Organizations spend considerable time, energy, and money recruiting executives to join. But unfortunately, this same level of focus and investment does not usually extend to onboarding. That oversight creates risks and reduces the new leader’s ability to make an immediate and positive impact.
First and foremost, it is essential to understand that executive onboarding is not just a matter of completing the requisite new hire paperwork and giving them a tour of the office. Instead, it involves a comprehensive process designed to help the new executive understand the company’s goals and objectives, the expectations of their role, and the challenges they may face.
One of the key benefits of executive onboarding is that it helps new executives get up to speed quickly. It can take months or even years for leaders to fully understand the dynamics of a company, but with a well-designed onboarding process, they can accelerate this learning curve.
In addition, effective onboarding also helps reduce turnover. Studies have shown that new hires who undergo a structured onboarding process are likelier to stay with their employer long-term. This is because they get connected faster, better understand how their role fits into the larger organization, and are better equipped to achieve early wins. Since the cost of executive turnover can range from 50% to 200% of their salary, minimizing the risk of turnover and maximizing the probability of success is a good business decision.
What to focus on:
- Recognize the difference between orientation and onboarding
While both orientation and onboarding are important, they are fundamentally different. Orientation typically covers the logistics of joining a new organization (overview of the workplace, access to technology, payroll paperwork, etc.). While valuable, the orientation focuses on the transactional components of joining a new organization. Onboarding, on the other hand, is about setting the foundation for success and is focused on supporting both the personal and organizational transition, which is more complex and intensive. In addition, since it may take a new executive 6-12 months to acclimate fully, effective onboarding is a process that provides support and feedback throughout this critical period.
The post-acceptance, pre-employment phase is the best time to start the onboarding process by keeping the dialog flowing and continuing to communicate. Provide opportunities for new executives to connect with key stakeholders they did not meet during the interview process. And, as appropriate, invite them to internal or external company events. If anything has changed since they were recruited, make sure the new leader understands what changed, the reason for the change, and what effect this may have on their role. While the process starts before they begin their tenure, it continues as they work through the challenges of acclimating and integrating.
- Do not take things for granted
When a new leader joins, expectations are high for both the leader and the organization. But transitions are unsettling and challenging. Studies indicate that when new executives fail or leave within the first two years on the job, it is usually not a matter of capability but rather a failure to establish key relationships or difficulty aligning with company culture. In other words, failure is generally related to an inability to get things done with and through other people in this new ecosystem. Therefore, onboarding should focus on helping the new leader understand the culture, gain insight into expectations, and build relationships with key stakeholders. Spending time getting to know their colleagues and team members can help foster a sense of trust and rapport, making it easier to navigate the onboarding process successfully.One of the most critical components of effective onboarding and acclimation is the need to quickly gain focus and alignment with three important constituent groups – the boss, direct reports, and key stakeholders. Early conversations with each group of constituents provide an efficient and effective mechanism for gaining insight into the unique and important nuances of situations and relationships. In addition, the exchange offers a foundation for clarifying and aligning the executive’s needs and expectations with those of the boss, team, and key stakeholders. For executives, this is also an opportunity to share their goals and vision for the company with their new colleagues. This can help foster relationships and build trust early in the process. It also helps ensure the alignment of goals and objectives. Listening to others’ perspectives will provide valuable insight that can help them understand any pain points that need to be addressed or opportunities to make a positive impact.
- Provide early and ongoing feedback
Early and ongoing feedback helps ensure that things are headed in the right direction regarding building connections, understanding organizational norms and culture, and prioritizing areas of focus and action. If there is an issue or concern, early and ongoing feedback provides an opportunity to proactively address them rather than letting things fester.
Organizations are complex systems. Ongoing honest feedback helps the new leader understand the nuances of culture, team dynamics, and implicit expectations that impact individual and organizational success. Critical areas of feedback include:
- Is she clear on how success will be measured? Is she on track?
- Is his approach aligned with cultural norms and values?
- Is she attending to interpersonal and team dynamics?
- Are there any concerns about the leader’s approach that must be addressed?
- What questions or concerns does the leader have?
- Have the leader do a “stop, start, and continue” exercise to help identify any adjustments in focus or approach that will increase success.
A new leader brings a fresh perspective and new ideas, so this dialog also provides an important opportunity for them to share their insights, thoughts, and observations. This exchange offers the foundation for aligning and calibrating expectations, aligning efforts, and developing an action plan to secure quick wins and long-term success.
If your company does not utilize a structured onboarding process to ensure the success of your newly hired executives, consider implementing one. Investing in a comprehensive onboarding process ensures a smoother transition that helps new executives get up to speed quickly, reduce turnover, and improve overall performance. It is an investment that benefits the executive and the entire organization.