While working as a consultant, I, along with my colleagues, developed a strategic onboarding design — or, we like to frame it, a highly functional integration design or learning network — for presidents and other senior leaders who are making a fresh start. . Location as we have discussed in our book From the passage of the President MixtureThis is a strong idea and can really help a new leader accomplish a number of things in their first month of work that are critical to their success, most notably:
- Learn the true story of the organization from some of the most trusted, knowledgeable and trustworthy people on campus.
- Start building relationships with key stakeholders and leaders that are vital to their success.
- Creating an ongoing group that will provide a vibe for their honest response and their first year on campus and possibly beyond.
In this article, I will share some key elements of a learning network in the hope that it will provide some insight for individuals who are leaders as well as those who are starting a new leadership position. (For simplicity, I will focus on the president in this article, but the lessons can be adapted to other types of leaders.)
Creating a learning network
The senior administrative team, led by the provost, should compile a strategic list of about 10 to 12 of the most trusted, trusted individuals on campus, which weighs heavily on the home faculty. Such individuals must have a great reputation and a deep understanding of the culture and complexity of the organization, as well as its politics, history and governance processes. In addition, they should have genuine affection for the place and be willing to tell the truth to the authorities.
Choosing the right member for the network is key to the success of the whole process. If you organize such a network, make it clear that there is no need to appeal to politicians or people with agendas or constant complainants. This does not mean that you should choose only choir boys and girls. But you should hire people on campus who have the most credibility and will be honest with the new president.
The good news is that most campuses have one such bucket. It’s okay to add one or two (but not more) to add some flavor to the group. Curmudgeons have an edge over them, but they are almost always highly respected for their scholarship and teaching, as well as their love for the institution. However, do not add any deep condemnation, as they will poison the process. Critics lose hope and are usually very angry people; They will not just add value.
A general education network consists of five or six highly respected faculty members, two experienced senior administrators (e.g. vice-president or dean) and two experienced and trusted staff members. You should include several thoughtful and believable additions, as they have a distinct perspective on the organization. Look for people who care deeply about the college or university and want the right kind of leader who will continue to uphold its values and manage its policies. In short, you want people who are committed to serving the mission of the organization, not their own arrogance.
Once your senior team has identified these individuals, you should schedule a one-to-one conversation between the new president and each person in the group within the first 21 days of the transition process – the earlier the better. Ideally, this could take the form of multiple breakfast or lunch meetings in the first month. Obviously, zoom meetings are a possibility, although they are not preferred.
At the end of that conversation, the new president will have invaluable information that cannot be found in a 500-plus-page briefing book or conversation with board members. They will have real stories about the place that would otherwise take them years to learn.
For the new president
Once the senior team does its job, it depends on the new leader to build his effort. So after a series of such conversations, if you are the new president, we suggest you call the whole group on a quarterly basis.
To make the conversation constructive, it requires a little organization. The last thing you want to create is a complaint or grievance process that quickly takes the discussion down a rabbit hole. Instead, we suggest that you raise the following three questions to frame the conversation so that you get really valuable information and so that participants feel that they are really contributing to your onboarding and adaptation.
- Any positive things that are happening on campus that I should be aware of?
- What problems or challenges are emerging that require my attention?
- Any specific advice for me to consider going forward?
Make sure you hear from everyone, especially from staff members and administrators. It should be a whole-group discussion, not just a faculty-conversation. Keep it simple, and keep it somewhere quiet for lunch, not in a noisy restaurant or other confusing place.
It is important that you show up How You’ve heard the network’s advice and feedback and how it communicates your thoughts and actions. You should be prepared to offer honest comments, such as:
- “You suggested that I have weekly lunches with certain community groups, which I did. Goodwill is great for our campus. “
- “You told me that supportive compensation is an important issue that has been largely ignored. I am creating a task force to investigate the issue and come up with some important recommendations within 30 days. I would like to take appropriate action on their recommendation. “
You want to avoid seeing the meetings as inappropriate or just window dressing or trying to make the participants feel manipulated in some way. Authentic feedback from others on campus is a gift for any new leader change, so you should not only find it but also show appreciation and make some effort to apply it.
Points to consider
Setting up such a network is not without risk. If the new leader does not communicate well with his members, many others will know, because those members will tell him about such interactions. Remember, those who are selected to serve on the network will have huge peer credibility and influence, so what they communicate speaks to many stakeholders.
The good news is that if new leaders connect – which is usually the case – they will build genuine connections and relationships with key people throughout the organization. These people will quickly spread the good news, and the relative capital that the new president needs will be quickly created.
Another big advantage is that the new president will be able to find out what’s really going on campus and avoid the “leader’s temptation” dynamics where they can only hear the good news about everything. Learning-network members will tell the truth to the power that the new president needs.
Ultimately, the new president will receive credit for learning and listening from stakeholders, which demonstrates respect for the organization. And it will spread quickly through the grapes on campus.
All of these things can significantly help with the transfer and onboarding process and at the same time build goodwill. If you are a new leader, be sure to take action in response to the network’s recommendations if appropriate. You do not want to be frustrated if you cannot get the right pitch so invest in a good capo.