News & Insight
December 2004

Developing Critical Velocity Through On-Board Coaching

On-board coaching helps newly hired individuals expedite their assimilation into an organization and become productive earlier. I like to say it develops “critical velocity.”

In many ways, the process of bringing a new executive into an organization is a significant investment. Not only are there financial costs, such as search fees and relocation expenses, but there also are intangible, strategic costs, such as the time senior management invests in the interview and selection process.

If it takes an individual six months to a year to become fully productive -- or, worse, to find out that a match made in heaven was really made somewhere else -- then the cost of bringing that executive on board goes off the charts.

On-board coaching can cut that time radically, by a half or more, so that individuals are fully up and running sooner -- and the organization begins to achieve an earlier return on investment.

It’s relatively easy for a newcomer to join an organization and learn the reporting relationships, the budgeting processes … all the structural things. It’s not as easy to go in and learn the organizational culture … how to communicate and work effectively with a new boss and peers.

For example, if you have to give your first presentation at a monthly business review meeting, you need to understand how those meetings operate. Are they simply for sharing information, or is there interaction? Do the meetings tend to stay on a rigid agenda or are they more free-flowing? If you are scheduled at 10:30, do you have a high degree of certainty that you will actually be speaking at 10:30? And how should you structure your presentation at that meeting so that it both is effective and makes a good impression?

Very often, newly hired individuals can cover ground like this on their own, but the presence of a coach helps them address issues like this sooner and in a focused fashion. This accelerates their assimilation into the organization and, ultimately, their productivity.

A coach can also help identify how an organization measures success by asking questions like, “What have you noticed about people who have succeeded here? What have you noticed about people who failed here?” The answers to questions like these can provide broad brushstrokes of how things work in a new organization.

One of the principal benefits of on-board coaching is clarification of expectations on the part of both the executive and his or her boss. What does the boss expect from the new hire in the first 60 to 90 days, six months and first year? What does the new hire expect in the way of access, work style and authority?

How do the work styles of the two executives compare? How closely to they mesh? I recently worked with an executive and boss who had almost diametrically opposite profiles on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment tool. The upside is that they complement each other's strengths. The downside is that if the two executives don't understand those differences, misunderstanding and miscommunication are possible … and perhaps even likely.

In today’s highly competitive business environment, individuals and organizations can always apply more capital or more technology to a given situation, but there is no substitute for time. On-board coaching creates time by building critical velocity to enable newly hired executives to assume their positions more rapidly.

Dick Massimilian is a member of WJM Associates’ executive coaching and organizational effectiveness faculty.

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