In the past 12 months, some of my clients have searched for, and actively recruited senior managers and leaders for critical roles within. Unfazed by the pandemic and its constraints, several companies have grown exponentially, and by recruiting aggressively. There have been leadership teams that I have encountered where leaders have not even physically encountered each other, and yet collectively invest huge amounts of energy into sense making, decision making and action planning. And in all these teams – none seem to have the luxury or privilege of knowing each other, one’s respective mental models, aspirations, and dreams.
While the specifics of the pandemic have had a role to play, every CEO would tell you that regardless of interviews, background checks, assessment of competencies, psychometrics, and excellent search processes, integrating the newly recruited leader is not just challenging but often centred around a tense moment of truth – and the truth is that of being aware, albeit subjectively, of a ‘chemistry’ or lack of it.
It is this sense of ‘chemistry’ or lack of it that, that slowly manifests and gets viscerally experienced like a Hitchcock cloak and dagger stuff– where the group, including the incumbent lateral, painstakingly discover synergy. Strands of synergy or lack of it get sometimes discerned if one is fortunate – in planning meets, management reviews, heated debates on solutions, growth models, and explorations on strategy.
Very often synergy or lack of it is intuitively experienced – it is that uncanny tingle down one’s spine or a whisper that contains the experience of synergy or lack of it. Often this experience can only be intuitive – for intuition allows us to venture beyond our masks of competency, brand equity, and tactfulness that come handy when it comes working with someone new.
Synergy becomes that utopian goal, where stakeholders dream of leaders joining the system, and demonstrating a level of ownership and accountability mirroring that of existing teams, and creating value, more than ever before. This goal needs some mulling over. In my view, the path to synergy is a function of two vectors – a simultaneity of sorts:
- Vector 1: Identification with existing Identity and Culture of the Firm
This vector demands the incumbent lateral to not just cognitively understand the extant identity of the firm – its history, its legacies, its unique challenges, its constraints, its people, and its culture, but to also emotionally resonate with this identification.
For example, very often start-up founders expect the newly inducted c-suite leader to not just empathize with the firm but to dignify the journey thus far – but to ‘interpellate’ or indoctrinate self with the salient rituals, text, and language within the firm. Thus this vector often implies – “Do you identify with me?”, and sets the pre-condition that unless one identifies with the current state of the firm, one’s membership and synergy is suspect.
I have sensed this demand very often while working with family owned organizations – where they bring in professional leaders, and the unstated condition is the demand of identification with the firm. Thus even if the incumbent lateral were to speak of using and leveraging new constructs, new processes, new designs, and new mental models, the pre-condition is that of identification lest it create dissonance and anxieties across.
This demand of identification may have its trappings – the incumbent leader gets indoctrinated and may get caught with the collective’s sensing of not just history but the nature of constraints that stymie the very reason the incumbent is recruited for in the first place. But these trappings apart, there is also a joy in discovering the long lost sibling and of the ease of settling into the system.
- Vector 2: Convergence with the envisaged transformative journey of the Firm
The second vector looks at convergence of the incumbent leader with the rest of the management on what we wish to ‘co-create’ or ‘transform’. Thus this vector essentially maps the degree of commitment to the stated and unstated, the objective and subjective dimensions of the ‘purpose’ of the organization as one looks into the crystal ball of its future and the transformational journey ahead.
Very often, firms bring in a senior leader to provide a fillip to such growth / transformational agenda (or purpose) – both in terms of scale and size of the firm as well as in creating a new culture, or new design, and new systems for the firm. The management would like to see the incumbent leader seamlessly join in the strategic co-creation of the firm.
Often, one rudely discovers that regardless of the competencies and exposure of the incumbent, the aspired for picture of the firm seems to be impacted by differences – different values that guide this journey, different mental models around design and policy of the firm, and different role-modelling of leadership, managerial styles etc.
There was a BFSI client that brought in a new CEO – the growth goals and envisioned thresholds seemed to be clear during the search process. However, given this unison on growth targets, the incumbent CEO was not aligned to the envisaged journey of transformation. This led to new stances on key dilemmas and polarities including – ‘Centralize versus Decentralize’, ‘Evoke & Inspire versus Challenge and Provoke’, ‘Control versus Empower’ and creates huge dissonance leading to the resignations of several CXOs and their teams.
Exploring the dance of the two vectors of SYNERGY
If Synergy = function (degree of identification, degree of convergence), then it becomes necessary to look at the interplay of the two vectors. Given the preliminary definitions (of the two vectors) that determine ‘synergy’, I would like to offer the following construct that may lead a better understanding of synergy:
As per the table 1 above, Synergy = f(degree of identification, degree of convergence).
This is not to say that any of the four cells may lead to greater synergy, for each cell offers something for the collective leadership to explore and dialogue upon.
The Outsider / Agent Provocateur
Cell 1 denotes a psychological space where the incumbent is neither being able to identify with the current organization in terms of culture and identity, nor seems aligned to the transformative process and journey identified.
The Outsider is one such role that this space allows for – where the incumbent is perhaps in the best position to ask tough questions for the firm’s intent as well as its current state of affairs. This may happen at the cost of being seen as blunt and insensitive – but there are times when this psychological role-taking has immense benefits for both the incumbent leader and the firm. Thus, it may be even fine if the incumbent leader takes this stance.
