Part 2: Onboarding Senior Hires
This is Part 2 of a 3 Part series. In this second post, we outline the importance of onboarding senior hires. Read our first post where we explain how to go about hiring candidates that are older than you.
A lot of people I spend my time within the work that I do, are either founders or are part of a founding team. Most of them are under 40, in fact, now that I think of it, they are mostly under 35. They hold senior roles in very exciting and future-facing businesses. They are creative, energized and eager to learn. Their passion shines through everything they do, which helps them build and manage teams of equally eager and high achieving employees. However, they have a key responsibility where they often get a bit stuck, and that’s when it comes to making senior hires.
Before you spend any more time reading this, I’ve made some assumptions about the ideal 'reader' of this post to ensure the non-ideal readers don't waste any of their time as these posts are not meant to apply to everyone.
My Key Assumptions;
- You are part of a successful founding team who can now afford to hire some senior players.
- Your management team has relatively little experience and you either have a board who would like to see some more ‘experienced’ talent or you know that your team will only be able to get to the next level by hiring in some experience.
- You may have had some bad experience with Senior Hires in the past and it’s jarred you and you’ve found yourself holding back from doing it again.
- When I say ‘senior hires’ I am referring to people that exceed you in both age and years in the job.
If you fit in this 'reader' persona I urge you to keep reading. If you don't, well...I won't stop you from reading.
I've broken this topic into 3 key phases of 'Making the Most of Senior Hires' in order to help you identify what might be getting in the way.
- Part 1 - Hiring Senior Talent: How to get through the lengthy career B.S. and make sure they have what you need and will add positively to your organization's culture.
- Part 2 - Onboarding Senior Talent: How to set them up for success and check your own assumptions.
- Part 3 - Developing Senior Talent: How to give them the opportunity and platform to learn, grow and be empowered.
Part 2: Onboarding Senior Hires
Undo Previous Behaviours
At one short point in my life, I was a personal trainer. Training self-proclaimed ‘experienced’ people was often a nightmare as they were self-taught and often doing some of the fundamental exercises poorly. Having to re-train a squat is much more challenging and requires a different kind of teaching style than training someone who is walking into the gym for the first time ever (the dream client).
The same challenge applies to hiring managers of senior talent. Just because someone has been doing something for a long time this doesn’t mean he or she does it in the way you would like them to. Quality standards, approaches, even ethics, will vary by organization and it is imperative you train your senior hires quickly on your company’s ways of working. This will require patience and persistence, for in some cases you may have to ‘untrain’ and ‘retrain’ some of the fundamentals.
If you are planning on opening a new location, this step is KEY for you. International growth succeeds on the back of strong foundations. Senior hires in new locations will be at a disadvantage if they are not ‘taught’ the ways of working of the organization. This may feel like you are teaching ‘the basics’ and are dumbing it down, but it means there is no excuse for getting it wrong.
Get Their Perspective
There is a very small window of ‘fresh perspective’ before a new employee starts to form the norm. If I assume that you are hiring a more experienced person to get their perspective based on what they have seen before, then you definitely want to make the most of their first 90 days before they see the world through the lens of your company.
This means that you may adapt your onboarding by consciously not giving them all the information or the feeling that you need to overcorrect for what might be missing. Give them headspace and time to do their own digging. They should be encouraged to meet with employees at all levels, customers, stakeholders. etc. Encourage them to be a sponge for their first 90 days. Yes, I know they have a lot to deliver on, but if you don’t use this time wisely and they don’t get the chance to absorb how the organization works, they could fire off in the wrong direction and that can be a challenge to un-do without totally disempowering them.
Establish The Power Dynamic
Remember that no matter how much older they are than you, or how much more experience is on there is on their CV, at the end of the day you are their boss. Not all senior hires come 'trained' and if you see behaviors that aren’t in line with your culture or make you uncomfortable, don’t brush them off, call them out. Read why it’s important to remember that you are not their friend. Although it may feel uncomfortable giving feedback to someone older than you, it has to be done and treat them with the respect they deserve. Don’t downplay it, don’t be passive-aggressive, don’t sit and pray they hope they get it. Most importantly, don’t tell everyone else but them (I list these because I have witnessed them on more than one occasion). Shoot straight and be clear. Do not let someone else erode your credibility as a leader just because they have more time on the clock.
Before they start, take a moment to think about what kind of manager you want to be for this senior hire. Listen to your doubts and fears and make sure to not ignore them or else they will play out in, usually, unhelpful ways. Think about your strengths, how can you ensure you’re using them in this position with this new person. Think about how this person can compliment you, and make sure you let them know it.
Bring the Management Team on the same page
The great thing about hiring more senior people than ourselves is that they usually bring to the table something we can’t buy or learn. Before bringing anyone into the company, but especially someone into your management team, set them up for success by ensuring the existing management team knows;
- Why they were hired (what about them made the cut)
- What they are expected to do (often everyone has a different version of expectations)
- How you would like to see them (the management team) support to ensure their onboarding is a success (everyone is responsible)
The healthy dynamics of your team is imperative to your organization's success and this is not something that 'just happens'. Healthy and high performing teams are the result of intention, hard work, uncomfortable moments and trust. As a leader, it is your role to make sure all of that happens under your watch. If there’ is something going on in your team, then that is on you, not them.