Executive Onboarding: A Roadmap to Success

Mary Morand

Talent Advisory Practice Lead

The failure of a new leader can cost an organization dearly—most estimates are more than double the executive’s compensation. Add to that an estimated new leader failure rate near 50% and it’s safe to conclude the inherent difficulty of leadership transitions. Even with a stellar selection process, the transition is all about change, which requires active learning and integration. Navigating a new company culture is invigorating and sometimes exhausting. 

The bigger the stakes, the more critical it is to build a transition plan enabling a leader to explore and experiment in the early weeks and months of a new role. Although the time it takes to fully transition depends on the individual and organization, an executive onboarding process dramatically improves the path to leadership effectiveness.

Executive onboarding is a facilitated process that guides leaders through the changes and learning curves inherent in a new role. It helps them process experiences and significantly increase their leadership awareness. A few keys to success include:

Align goals and objectives: A new leader must clearly understand the results that are needed in the short-term. Goals and objectives should be outlined and conversations should include some of the challenges a leader may face. The executive onboarding coach facilitates a meaningful discussion about what success looks like in the role.

Execute a great communication plan: The flow of information in a leadership transition is critical and the stakeholders are many:  boss, team, peers, customers, suppliers—the list goes on. Establishing solid communication protocols keeps information flowing and people aligned.

Define feedback strategies: Frequent and candid feedback early in the transition helps identify potential issues before they become problematic. Early discussions with various stakeholders can identify gaps in understanding and even expose cultural landmines. 

Assess team talent: Structuring key experiences and conversations with team members helps a leader know both the stronger players and the bench potential. Historical successes and current projects are important, but preparing the right people for the work ahead is a consistent focus on engagement, development and performance.

Adapt to the organization’s culture: What is the organizational pace? How do things get done around here? It takes some time to understand the office norms: Is it an “ask for forgiveness” culture? Are decisions made by process or the defined organizational hierarchy or somewhere in the space between those boxes?

A new role and a new company challenge every leader to think differently and rise to his or her next level of leadership. Executive onboarding gives leaders a pathway and guides them through the learning by listening, challenging and encouraging. As the leader’s experiences grow, the small wins lead to consistent and bigger wins, which create trust and confidence in and for the leader.