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Onboarding and PrimeGenesis part 2

Podcast with PrimeGenesis Founder and Managing Director, George Bradt

George Bradt
George Bradt

"As a hiring manager, are you bringing a new executive into your organization to fill a position that had internal candidates vying for the job? Have a listen to George Bradt's advice in part two of our onboarding feature podcast." - George Bradt

Welcome to Part 2 of our special Talent Acquisition Channel podcast on Total Picture Radio with Peter Clayton reporting. George Bradt is founder and managing director of PrimeGenesis a firm focused on senior executive onboarding.

Prior to founding PrimeGenesis, George served as chief executive of J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network spin off and in general management, marketing and sales at Coca-Cola in Europe and Asia, Procter & Gamble and Lever Brothers. George is the co-author, with his Primegenesis partner, Mary Vonnegut of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan: How to Take Charge, Build Your Team, and Get Immediate Results - and their latest book, for hiring managers, is titled; Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time.

Onboarding "is the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new team members, whether they come from outside or inside the organization. The prerequisite to successful onboarding is getting your organization aligned around the need and the role."

From the Inside Flap

Getting new employees up to speed is one of the toughest jobs hiring managers face. Failure can lead to unfilled needs, unhappy recruits, and, ultimately, the failure to meet vital business goals.

In Onboarding, top executive transition consultants George Bradt and Mary Vonnegut help you recruit great employees, orient them to your business culture and goals, and enable them to start contributing immediately. Even better, the Total Onboarding Program lets you get your new employees on track in half the normal time.

The Total Onboarding Program can dramatically improve the performance, fit, and readiness of every person who takes on a new role in your organization. As a result, onboarding helps build, sustain, and perpetuate high-performing teams and leads to sustained, organization-wide competitive advantage. With deliberate practice and the right tools, you'll succeed at every step of the onboarding process

  • Preparing for your new employee's success before you even start to recruit
  • Finding a powerful slate of potential candidates
  • Creating a personal onboarding plan with your new employee
  • Making your new employee ready, eager, and able to do real work on day one
  • Speeding the development of important working relationships
  • Providing the right resources, support, and follow-through for new employees

Each chapter of Onboarding includes forms, checklists, and other tools to help you make your way through the entire onboarding process with efficiency and effectiveness. You'll have all the resources you need to eliminate hiring mistakes and bad fits, improve employee retention, and align new employees with key business strategies.

For business leaders and hiring managers who want well-trained, responsive, efficient, and effective employees, Onboarding helps you get the very best from every new employee.

George Bradt Interview Transcript, Part 2

Peter: Welcome to part 2 of our interview with George Bradt regarding Onboarding, his latest book on how to successfully bring executives into organizations.

What happens, George, and I'm sure you've seen this – that internally, there is a competition going on for that senior executive role that you are about to offer to someone on the outside and that person outside is going to have to work with those individuals on the inside who were not offered that job.

George: We've seen it a lot and it's different with peers versus direct reports. Let me deal with them differently.

With peers, you sometimes have to make the best of a bad situation and just have the conversations and work with them as best you can. You should expect a little antagonism, maybe some passive-aggressive behavior, but don't overemphasize it.

It's different with direct reports because with direct reports, who wanted the job, they can't get around you. The only way for them to move up is to get you out of the way.

Peers can go around you, peers can get other jobs, but a direct report didn't get the job and now is squashed by you. We have a very specific recommendation around this.

Back when I had real jobs, I had that situation, in particular, four times and I made it work three out of the four times and the fourth, I didn't. On the fourth, I was not able to make it work, the person left the company.

So our recommendation is – if you remember in part 1, I suggested that with a key peer, you want to have a conversation with them before you start. It's even more important if it's a direct report who wanted the job. And so that initial phone call to them is "Hi, I know you know that I've gotten the job. I know you were one of the lead internal candidates; they've told me wonderful things about you, let's get right before I start." Do whatever it takes; meet with them before the start and then, give them every possible chance to essentially sign up for the team over your first 6-8 weeks. Give them your full support. Put the blinders on, assume positive intent for this person that's working for you who wanted the job and give them every possible chance to succeed. But, if some time in the first 6-8 weeks they don't proactively come to you and say "you know, I really wanted the job and frankly, I was a little bent out of shape when you got the job, but I get it now. I can learn a lot from you, I see the value you're bringing to the company. It's going to be okay to work with you." If they do that, you know things are going to be fine.

If they don't do that, draw a line in the sand at 8 weeks and get them off your team. You don't have to fire them but if you leave them where they are, they will undermine you, either through passive-aggressive behavior or explicitly and you can't have that. And if they're undermining you, everybody else on the team will know they're doing it and if you don't move on them, you send the rest of the team a message that that is acceptable behavior, which it is not because it hurts not just you, not just them, but it hurts the team.

The summary is that situation happens a lot. If it's a peer, just deal with it, work with it, do the best you can, accept that you can't control all that situation and welcome to the real world. If it's a direct report, do everything you can to help them succeed and help them really join the team and if at 8 weeks they can't, get them to a role where they can succeed.