However, the shadow of the cell is that the ‘agent provocateur’ – where the incumbent leader can be detrimental to any prospects of synergy. Very often, the incumbent may receive the projections of the system including anxieties, cynicism, and resistance, and become dysfunctional – he or she would end up creating an ambiance of mistrust and lack of credibility – leading to huge stress for all including possible fragmentation and demise.
The Soulmate / The Echo
Cell 2 denotes a psychological space where the incumbent identifies with the current organization in terms of culture and identity, but is not aligned with the transformative process or potential. He or she may not wish for any change or subscribes to a different picture.
The Soulmate, thus becomes a role, where the incumbent empathises and values this identification – he or she gets to be seen as the symbol of continuities, values, and traditions in the eyes of the system – often leading to an experience of being a part of the family. Organizations that seek to scale up or expand to new territories, without wishing to sacrifice their ethos and their identity would love to hire the Soulmate – there is a certain comfort and trust that gets instantly generated.
However, this cell suffers from the shadow of the ‘Echo’ – which can be detrimental to exploring any real shifts desired by the system. The incumbent leader may end up being the Echo – only mimicking the legacies and the tradition, without either owning up the need and journey of transformation, nor wishing to stake a commitment to change that challenges the identity in the first place.
Thus very often, Cell 3 bleaches the inherent multiplicity of the incumbent leader, and sets her or him to be the echo of the extant identity and not much else.
Very often Start-ups are keen to hire professionals who have worked with other Start-ups; NGO founders would want to hire professionals that have worked with similar NGOs. Cell 2 offers an interesting facet of synergy that is bereft of real change…
The Catalyst / Manipulator
Cell 3 denotes a psychological space when the incumbent while not being able to identify with the current organization in terms of culture and identity, is aligned to the transformative journey and process ahead.
The Catalyst thus becomes a psychological role of triggering and owning such transformative journeys, sans any ownership of the legacies and continuities. The Catalyst also becomes a role of acting outside-in at times, and runs the risk of being non-empathetic to the ‘Is-ness’ of the system.
The shadow is that of the Manipulator – where the others may experience a sense of being ‘acted upon’ in terms of change agendas and transformation thresholds, and perhaps their sentient systems are seen to be held in unexpressed scorn and judgment.
This has been a phenomena cited by many CEOs that I know of – while the Catalyst is aligned to the aspirational state of the organization, he or she becomes ruthless when it comes to engaging with existing constraints, fears and anxieties as held in the mind.
The Co-creator / Colluder
Cell 4 denotes a psychological space when the incumbent identifies with the current organization in terms of culture and identity, as well as is aligned to the transformative process. Cell 4 appears to be attractive, at times near impossible to access, and the golden fleece for CHROs.
The Co-creator, for lack of better words, is the role offered to the incumbent – and secretly desired by the recruiting organization. The incumbent becomes someone who understands the system, and someone who is completely aligned to not just who we are but who we wish to be. Very often efforts to search and induct such potential leaders are stretched beyond the pragmatics of recruitment – and the search agency seems to be on a relentless adventure of seeking such incumbents. However it is possible that this role hems the incumbent … where co-creator can start feeling very oppressed.
While there are firms that can access such incumbents, the dark side of this cell is that of the Colluder. While the colluder appears to be an insipid label for the shadow operant in Cell 4, the havoc unleashed by this role is quite real and intense. Very often the incumbent leader appears to be in unconscious denial – denial of different stances, denial of gaps, and denial of conflict.
Applying the Construct
Data reveals that executive search for senior managers and leaders is only growing in the Indian ecology – there are firms that seek like-minded leaders who can take the firm to new horizons. Despite the Covid pandemic, the firms are recruiting for leaders who have to work on several fronts – from digitization to new products and services, from scaling up to innovation strategies. There are ex-pats who are joining Indian companies, and there are global acquisitions.
All this has meant a larger churn than ever before in the senior management tiers of companies.
This blog was written to explore what Synergy may mean or imply in this churn. It becomes important for both the incumbent leader and the employer to examine the nature of dynamics that unfold after and once the individual has taken charge.
The partial construct of Synergy as a determinant of two vectors has been introduced in this blog. The construct can offer new approaches to working with this diversity as created by the two vectors.
I would love to hear from the readers – on their sensing and experiencing of the four cells that the construct offers, while they reflect on their experiences with recruiting senior managers and leaders.
This blog was triggered by possibilities of using the EUM portfolio of tools – the EUM construct (www.eumlens.in) has been pivotal in understanding individual identity and role taking processes (captured through EUM-) and organizational identity and culture (captured through EUM-O)
We have been leveraging EUM-I and EUM-O to work with processes of alignment of existing leadership and managerial teams. In the last two decades the EUM-O has been applauded by several large organizations as not just a veritable mirror of their identity today, but also containers of employee aspirations of what the organizations ought to be.
And while the EUM network of consultants have been working with Organization Development, we believe that the EUM framework allows for the best sensing and measurement of Synergy when it comes to recruiting decisions.