A recent global study found that when grading onboarding experiences on a scale of 1 to 100, executives in the U.S. rate their experience as mediocre, with an average score of 59. While many organizations are working to improve the onboarding experience, the survey findings point to a gap in new executives’ expectations and subsequent experiences. Some common hiccups with onboarding are fostering trust among leaders, staff and board members through work-culture socialization; reiterating priorities early on; and adapting to new virtual considerations. Overcoming these challenges, however, will be key in helping the executive start off on the right foot. Believe it or not, your search team can be a key factor in setting up new executives for success through a well-designed onboarding program and helping to ensure successful integration and a positive onboarding experience.
Below you will find key areas where your search team can support onboarding before day one, in the first 30 days, throughout the leader’s first quarter and beyond.
When transitioning from candidate to new hire, high-touch communication is important. It impacts the executive’s first critical impressions of your organization, which ultimately affects how the executive performs in the longer term. At this stage, the leader has likely become used to frequent communication and outreach from the search team. You can keep the executive engaged by maintaining a high touch until the executive’s first day. If you need ideas for engaging the executive, look to your search firm to provide some insight. Leaning on the information gathered by your search firm allows you to use those ideas to develop questionnaires that probe a bit more. Taken together, that information can help you adapt your onboarding program to the new leader’s personality and learning style. Assessment and questionnaire data can also be used to establish stronger board relations and tighter bonds with external community partners by simply understanding the executive’s social tendencies. Finally, this data can serve as a basis for more impactful communication about the incoming leader.
Create a tailored Executive Briefing that includes the following:
1. Questionnaire for your new executive to complete. Here’s a sample!
2. Fact sheets on the “hot issues” that will require the executive’s attention within the first 90 days.
3. A quick introduction to human resources policies and rules.
4. A discussion of current projects and roles and responsibilities, including past performance standards.
5. Training and information designed to provide initial familiarity with crucial systems and procedures. These are crash courses but will serve their purpose by familiarizing executives with vital systems, laws, and procedures.
During the first 30 days, the primary task is to orient the leader to the new role, staff and culture. At this stage, also take the executive’s learning style, as uncovered in their assessment, into account. These insights allow you to tailor and adapt your training strategies to align with how the new leader learns best. People tend to process, internalize and apply content faster when it is delivered in a way that they can best receive it. Another key piece of information to refer to in the executive’s assessment is their social style and personality. It is important to allow the executive to engage staff early, especially staff with whom the leader will collaborate and partner as well as staff with highly visible roles like the rest of the executive team. Incoming leaders should also engage staff and board members right away to build trust and set a solid foundation for future relationships. However, how you facilitate these exchanges should be tailored to the executive’s personality and social preferences or style.
Throughout the executive’s first quarter, the overarching goal is to shift the focus of onboarding from orientation to integration. At this phase, the executive’s time is focused on increasing collaboration and assuming more responsibilities. They will also start integrating the knowledge provided before their first day and month more regularly. The new leader’s behavioral characteristics and competencies assessed pre-hire will also become more apparent. Continue to empower the executive and help encourage a greater self-awareness by referring back to the information gathered from the behavioral assessment. During their first quarter, many of the key tasks for onboarding the new executive can be made easier by cross-referencing assessments taken during the search stage. For example, use the data to recognize and celebrate wins that intersect in the areas of the leader’s strengths, and especially weaknesses, as well as to further refine the executive’s learning priorities.
During this same time, the new executive will begin to articulate their vision and further engage teams. Oftentimes candidates in the interview process are asked to articulate their vision for the role but now with an internal perspective, your new leader will have a better idea of what is feasible and what is not. As the leader becomes more comfortable with expectations, it is time to factor in personal motivation. What have you found motivates your employee to work hard and chase their goals? Understanding the internal motivation of the new executive can allow you to set better goals in the future and select rewards that incentivize the leader. As everyone is not motivated by the same kinds of rewards, it makes sense to individualize performance rewards. By understanding specifically what drives your new leader, you can refine goals to consider who they are and how they work.
The onboarding process does not stop after the first 90 days; real integration goes beyond the new executive’s first three months in their role. In fact, Egon Zehnder, a global leadership advisory firm, conducted an online survey of 588 executives at the VP level and above who had joined new companies in the past few years. The results found that close to 60% of the participants indicated that it took them six months—and close to 20% said it took more than nine months—to have a full impact in their new roles. These findings are a perfect reminder that onboarding isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. And in marathons, coaches come in handy; however, executive coaches are often overlooked, underused and misunderstood. Luckily many search firms, Impact Search Advisors included, offer executive coaching as part of their placement packages. If your goal is to protect your investment in selecting and retaining a new executive, using an executive coach is an additional layer that ensures that your organization delivers a top-notch onboarding and integration experience.