Peter: I think that's incredible advice and I think you're so right because we've all seen this happen way too many times when someone is brought into an organization and there is all of this internal conflict going on and it doesn't go away unless it's directly addressed.

George: Over the last year or two, as I've been looking at this, I found a way to identify passive-aggressive behavior. So in both The New Leaders 100-Day Action Plan and the Onboarding book, we prescribe a set of things to build the team.

The first one is get them all aligned around what we call the imperative. Get them all on the same page around mission, vision, priorities – call it purpose and priorities, call it what you want. And then the second piece is to put in place a milestone management system, so you know what's getting done by whom, by when, and you have a system for tracking it.

What will happen is a lot of times, somebody will miss one of those early milestones. It happens. And if they come to the meeting and they say, "Yeah, I missed the milestone. Sorry, I didn't get a chance to get at it because I was working on other things."

So just backtrack a little bit. The team has agreed on priorities, this person signed up to deliver a milestone, but they don't do it because they were working on something else. That's a surefire sign of passive-aggressive behavior where they're going to say, "Yes, I'll do it," and then not do it.

If on the other hand, they miss the milestone and they come in and they say, "I missed a milestone and I'm really upset about it. Here's what I did. I tried to do this, this, and this, and I was unable to move the ball here or here. So I've got to delay it for two weeks, but boss, team, you know I'm on it." That's fine. Don't worry about that. People miss milestones and then the team can help them accelerate their progress, but if somebody misses a milestone because they're saying something else is more important than what they, the team and you have agreed – watch out. Big red flag.

Peter: George, you've been writing all of these books, you've been developing all of this content for your online properties; what have you learned over the last year that perhaps you weren't quite as aware of or didn't think was quite as important as you do now in developing all of this content?

George: What's different is the importance of adjustment, and we knew it. So this isn't a new-to-the-world idea, but certainly over the last year, we have found that a lot of the people and a lot of the organizations getting into trouble are failing to adjust fast enough. I mean, it's straight out of the Darwin where survival of the fittest is not survival of the strongest, or the tallest, or the fastest, or thank god, the best looking. I'm so glad this is a radio interview.

Survival of the fittest is survival of those best able to adjust to changing circumstances, and certainly over the last year, everybody has had to adjust to changing circumstances. The people that think that things are fine and they don't have to adjust, those are the ones that are about to get run over by the freight train, but within that adjustment, we've really had to dial up, mapping the changes. Everything is changing and we've spent more time helping people understand whether a change is going to have a minor impact on their world or a major impact on their world, whether the change is temporary or enduring.

Now, if it's a minor impact and it's a temporary change, the trick is not to adjust. Stay the course. Don't get distracted by the minor things with temporary impacts. If it's got a major impact that's going to be around for a while, that one's easy, too. You've got to change. You have to hit a restart button. If you're in a new job, you go back to square one. If you're the hiring manager, you go back to square one. You restart.

The trickier ones are the ones that have a major impact but they're temporary, and what you have to do there is you have to manage it as a crisis or an opportunity, throw the appropriate resources at that issue to deal with it quickly.

On the other hand, if something has got a minor impact but it's going to be enduring, that's the stuff you have to evolve into.

So you don't want to overreact to any of the things with minor impact, but you sure want to pay attention to the ones that are going to be around for awhile and if it's a major impact, you need to figure out if it's temporary enduring and respond appropriately.

So that's different. We had always known it was there but we used to think, great, get people on the jobs and life is fine.

I had two conversations with people the week before last. They got new bosses. I called them up and I said, "Hey, guess what? New boss." This is a major change with an enduring impact and one of them said , "I'm on it. I've figured that out, and I've gone back, and I've re-looked at all my stakeholders, and I'm recommitting, and I'm having conversations with my boss. George, I'm on it." The other said, "Yeah, I hadn't even thought of that."

Our learning is to make sure that people are aware of the changes happening around them and help them adjust.

Peter: I think that is so important because we're recording this interview in Stamford, Connecticut, just look at three major companies in this market – GE, Pitney Bowes, and Xerox. Their businesses are completely different than they were five years ago, all three of those companies. So people not only have to think about reinventing themselves constantly and staying up with what's going on out there in the world, but staying vigilant on how their organizations are reinventing themselves to take advantage of the new economy out there.

George: Oh, absolutely. Take advantage of the new economy and avoid its pitfalls.

So here's a question for you – think of a dam. You've got a valley, you've got some river running through it and I build a dam, that sort of dam. What's the most important part of the dam?

Peter: The levees to allow the water to escape.

George: That's a good answer and it's certainly important. I would argue that the most important part of the dam depends on the purpose of the dam. If you're building the dam to create a recreational area, the most important part of the dam is the water above the dam. So the levees are important because they help us control the water above the dam for the recreation area.

If the most important part of the dam is to create farmland below the dam, the most important part of the dam is the lack of water below the dam. The levees are important because they help control the water going down.

If the dam is created to create energy, the most important part of the dam is the turbines. So the levees are important because they're controlling the flow of water from the turbines.

