Stress during Onboarding – Turning Fear into Fuel

Thank you all for all your stories how you control unhealthy stress. You were so open and honest about it. In this blog I will take through some aspects of onboarding that can be a big source for stress: expectations. Managing expectations is one of the key pillars of successful onboarding. And when you got that right you are – thank you for this wonderful quote A. – truly ‘Turning Fear into Fuel.

The expectations game  
Manage the expectations during onboarding. Make sure that all stakeholders have the same understanding about what can be expected of you. Poorly managed expectations turn out to be the one of the biggest derailers. Based on some of your stories I have picked out three items that relate to the expectations game. It clearly proves that managing expectations is hard work.

Job design: does accountability match with the level of authorization and provide resources?

Make sure you really test the water before entering a new position. Even new leaders who are internally promoted can be a bit naive when entering the C suite. Is it the feeling of achievement that turns them blind? Use what one of the onboarding gurus named the ‘fuzzy front end’ of a new position to your advantage to test the water. As you all work in matrices (and in today’s world you probably will have to deal with at least three leaders) find out who takes what decision?  What are typical decisions that you have taken in the last year mister Vanbeeck? Simple questions, ask for examples and if you have your antennas wide open you’ll know what you are up against and can take measures. Challenging the system is one of them. Negotiate changes in job content, resources, and deliverables. If you don’t, stakeholders will expect results that are not achievable and stress will be massive. And after a year it will be your head on the block and not that of somebody else.

Challenging the system is healthy

In the first couple of weeks you will find that reality is probably different from what you thought and what you were told. This is quite normal. Your challenge is to rock the boat in such a way that a) stakeholders understand and accept your analysis and still want to work with you, b) you put yourself in a position to alter the priority of initial goals, the resources, job content in order to be more successful and c) transfer some of the challenges to other colleagues in the matrix.  This last one might sound strange but we see this so often in matrix organisations. Some of the challenges have been there for years and everybody was quite happy to pass them on to somebody else. But when you take a close look at the design of your job it might be doubtful if you are in a good position to be successful. Play the ‘challenge the system game’ smart. You have entered a game where everybody plays a role, wants success for the organisation, and quite a few will be very considerate about strengthening their own position and stay away as far as possible from the danger zones.

Challenging the system requires a well thought through plan, smart and subtle communication, plain facts, reading the emotions and being transparent and consistent. Plain facts, rational reasoning are part of it but unfortunately not enough. You want the system to understand and accept your views.  And take responsibility for it. You are the outsider moving into their ‘game’. Therefor it is you who has to come up with a couple of smart interventions to use the energy of the system to put everybody where you want them. Just like Aikido. With the new leaders we work very intense to understand the system, power bases, dependencies, mutual interests, success factors, relationships for the new leader to become aware what the options are. Click here to find out more. In those sessions you take a step back and look at what is really happening and who plays what role. Including their own role, drivers and limiting beliefs. Boy, does this reduces stress!   “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Mutual feedback to synchronize the ‘expectations watch’ 

The power of feedback is another theme that keeps coming back in your stories. Hurrah. After a few weeks you most have come across flaws in the job design, lacking resources, decisions that were taken without your input but with a lot of impact in your area of responsibility. And also a significant amount of issues relating to customers, products, technology, structure etc. that are almost certainly new to the next level.

Time to reflect and come up with a powerful intervention: feedback. Every successful onboarding framework needs a rock solid feedback process. And that means designing a two way street. Is about what the new leader should do more off, less off and what she should do different. And the same goes towards the leader of the new leader.  Tools like Levelset Early Feedback  help tremendously to get all the relevant issues on the table, synchronize the ‘expectation watch’ and plan the improvements. To get a wider range of onboarding challenges on the table we run New Leader Assimilation sessions. An outside consultant will help to get everything on the table objectively, including the challenges that relate to the new leaders leader. This is one of the great moments to synchronize the ‘expectations watch’.A very controlled way to challenge the system in the first couple of weeks. And discuss in a three way conversations successful interventions to improve if and when necessary.  Improvements in business results and the onboarding process. A win win for both. What else do you want?

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