One of the first signs I encountered when driving onto Cape San Blas cautioned about the turtle nesting season. Visitors and residents are asked to keep their lights off on the beach from May to September to protect turtle nesting areas.
Since the era of dinosaurs, female loggerhead turtles have left the Gulf of Mexico, pulled themselves up on the beach above the high-water line and start digging. They dig about a foot and a half deep into the sand. They deposit over 100 golf-ball sized eggs and gently cover them up. Exhausted, they make their way back to the sea, never to see their brood again. But they are not done laying eggs, creating 3-5 clutches (and 35 pounds) of eggs between May and September (NOAA).
The eggs take 45-55 days to incubate. Less than 10% will hatch (takepart.com). The others will be dug up by hungry racoons, crabs and gulls, or by unthinking humans. Once hatched, it might take the turtles a week to dig their way to the sand’s surface.
At nighttime, in an activity that looks like a pot of boiling water, hatchlings emerge from the sand in unison. Once hatched, the turtles scoot down the slope of the beach, using the greater light intensity from reflections of the moon and stars on the water of the Gulf as a beacon.
Research by Erb & Wyneken at Florida Atlantic University in 2016 found that 8% of the hatchlings never make it the short distance to the water. They run into a gauntlet of mammals and birds, who may be overwhelmed by the large number of “turtle boil” hatchlings dashing for the surf en masse. Other hatchlings get turned around, confused by light pollution from beach houses, curious beachcombers or nearby urban areas. The baby Loggerheads dive into a wave and ride the undertow out to sea.
After entering the Gulf, the tiny Loggerheads are seldom seen for the next few years. Most experts agree they spend their first few years out in the ocean, riding currents, hiding in seaweed where they can find food. The hazards remain great. The turtles are dinner for predators and mistakenly ingest plastics and other man-made substances that can prove fatal. A few years ago, when a polar vortex extended as far south as the Florida Panhandle, turtles were stunned by the cold in St Joseph Bay. Volunteers saved hundreds of loggerheads, green turtles and Ridleys, and then released them into the Gulf once temperatures rose. All told, the odds that a turtle that makes it to the see will survive to sexual maturity are estimated at less than 1 in 1000.
While the numbers don’t look the same for executives in their business careers, the pattern is similar. There is a job selection process that is probably crueler than natural selection, with one candidate making it out of a couple hundred who applied or were considered.
A small number might be rejected in the assessment or reference check phase. Having cleared the terrestrial predators, it’s off to sea for the new hire, where a new set of threats await.
Our corporate hatchling faces an organization that might be passive-aggressive or downright opposed to the change the executive represents. They are invariably compared to the person they’ve replaced. They need to avoid destructive territorial conflicts with colleagues more adept at the local rules of engagement. They need allies; unlike the turtles that find safety in numbers, the employee is generally all alone. And they have a job to do.
We humans have some significant advantages over sea turtles when it comes to our survival. A reptilian approach is based on starting off with large numbers to overcome daunting odds. Mammals, and humans in particular, don’t start out with hundreds of siblings; instead, we’ve found ways of increasing the odds of survival in our favor. We have mothers. We have teachers. We develop friendships and communities that are generally based on more than just mating. We are nurtured. We find affiliation. We have social mechanisms that improve our effectiveness.
So, why does Homo Sapiens run into trouble when becoming Homo Newemployee? Because the same social mechanisms in organizations that improve our effectiveness are selectively permeable. Sometimes you’re let in. Other times, you remain an outsider. Or, going back to our sea turtle analogy, the workplace can be a harsh environment, especially when you are on your own, when there is no sargasso to hide behind, no mother to support you.
Organizations need to improve the chances that their new hires will succeed. They must create a process that assimilates new executives rather than leaving them to dive under a wave, ride the undertow and hope instinct and favorable currents will suffice. They can provide coaching and mentoring resources that help avoid mistakes. And they can attempt to create a culture that is open to the contributions of newcomers, instead of picking them off on the beach.
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.