Onboarding Key Executives

Onboarding is the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating a new team member, and applies to internal or external talent. Effective onboarding of new team members can be one of the most important contributions any search committee or Human Resources professionals can make to long-term organizational success. Onboarding, implemented properly, can improve productivity, retain talent, build shared culture and create value to the company quickly. Onboarding may be especially valuable for executives transitioning into complex roles because it may be difficult for individuals to uncover personal, organizational and role risks in complicated situations when they do not have some onboarding assistance.

The Objective

To make sure your organization agrees on the need for a new team member and the delineation of the role you seek to fill and to assist in onboarding an executive or team member in an effective manner. This is not the only means of looking at how to handle new team members in the most efficient manner, but clearly, is a “quick start approach” to the effective integration of a new person into an organization.

The Four A’s of Onboarding

Identify, recruit, evaluate, select and have the right person to join the team.
Obtaining new team members involves identifying, recruiting, evaluating, and selecting the right person to join the team. Those most effective at this start to prepare for their new employee’s success even before starting to recruit. They clarify their destination by creating a recruiting brief (CCG Search Committee Agenda could be utilized), establishing their onboarding plan and aligning stakeholders.

Provide the appropriate tools needed to do the job.
Once a new team member is selected the individual needs to be given the appropriate tools and mentorship within the organization to be effective.

Assist them with other team members so they can work together effectively.
Preparing a new team member, or a current team member, for a specific role in the organization is important. The candidate may be new to the organization, or may be an existing person within the organization who is assuming a new role. Candidates may become employees or contractors, and may be assuming permanent or temporary roles.

Organizations may try to speed up the candidate’s effectiveness in the new role through an onboarding process. This aspect of onboarding is commonly known as acculturation, assimilation or socialization, and is most often achieved through the deployment of specialized activities and/or orientation programs which provide information about the company, its structure, the candidate’s new role, his or her superiors/peers/subordinates’ roles, and provides access to appropriate people and processes. While an onboarding program may be a component of the organization’s HR system, it can also be implemented as part of the company’s orientation program, typically a much longer process.

Assist them (and their team) in delivering better results faster.
Getting team members “up to speed” is critical. To accelerate transition, onboarding should include new job preparation efforts to give new employees a head start before day one, an announcement process that sets the new employee up for success, resources, support and follow through for the first 90 days, at a minimum.

Accelerating transitions is different for internal promotions and external hires. In the former, the new leader may know many of their stakeholders, and may be familiar with some of the landmines and threats. These transitions need to emphasize the change in relationships with former peers and managers, shifting old roles and responsibilities to others, and providing new insights and new opportunities. In contrast, the external hires focus on rapidly learning the landscape, the supporters and detractors, understanding the core issues, and clarifying your role. Both, however, require articulating the strategies, operational methods and people strategy that will lead to a rapid successful outcome.

Develop a Plan

Based upon the role of the individual or team, a specific plan and objectives should be developed with expectations integrated in the process of the first three months to six months, and on very specific programs, twelve months. Very specific activities should be developed to accommodate this process. CCG has a sample of an onboarding plan or schedule. However, as always, they are very specific to the role, the person and the company.

Onboarding Key Executives

Overall, today’s organizations are bringing in more individuals from the outside to assume senior executive roles. In many cases, the nature of the work performed (e.g., specialized financial, scientific, engineering, or industrial) results in the selection of a high percentage of senior executives from outside the organization, typically from other companies in the private sector. Consequentially, these situations reinforce the importance of the initial executive onboarding experience and call for a specialized onboarding approach to help bridge gaps they encounter.

According to the Corporate Leadership Council, there are six common “derailers” for new executives:

  • failure to establish key connections and partnerships;
  • lack of political savvy or support to effectively navigate the organization;
  • failure to establish a cultural fit;
  • confusion about role expectations;
  • lack of feedback and coaching; and
  • ineffective people management/ team building skills.

These benchmarks underscore the need for specialized executive onboarding programs geared specifically toward the areas required for successful integration at the executive level. Organizations can help to combat these common “derailers” by developing and implementing a specialized onboarding program for these key roles.

When doing so, consider the following:

Developing a successful program that fits your organization starts with program objectives. Identify key issues specific to your executive population–these issues should drive the development of sound onboarding objectives. At a minimum the program should assist new executives in understanding the organization’s business and cultural contexts, help clarify performance expectations, and shorten the executives’ learning curve to enable them to perform to their full potential as quickly as possible.

Program success depends upon senior leadership commitment and program support. Commitment from the highest level of leadership is essential in supporting the necessary buy-in that will encourage the new executive to successfully complete the program.

Core Competencies
Ensure the program targets four core onboarding competencies:

  • understanding the organization, key stakeholders, business goals and objectives;
  • understanding the organization’s culture, including its unwritten rules;
  • navigating internal networks and relationships; and
  • understanding the organization’s expectations.

Contact Network
Since a new executive’s success relies, to a large degree, on building strong relationships with other senior executives, an organization can support the individual’s success by facilitating the creation of networks across the organization within the business units heads or key staff professionals, and providing guidance in building key relationships. The program would schedule one-on-one meetings between the new executive and key organizational contacts during the executive’s first 30 to 90 days. The individual should be involved with informal business “meet and greet” gatherings to network and build contacts.

Define and make explicit how the new executive is accountable for completing the onboarding program. The executive’s immediate superior is the facilitator of the onboarding and long-term integration process of the executive. The superior can enforce program accountability by ensuring the new executive’s onboarding needs are being addressed and collecting feedback to monitor for performance. Therefore, establish program metrics and evaluation criteria. Ultimately, the program should have a positive impact on both the individual and organizational performance. Ongoing evaluations should be conducted to monitor program success, and to identify and drive necessary adjustments to the program’s design and delivery.

NOTE: As part of CCG’s retained search practice, we will, in conjunction with internal meetings, develop a specific Onboarding program for our client and the new hire, for an effective new hire transition.