environment now, what are still some of the core best practices for onboarding that have only always existed for you? And how are you helping clients implement those in this environment?

Mark Elliot:

So for so first, it starts with be clear on the definition of onboarding, be clear on the need for it. Commit to it is a high priority. Okay, so for the boss, who needs to hold all of these, what are called feedback sessions, all of these learning sessions with the new person in the organization that boss needs. Who's already overbooked. Zoom, exhausted, yes. All right, that boss needs to commit to being available. So the person learns what they need to learn faster. So the person doesn't step in anything along the way. So the person doesn't run around a corner. I prophetically run around a corner and run off a cliff. So the first thing is the boss giving a priority and understanding what's at stake. Okay. The second thing is that there are some things that so I have, I have a new person I'm coaching now. And they're only required to come to the office once a week. But what we orchestrated was that we laid out who are the stakeholders you need to build relationships with? And oh, by the way, they're only required to come to work one day a week. Okay? What if you coordinated with them and had it be the same day? Okay, so if you're one day a week, and for whatever reason you picked Thursday, but a group half a dozen of the people on your list of 15 people you need to build relationships with, find the half a dozen that you can make, have come in coordinate, make a schedule with that, they'll be there the same day, you're going to be there. So it now becomes an in person meeting. Yeah, okay. And you get a chance to go to the cafeteria and sit and have a coke together and get to know each other, or whatever those things were, we could do pre pandemic, pre pre remote work situations. Okay, so that's one. The other one is you have to try twice as hard. You know, if in fact, these are the obstacles that now we are doing it by zoom, or Skype, or whatever, and oh, by the way, your boss is really, you know, full time busy already. You need, sometimes it takes the outside facilitator to say, Okay, how are we going to make this work, there's too much at stake, how are we going to make this work. And so it takes compromise, and it takes priority.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So the outside facilitator could be an internal HR person or someone that's designated to help shepherd onboarding, new onboard leaders being on board. And

Mark Elliot:

in fact, some organizations assign a mentor, board.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So it sounds a lot like also in your approach is to help the new leader recognize they own a big part of the responsibility for being successful. While at the same time you must be helping if they don't see it themselves, the hiring leader or the the executive team recognize the pain of failure. When we're talking about people in management positions, it probably took them a while to get that person, particularly in this environment that we're currently in, and the pain and cost to have to replace as someone who fails that isn't successful, which to me drives home, again, the importance of coaching and onboarding for success.

Mark Elliot:

Yeah, absolutely. And some pieces parts of that. One is that organizations day, again, you know, recruiting people has become very challenging. Yep. Even when you have a remote work environment, people will have multiple choices of opportunities they can go to my clients put out front, when they're interviewing people, oh, by the way, we're going to make an additional investment in your success. And you're going to have a three to six month onboarding support process to help ensure your success. So that becomes not part of the compensation package and other perks and all of that, but it surely is an attraction, a tangible real attraction element in the recruiting process. And as they're talking to people in the organization in the interviewing process, they'll say, so tell me about this extended onboarding support process. And people will say, it's, they'll do all the positives about it. It accelerated my relationship building with my boss, it accelerated my success, and it was an investment in made that they made and so on. Okay. So there's that piece to it. Rest of your question, I'm sorry.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Yeah. So you're really putting accountability on both sides, not just the organization who, you know, historically, when we think of onboarding, it is sort of, you know, fancier orientation in some cases, but you're talking about a true investment in people's success, which is just a whole different view of this, whether somebody hires you or another coach to do this. If they tried to even manage it themselves, making the which is perfectly reasonable, this person is just hired into a leadership role, right, they should be able to lead their own onboarding process. Which might be I don't know, is that a challenge for people who are not as assertive as you and I are? Or are introverts in this environment, again, especially where you can't just have somebody stopped by your new office and say, Hey, welcome aboard, you know, they might get a text or an email.

