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Executive Onboarding: It’s Time for a Different Approach

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

May 15, 2020 Cheryl Czach

After four rounds of intensive interviews and multiple internal conversations, including some tricky compensation negotiations, your organization has hired a new senior leader and is hoping she can hit the ground running. The leadership team feels confident in its choice and is excited to welcome the new leader. Unfortunately, research shows that the new hire won’t be as effective as the team hopes straight out of the gate. In fact, it will take months before your organization starts to see the results it is looking for.

In an Egon Zehnder survey of over 600 executives at the vice president level and above, almost 60% “reported that it took them six months or longer to have a full impact in their new roles, and close to 20% said it took more than nine months.” What’s more, “Less than a third said they had received any meaningful support for their transitions.” The fact is traditional onboarding programs, while effective for most of the employee population, fall short at the executive level. Onboarding members of the leadership team requires a unique approach — one geared more toward integration. The good news is executive integration does not need to be complicated. Here are four strategies to consider:

1. Introduce Them to the Team Before They Start Don’t wait until the executive’s first day or week for him or her to get to know the leadership team. Executive onboarding timelines normally run longer than typical onboarding programs. Take advantage of that time by scheduling lunches, calls or even coffee dates so that your new executive can meet with members of your leadership team in informal settings prior to day 1. The standard all-team lunch isn’t enough. Your new leader needs the opportunity to get to know his or her colleagues on an individual basis, and the weeks prior to the start date is the perfect time.

Executive onboarding timelines normally run longer than typical onboarding programs.

2. Be Transparent It’s tempting to minimize or hide any faults in your organization. After all, you don’t want to scare off your new leader! However, if the new executive doesn’t have the right read on the situation from the beginning, he or she may make poor decisions that can be costly. The truth will eventually come out, so after the leader has signed a confidentiality agreement (if applicable), be honest, and save your organization time and money.

3. Clarify Organizational Values A key component in your organization’s hiring process is probably ensuring a cultural fit. But new leaders also need a clear understanding of your core values. Does the company value autonomy in its leadership team, or are decisions based on consensus? What fundamental core values does the leadership team aspired to? What are the non-negotiables? Ensuring your new leader understands the answers to these questions can help divert missteps.

4. Consider Coaching Most onboarding programs have a mentorship component; teaming up a new hire with a more seasoned staff member is a great way to ease him or her into the new role. However, these types of programs aren’t as effective for new executives, who can benefit from executive coaching, which provides an external, neutral sounding board and experienced navigator of politics and people. While these four tips are not exhaustive, they are a good start to setting up your new leader for a successful transition.

New leaders need a clear understanding of your organization's core values.

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