Five Key Points for Onboarding New Leaders

You’ve decided whom to hire. They are excited about their new job. You’re excited about what they can bring to the team. You’ve given them the keys, tour and employee manual. Now what?

As leaders enter or change roles, most firms deploy an onboarding program. These vary greatly in focus, depth and length. Some provide "meet and greets" and focus on initial paperwork and process knowledge. Others help leaders navigate the culture and informal organization and meet key players. The length ranges from a few weeks to two years.

Best-in-class onboarding programs help new leaders understand their roles, see how their roles relate to the strategy, map subcultures and political terrain, and form relationships with key stakeholders. They provide leaders and their managers with a set of robust tools that help them track their progress and measure success.

You can never neglect onboarding, since proactive and productive talent is the key to your leadership success.

In onboarding, consider five points:

  1. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Onboarding isn’t just about facts—it’s about feelings, too. Provide an experience that helps new leaders affirm that they made the right career move.
  2. Involve the incoming leader, the manager and the human resources team in creating the onboarding plan and the metrics to track. Onboarding is a team effort. Negotiate who will be involved in what parts of the plan and keep in touch to drive accountability.
  3. Onboard internal transfers. Those entering new roles also need help in navigating the micro-cultures and informal culture (how things really get done). Unwritten rules and politics can create obstacles and slow execution.
  4. If you are a leader in a new role, ask your new boss and human resources team for an onboarding program. You must be accountable for getting the coaching and mentoring you need to succeed.
  5. Keep onboarding plans simple enough to implement effectively and deep enough to do what needs to be done. Onboarding conveys five messages, and crafts a clear roadmap for executing them: 1) we’re a great place to work; 2) we’re fortunate to have you; 3) we want you to know who we are and how we work; 4) we want to know who you are and how you work; and 5) we want to help you succeed.

Recruiting senior leaders is costly. Robust onboarding programs help your talent get up to speed faster and stay longer. Considering the cost of losing your best talent, the cost of onboarding looks like pocket change.

First Published in Leadership Excellence 5/2009 @