Rising Above Assimilation: Why Traditional Plans No Longer Work

When taking on a new position, senior leaders often grapple with the challenge of finding the most effective way to transition into executive roles.  You want to demonstrate visible leadership fast…to drive the change you were hired to make, but you don’t want to alienate the team around you. The transition process typically falls within two paradigms: assimilation and integration. Most traditional assimilation plans are designed to “assimilate” …to get the new leader used to “what’s normal here” rather than help them get comfortable, listen, and drive necessary changes. While assimilation and integration might seem like two sides of the same coin, a closer look reveals their inherent differences and the unique opportunities they present. Of the two, integration emerges as a much more powerful approach for leaders seeking to drive transformational change.

Assimilation is an adaptive process where a leader conforms to an organization’s prevailing culture, values, and norms. Although it offers the path of least resistance and immediate acceptance within the existing framework, its downside is a potential dilution of the leader’s unique insights and ideas. Leaders who strictly assimilate might find themselves inadvertently upholding the status quo, thereby limiting their ability to instigate significant changes that could drive the organization forward…the very changes they were likely hired to make.

Integration, in contrast, represents a more dynamic, two-way interaction. It involves the leader adapting to the existing culture while also infusing the organization with their unique values and approaches. This process allows leaders to challenge existing norms and bring innovative perspectives to the table. While the integration process may seem disruptive initially, it can pave the way for powerful transformation within the organization. The perceived disruption merely reflects the discomfort that often accompanies change. It represents a challenge for leaders to navigate and manage, rather than a roadblock.

However, how can leaders manage this transition effectively and efficiently? How can they harness the power of integration while navigating the resistance to change and a strong legacy culture? This is where the right executive coach can step into the limelight.

  • An experienced executive coach can be an invaluable ally for leaders in transition. They offer customized support, helping leaders understand the nuances of the organization’s culture while also fostering the expression of their unique leadership style and identity. The coach provides an objective sounding board, allowing leaders to explore and develop strategies that respect the existing culture yet drive change.
  • A good coach will get into the organization even before the new leader arrives to understand the culture, triangulate the expectations of multiple stakeholders, and begin to assess what key messages need to be sent and what actions need to be taken early for the new leader to set themselves up for success. They can help the leader build alliances and provide them with tools to introduce changes gradually and strategically. Changes need to be communicated clearly, engaging the team in the potential benefits to the organization as a whole. An executive coach helps leaders articulate and engage others in this vision and strategy effectively, thereby fostering an environment of openness and mutual respect.
  • At the same time, an executive coach can help leaders maintain their individuality and unique strengths as they integrate into the new role. They enable leaders to stay true to their core values, bringing their distinct perspectives to the table. This maintenance of individuality is critical in ensuring the leader can bring fresh, innovative ideas to the organization, fostering growth and improvement.

***Coaching Testimonials: Sr. Vice President Kelly Gottfried explains how Jennifer used her unique style of #executivecoaching to help transform the approach of her team and pull innovation forward.

While assimilation and integration offer different paths for leaders transitioning to executive roles, integration presents a powerful approach for driving transformative change. Although it may come with challenges, with the right strategies and support from an executive coach, leaders can navigate the process effectively. The journey of leadership isn’t merely about fitting into an existing framework—it’s about infusing new perspectives, driving changes, and nurturing a culture of acceptance and growth within the organization. If you would like help ensuring that your new leaders are fully integrating, rather than merely assimilating into your organization, call us. It’s what we do.

***Before you go, don’t forget to check out Jennifer’s recent article 5 Expectations of the C-Suite as she explains how C-Level Leaders need to create clear expectations in order to hold their team accountable.