6 Steps to Building an Onboarding Plan

6 Steps to Build an Onboarding Plan

It is natural after completing an exhaustive executive search to feel as though you have reached the finish line. Studies show the real work begins when the new executive begins employment. The first three to six months will have a major impact on the long-term trajectory of a new executive. 50% of executives fail or leave the organization within their first 18 months. This Harvard Review article also points out the actual cost of these hiring mistakes can easily be ten times the annual salary.  (It is also well documented that these failures are rooted in mistakes and missteps during the first 3 – 6 months.)

The best approach is to have an onboarding or “integration” plan crafted in advance for the new executive beginning employment. The right time to build this plan is during the executive search if not before. Here are six steps for building that plan.

  1. Build a list of goals and actions for the first 3, 6 and 12 months. This is a good companion to the job description. This list of goals, actions and desired achievements is often the best tool to use in vetting potential candidates. This will serve as the center piece of the onboarding plan. This also allows an opportunity to level set expectations across constituencies.
  2. Facilitate key meetings and introductions. Of course, you will have an itinerary for the new executive that includes meetings with the key stakeholders surrounding the person’s role. Just as important is identifying other key influencers and individuals that may be “derailers” or “challenging personalities”. Having a good understanding of the political landscape will be important to this new person as they navigate this new environment.
  3. Defining the Culture and evaluating candidates for culture fit is critical. Even if you feel you have hired a good fit for your culture, a new person will not inherently understand the norms, behaviors and idiosyncrasies that exist in an organization. Giving a new executive insight and guidance with these factors will provide them with a much less bumpy path.
  4. Establish the right pace of change. We can all agree that turning the furniture over on the first day is a bad course of action. Organizations differ dramatically on the expected behavior and approach during the first 90 days of employment. In many cases the company is asking for this time to be focused on gaining understanding and building relationships.  In other organizations the new person is expected to hit the ground running and evaluated on early wins. It is easy to envision an executive reaching for that “early win” only to find out it was a misstep. You want to hire people who will get things done, but ensure you are setting the person up to move at the proper pace.
  5. Communication and feedback along with way is critical. Plan feedback events at three, six and twelve months. Create open lines of communication with check-ins daily when moments require it. Unanticipated questions will no doubt arise during those first days of employment. Your style might not be “directive”, but every new hire needs direction at the start. Everyone brings their own set of behaviors from their past work environments and cultures that will raise questions.
  6. Understanding team dynamics is critical for a new executive. How to effectively work across an organization and how to build teamwork within the culture will be critical knowledge. What worked best in a previous culture may not be the best approach in a new environment. In some environments clear direction is critical and in other environments a more empowered group will be demotivated by a directive leadership approach. On the other hand, if a group is used to being “directed” …they may not adapt easily to an empowering approach.

It is always helpful to have outside coaching and advising firms assisting with onboarding and development of team members. Two such firms include:

Pondera Advisors – Leader and Team Development/Integration and pre-employment assessment & more.  https://ponderaadvisors.com/

Avenue Consulting – Onboarding and Executive Coaching & more. www.avenueleadership.com

Sources and good reads: