Much of the early research into onboarding sits under the heading of “new executive assimilation.” Studies describe a successful outcome to executive transition as the shortened time frame for the executive to “become one of us.” The strength of the organization’s culture overrides the individuality and inventiveness of executives from different industries, experiences and backgrounds all in the name of onboarding. With a growing focus on diversity and equity, and the increasing understanding of the benefits of inclusion, it could be argued that the concept of new executive assimilation is dead. Why would we want executives to assimilate?
While this approach may have worked well for homogeneous companies, the approach is rather outdated for this increasingly diverse world. For organizations working so hard to attract diverse talent, what are they doing to support and retain them? Hiring diversity in your leadership group is significantly undermined if you don’t foster inclusivity.
Running an assimilation program for new executives (at the time when they are most vulnerable) runs counter to any diversity, equity and inclusion goals an organization has. There needs to be a clear shift from simply hiring diverse executives to creating an inclusive environment that brings the entire organization along in the onboarding process. These new executives should not have to assimilate to be successful. They must be able to keep their own voice, identity, and thinking in order to be a full contributor to the organization.
For executive onboarding in particular, there are opportunities to orient new diverse executives to the organization and vice versa. This requires a willingness and commitment of the executive team to adjust the group dynamic to accommodate new thinking and ways of being. The first half of 2020 has shown us how vital it is for organizations to be agile and innovative to meet the public and market demands. The best way to do this is to create an environment that allows diversity to thrive instead of being assimilated. Special attention needs to be paid to onboard both the new executive and the organization, sharing the burden of responsibility for the new executive’s success. Otherwise, your onboarding efforts will kill your DE&I dreams before they had a chance to materialize.
Back to the earlier example: the recruitment process was sound, a diverse talent pool was considered and an outstanding executive hired. However, the lack of a deliberate onboarding program undermined the solid recruitment process. Examples included early meetings where the executive was not supported in expressing differing views, other executives pushed their thinking on her by highlighting her lack of industry understanding. She was not protected and they we not encouraged to listen.
While this executive survived, the organization lost the potential benefit of her experience and perspective. I suspect that they have also put at risk her long-term success and tenure.