Mark Elliot:

Well, so the first thing is, what a lot of senior leaders have said to me, is they said, you know, Mark, all this stuff, you're telling me I already know. And then they get a smile on their face. And they say, but I was going to cut corners. You know, because I've made a lot of these transitions. I've been successful, you know, I haven't failed yet. And I said, well guess what the odds are, the odds are working against you, especially if you've cut corners on the best practice approaches. So the first thing is to remind them of best practice approaches. Second thing is to create structure, and forgive the sports analogy, but to make sure they touch the bases as they as they go trying to score, that they don't miss a base on the way to success. So you create a formal structure, you put a timeline on it, that creates time pressure, if in fact, and this is fact from decades of research, just like the culture in America for the first 100 days of the presidency. Yep, you ever give or take the first 90 to 120 days with a new leader, the organization has decided if they're a keeper, or if they need to cut their costs to cut their losses. So if that narrow time window of the first 90 or 120 days is high risk, high visibility, then not only have structure, assure that you're following best practices, and a coach can help them do that. Okay, and have deliverables have tangible bites of the elephant along the way. So if one of the things they get told to do is assess the cultural differences that you've walked into, there should be a tangible deliverable of that assessment. I had a client who wrote five bullets on a cocktail napkin. And that was okay, because he could talk about the those cultural differences for an hour. Yeah, and I had somebody else do a six page PowerPoint presentation, and then review it with the boss and give the boss a chance to say you nailed it, or you missed it over here, or whatever. So the so what used to be the boss meeting, the boss would say to somebody while they were in at the watercooler or whatever. So Henry, how's it going? Okay, and Henry might or might not tell them some issue that had come up, and you might schedule a time. Okay, this says, there will be a set aside time every week for one of these important topics. And there will be a deliverable that the new manager has created, that gets reviewed with the boss and or the coach.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So Henry has an opportunity to seek some guidance, some alignment, some calibrating without the having to initiate that unnecessarily, and maybe run the risk of feeling like, you know, I shouldn't know this. And I shouldn't have to look weak in front of my new boss.

Mark Elliot:

Yeah. Absolutely. And we would we, we legitimize that, we tell the person, you are going to meet with your new boss on this schedule. And here's what you're going to review. And so, for example, one of the things is called Getting Started communications. Okay, early on, it's one of the responsibilities for the new leader is getting started communications. And that means who internally didn't get the job that might be sensitive to the fact that I got recruited from the outside, I need to start building a relationship with that person, okay, who are key stakeholders who has power without authority, you know, who has informal power without real authority, all of these things, and the person can't determine that for themselves. So that means the boss says, Here are those things you need to know. And the new person says, Well, when I meet with so and so here's what I'm going to say. And the boss will say, No, don't say that. You know, And it sounded like something very just everyday casual. And when you say you don't know the history behind that you don't know the last time that blew up when a person. And so having all of those orchestrated meetings. Now they're not, you know, they're not one hour meetings to our meet, you know, given the realities of the workplace. But they are hugely important, because it's not just the how's it going, Henry?

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Right. If this told me to touch points, it sounds.

Mark Elliot:

Again, decades of research exist on all of this. So for example, somebody who's been a turnaround manager successful, and gets brought into an organization that doesn't require a turnaround. If he or she, if he or she leads that business unit, as if it's a turnaround, they're destined to failure, right. So the very first thing they're supposed to do is do a business situation analysis, don't trust what people told you in the interview. Because in the interview, they might often say just the opposite, they might say, this thing is humming along, and it's just fine. And we just need you to guide the ship. And then the person goes in, and they find out that out of the five business units, they're responsible for three of them are disasters. Okay, and so they need to do that assessment, that's tangible deliverable. They need to review it with their boss and have the Boss Boss go, You know what, you're right. Okay, so there's not a disconnect on how they're going to lead that organization and ultimately fail.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Yeah. So. So what have you seen, in terms of the unique back best practices that organizations are creating, as we become more dispersed? I mean, your your story about, you know, I need to meet with somebody, and I'm only in one day a week, and this person is only in one day a week, just, you know, gives me a little bit of a headache, thinking about trying to coordinate with the six people that that new leader has to try to coordinate with. So are there any enhancements to or changes to your process that you use in coaching, that you've had to adapt and help your clients adapt the process to this new environment?

