Do you need to improve your onboarding process for new leaders?

10 minute read | Dr Maggi Evans  | Article | Leadership Onboarding Workforce planning

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Experienced consultant Dr Maggi Evans spoke to recently hired senior leaders to gain an insight into onboarding processes and to find out which approaches worked best. Find out the results below to help your future recruits to succeed in their first three months in the business.


Onboarding new leaders: Key insights

Recruiting and selecting new leaders has high stakes and it’s difficult and time-consuming. Their onboarding process is often neglected but it’s just as crucial for success.

Every onboarding process for new senior leaders should have four key purposes. The elements that the process should cover and build on our business insight, network, team intelligence and key relationships.

Recently recruited senior leaders identified the key areas that made their onboarding experiences positive. We’ve translated these points into five key tips for employers:

  • Start the onboarding when the offer is accepted
  • Use automation and digital interaction to support onboarding
  • Assign a buddy or a guide for new recruits
  • Involve the new leader in planning their initial programme
  • Agree on clear deliverables for the first three months

Keep reading for more background on why onboarding is a crucial step in the hiring process and how to apply the above tips in practice.

Or learn more about our professional services to find out how we can help you with your business needs.


Onboarding new leaders: Background

Organisations recruit people to add value and quickly make a positive impact, so expectations are high. Meanwhile, new leaders also have high expectations. They typically look for confirmation that they’ve made the right choice joining this organisation and that it’s a place where they can flourish.

However, we all know that these transitions can be difficult. It’s hard to perform well when you don’t understand the context, the political landscape, the capabilities of the people or the practicalities of how to get things done.

Added to the uncertainty, the transition to a new workplace often leaves recruits feeling vulnerable. They might feel that every action is being judged, knowing that they have to build a reputation. New recruits may also feel isolated without the support network that they had built in their previous role.

There can also be other emotions. I speak to many new leaders who quickly feel disillusioned that the organisation is nothing like they were led to believe in the recruitment process. All of these things add up to a challenging scenario – one that left unresolved can contribute to the statistic of nearly 50% of external senior appointments failing.

What can we do to accelerate impact, to help newly appointed leaders more quickly make a contribution?

To get some insider information, I caught up with five newly appointed senior leaders. I was keen to understand their general thoughts on senior onboarding and their insights from personal experiences as a new recruit.


What should an effective onboarding of senior executives and leaders achieve?

Firstly, I asked about the purpose and key elements of senior onboarding. Four areas emerged:


1. Gain business insight

The new leader needs to be able to quickly prioritise their attention and action in the early days. They will need the employer’s help to grasp the context and to get up to speed with the market, strategy, business model, key challenges, culture and technology.


2. Build a network

The early days of a new role can be tiring for the new recruit when they aren’t sure how things get done at the workplace or who to go to and who to use as a sounding board. Even simple things like authorising invoices can take too long.

Building a network will help the new leader feel less vulnerable. Getting to know the team will help them to figure out who to go to for what, speed things up, and rebuild a new support network.


3. Build team intelligence

Senior leaders work through others and need to rapidly understand the structure and capability of their team, so they can lead them appropriately. Being given an honest and clear summary on who everyone in the team is, what roles they perform and any detail on performance assessments can speed this up.


4. Form key relationships

Strong boss and peer relationships are essential for the high performance needed to deliver the business strategy. But, it takes an investment of time to become high-performing. Allow time for conversations with your new recruit to help build an understanding of strengths, working preferences and how to get the best from each other.

These four elements provide a great framework for senior onboarding. Consider all these elements to help provide the knowledge, insights and support new leaders need to make it a successful transition for all parties.


Five top tips for successful senior onboarding

What can organisations do to make the onboarding of a new senior leader successful? Three of the five people I spoke with described their experiences as positive. They highlighted a number of things that really helped them to hit the ground running. I’ve translated these things into five top tips for senior onboarding:


1. Onboarding starts when the offer is accepted

Plan to connect with the person straight away, helping them to start creating the business insight, network, team intelligence and key relationships. Without this they can feel in ‘limbo’, starting to worry that they’ve made a poor decision.


2. Use automation and digital interaction to support onboarding

Identify which bits of onboarding can be automated and how you can use digital interaction in the process. A more digital approach to onboarding makes it easier for the new recruit to access information, complete requests and be connected at a time to suit them. This approach can also apply across all your new employees which saves time and provides a consistent introduction.


3. Assign a buddy or a guide for new recruits

Providing a ‘buddy’ for the new leader can speed up learning time and reduce frustration. The buddy or guide can help the recruit to navigate their way around the systems, culture, processes and structure of the organisation. The guide is also someone to whom they can ask the ‘dumb’ question, who can remind them of people’s names and where to find key information.


4. Involve the new leader in planning their initial programme

Each senior leader will have different hopes, concerns and requests as they join the business. Working with them to create a personal programme for the first three months will help them to settle in faster.

For example, some may value a coach or a mentor while some may want to arrange an away day with their team or require particular support on one aspect of their new role. Developing a personal programme sends a strong message about how much you value them and sets the tone for an effective working relationship.


5. Agree on clear deliverables for the first three months

Having clear goals for the first three months helps new leaders to know how their contribution will be judged. Set goals also help to remove false expectations from both parties. Often one of the deliverables is a plan for how to move forward. This plan requires the new leader to build on the four elements that I mentioned a successful onboarding should achieve with your support as the employer.

​​How does your senior onboarding measure up to these findings? Can you do something differently to accelerate the impact of your senior hires?

For additional helpful tips for employers, visit our market insight blog.


Onboarding new leaders: Next steps for your business

Learn more about how we can help you to identify the best talent.


About this author

Maggi is an experienced consultant and coach with international experience across a wide range of sectors including professional services, financial services, retail and FMCG. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and combines research and practice to develop practical solutions to drive business improvement.

Maggi has been a consultant for over 20 years, specialising in talent strategy and talent development. She has a reputation as an insightful consultant, helping clients to reduce the ‘noise’ around an issue so they can focus and act on key issues which will make a difference. Maggi is on a mission to help organisations, leaders and individuals to liberate talent. Her first book ‘From Talent Management to Talent Liberation’ has recently been published.

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