We half-ass the onboarding of executives, and that’s a true problem

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Well, look, everyone probably needs to be onboarded better, but for this post we’re predominantly going to discuss executives.

True story from a gig I once had: I was remote/contract (so in many ways I don’t matter, and I get that), and I was coming in about once or twice a week and using this one desk. Well, the company goes and hires a Chief Revenue Officer — still unclear how that’s different from a CFO, honestly — and he takes my desk. (Sadly, of course that role has to be a “he.”)

The good news: I get to stop coming as frequently, because the commute was annoying.

The interesting news: for about 12 weeks, no one hears from this guy, even though he’s in office every day. (At my old desk!) He has four direct reports and he’s barely speaking to them. Periodically he goes off for meetings with other executives, i.e. people at his level.

At around the 12-week mark, this dude sends out a new color-coded sales territory map. Now, in fairness, the map looked nice. But twelve weeks and this was the main output? I’m sure the guy was doing other stuff, but you have to realize how cultures work. Everyone was emailing and Slack messaging trying to figure out if it took this 200K employee 12 weeks to color-code a PDF map with info that already existed.

I realize inherently we’re never going to trust the people furthest up the chain at a white-collar job, and that’s been backed up by research galore. But 12 weeks to color-code a map is some real “Sheesh, wow” stuff.

The problem of where new execs spend time

It’s just with people at their level, mostly. I had a different job once where we met with the new head of our silo and he said “Well, I sit on Zoom all day and take calls.” That was curious to us because the company used GoToMeeting for everything.

Well, turns out that the execs use Zoom for everything. So this guy is sitting in his office taking different Zooms on channels we’d never be invited to. In the first seven months of him working there, we had one all-team meeting and got one all-team email.

How many times do you think he met with people vaguely close in salary to himself? I’m going to guess north of 100 in seven months, and that estimate might be low.

In short: senior leadership teams spend way too much time with each other.

Why is that a problem?

Ideally it shouldn’t be, because in an utopia, you’ve got the guys with the most experience up there setting the agenda and the strategy and driving the revenue so all of us can have sweet-ass jobs down the chain.

Problem is — well, multiple:

I admittedly have very particular ideas about work, but coming in to a high-paying role and going seven months barely speaking to your team to me is a complete and total disgrace. You’re definitely not a leader, and you’re barely a manager. Same with spending three months color-coding a map. Do something. Talk to the people who rely on you for context and project clarity. Be a fucking man, you know?

How execs should onboard

My approach:

  • Hired by the other execs — that’s fine and makes sense
  • Must meet with every member of their silo individually in the first month
  • Must conduct weekly meetings with middle managers in the department to contextualize the work
  • Have a monthly all-hands where you discuss what’s happening at the top levels in terms of strategy and forecasting
  • Minimum 10 team touchpoints per month
  • If you go an entire quarter without getting your team together, your bonus can be affected
  • If the ratio of “meeting with peers” to “meeting with your team” exceeds 20 to 1, your bonus gets affected

None of this would ever happen, but all of it should.

What have you seen from new execs?

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