So levees are always important, but different purposes, you're going to focus on different things.

What we push companies to do is of course they have to adjust to changing circumstances, and I like your examples of companies that have different business models. I do push the companies very hard to stay true to their purpose and if they are clear on their purpose, then they're adjusting the right things, jettisoning the wrong things, and it's not just change for change's sake, it's purposeful change.

Peter: I think Pitney Bowes is a perfect example of that because let's face it, their business plan ten years ago, or even five years ago, is completely different than it is today looking at the realities that exist out there with their primary business model.

George: Sure. I mean, they're not in the postage meter business; they're in the document service business. Ted Levitt, Marketing Myopia, buggy whips – the guys who thought they were in the buggy whip manufacturing business went out of business. The people that thought they were in the leather transportation goods business did okay. If Pitney Bowes is in the business of helping offices to be more efficient, then they can adjust, but if they think they're in the stamps business, they've got to go buy the post office which is a bad idea.

Peter: One of the interesting parts of your book, George, this new Onboarding book, is that you brought in a series of guest experts to comment on each one of the chapters and to add a little bit of perspective to each one of these chapters in your book.

How did you go about deciding who you wanted to invite to participate in the book and what value do they bring to the book, in your mind?

George: I really have to credit my co-author Mary Vonnegut. The writing process for this book was different than the writing process we did for The New Leaders 100-Day Action Plan.

She came up with this cockamamie crazy idea of doing a massive spreadsheet, and we did a massive spreadsheet that started with what we thought were the main ideas, and then we stepped it down to the main message points, and then we stepped that down to chapters and within each chapter, we laid out the main points, the evidence, the stories we wanted to tell, and then we said who is really expert on this area? Who can add value?

So we started with the points we wanted to make and in particular, the points where we thought an expert could add value, and then we contacted the experts and said would you contribute to this? So we really chose the experts – if I were completely intellectually pure, I would say they were totally chosen to be the best in the world at that one thing. In some circumstances, we chose people that we know and are familiar with and like the way they think and like the way they write for two reason; (1) it was, frankly, easier for us to rope them in as guest experts and then secondly, we were more confident that they would do good things.

We used the guest expert differently. Some of them wrote a couple of pages and some of them wrote short lines. It goes back to this whole concept of team. We thought it was important, what we were trying to do was further reduce the risk of failure for anybody going into a new job. We were really trying to help hiring managers help the people they brought in. It was not so important that Mary and I be the experts, it was important that we assembled the right team to do the best job we could.

You've got to credit our publisher, Richard Narramore, the book was his idea. You've got to credit the editorial staff there and the guest experts contributed to the end product.

Peter: What do you think is the most important takeaway from this book for a hiring manager?

George: I think it really comes down to four ideas. They have to prepare for their new employee's success even before they start recruiting. So prepare in advance, and that gets at putting together and deploying the total Onboarding program, which is the overview and getting alignment. So that's one.

Two is, recruit in a way that reinforces messages about the position of the organization. Everything communicates – the way you recruit, the way you interview – it's all part of onboarding.

Three is, give the new employee a big head start before day one. That comes around partnering with the personal onboarding plan and putting in place some of the things we've talked about. The head start just makes a huge difference.

And then the last one is, it's all about inspiring and enabling your new employee to deliver better results faster, and that doesn't end on day one. You've got to proactively, first, make sure that the employee can do work on day one accommodation. Proactively, assimilate them. Introduces is an active verb. Introduce them to key people, and then help them accelerate their progress through their first 100 days, six months, year or whatever by giving them the resources and support.

If you do those things, it makes a big difference.

The overlying main idea is – the problem we're solving is a lot of organizations separate recruiting and orienting and managing, and they'll have a recruiting group do one better talent acquisition. They'll have HR or somebody manage orientation and then they hand it off to the new manager "here's your new employee, go make it happen."

We think this is so important that the hiring manager should lead the whole process – from starting with the total Onboarding program through the new employee success because they're investing a ton in this new employee and it's a reflection on the hiring manager positively or negatively, and that's the overriding idea.

Peter: George, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us again on Total Picture Radio. One last question for you. We've covered so much information in this two part interview; is there anything that we didn't get to that you think is important to communicate to this audience?

George: I guess it comes down to the two books - The New Leaders 100-Day Action Plan and the Onboarding book – really being two sides of the same coin. And I would expect that people will use the different books in different situations but the same person will be using different books and they're the same person.

If you put the two together, the three core messages are get a head start. Whether you're the new employee or the hiring manager, get a head start before the start. Manage your messages because everything communicates and in the end, it's really not about you. Whether you're the new employee or the hiring manager, it's always about inspiring and enabling others.

Peter: Again, thank you so much, George.

George: Delighted to talk to you always.

Peter: Thank you. We've been speaking with George Bradt, who is the Founder and Managing Director of PrimeGenesis, based in Stamford, Connecticut. Be sure to visit George's feature page in the Talent Acquisition of Total Picture Radio - for resource links, a full transcript of this interview and much more information.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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