Mark Elliot:

Yeah, well, the first thing is to use technology. And that is, in our case, senior executives still want and get coaches life coaches. But as organizations have wanted to drive this down to the next layers of senior, VPS, VPS, a VPS, whatever those titles are, one, they didn't want the expensive life coaches at every level. And so they said, Why not build a tool that provides this structured guidance, provides the best practice approaches, provides the tips, the warnings, the cautions, and all of all that and also then deliver as at the end of all of that information in each of its segments, time segments, like you just started your first month and so on, at each of those segments has the deliverables that are due. Okay, here's your culture assessment. Here's your business situation analysis. You know, so sorry about the phone in the background. No problem. Yeah. And so that is now an online tool that is available 24/7 For that three to six month timeframe of providing ongoing, everyday support for that new leader, and that new leaders boss? Yeah. So what just you said you said unique, so let me share one thing with you. One of my one of my clients, hands out a document to all their new managers than the document is our desired culture. And it's like a four page document on, you know, we're gonna have agile leadership, we're gonna have this all that kind of stuff, here are our values. And that's better than not doing it. Right. But another client, another client has a two day session on again, by zoom these days. So you have all the new managers that have been hired in a certain timeframe. And in a Zoom meeting with a leader or facilitator, they are told about the new culture, or the desirable culture, if it's in, you know, in progress. And, and I have a client in San Antonio, you said unique approaches, they want to talk about the values of their company. And Father, Ron weeds that value discussion, they bring in, they bring in a local priest, who talks about the corporate values, about their morals, their ethics in the workplace, and all of that. Yeah. And so, all kinds of there's all kinds of creativity being shown.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, that's great as we wrap up, I love just kind of wrapping up with that because one of the things that I think It's so important right now that a lot of organizations are feeling the pain, obviously, of the great resignation. And who knows, by the time people listen to this as the great resignation over or do we have some other new crisis and in organizations, but, you know, the truth is a people want to work in a place where their values are understood, that they can buy into, and that they, too, are valued. And I think, you know, taking the time making the investment to think past orientation, and doing it quick. And just giving people information in writing, and investing in their success is a way, a very important way to convey that we really value people and appreciate them and and want them to stay with us.

Mark Elliot:

Yeah, absolutely. And I am pleased, I used to be an executive recruiter. And executive recruiting was a transaction that often ended, for the most part on the day the new person showed up, you know, so you held your breath, and you waited for the phone call that the new manager new leader showed up? Okay. And that transaction, while it was nice, wasn't nearly as fulfilling as spending three to six months with that person helping ensure their success, right. And the success of the client organization who hired them recruited them. Yeah. And so it's a very different. It's a very different process. It's not transactional.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So in terms of key takeaways, as we wrap up, obviously, what I'm hearing from you is have a process, what would you add, in terms of key takeaways you want people to remember, as they as we wrap this up?

Mark Elliot:

Well, the first thing is to recognize what you don't have. And that starts with what's the definition of onboarding for a new manager or a new leader? Do you appreciate that it's a different process and add on to what you might already be doing? Do you appreciate that it's that there's a lot at stake, and therefore, it's worth a high priority and investment of time and maybe money? Okay. And then, do you have a best practice approach to what you've now said, you need to do, gee, we need to provide more structure, we need to provide more support. What's the best practice approaches for doing that? And let's make sure we're a best practice. Company. Business.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Okay. Wonderful. Mark, this has been great. I know that this will be very helpful to everyone who's listening. And I hope to have you back someday, as we continue to fate to meet some of these challenges. And we're sorting it out. People ask me all the time, you know, how's this hybrid? What's this hybrid thing? And my answer always is, well, you know, we're still figuring it out in so many ways. So, again, thank you for your time and insights. And there's more information about mark in the podcast notes with brief bio, and be in touch with me if anyone has any questions or needs additional information. So thank you, Mark. And thanks, everyone, for listening.

Mark Elliot:

Thank you, Deborah.