Onboarding as a Total Program

George Bradt

When George Bradt started his firm, PrimeGenesis, in 2002, he couldn’t even use the word onboarding, because nobody knew what it meant. "It’s essentially all the things you do, or anybody does, or a person does for themselves, to accelerate a new employee's transition into a new job," he said recently. "There are fancier definitions, but we think it's much more than merely what you do for somebody on Day One. It covers the whole range of acquiring a new employee, accommodating them, assimilating them and accelerating them. The bottom line is that it's about accelerating a new employee's progress."

What brought you to onboarding as a business?

My background is sales, marketing and general management with several large companies. I was at Coca-Cola in Japan, and we brought a new executive in to work for us, a new vice president. We’d spent a fortune on this guy: we had to pay the executive recruiter, we had to pay the VP a signing bonus, we had to relocate him and his family and his dog and his wine – all the way to Japan. Then he showed up on Day One, and people were running around the office like chickens with their heads cut off, saying "Oh, you’re here, great! We’re so excited! We’ve got to find you an office and a computer and business cards..." And I just said, "There’s got to be a better way to do this."


That was about 15 years ago. I pulled some people together and we started figuring out how to do a better job of bringing people into an organization. And after several years, I realized we were meeting a very big need, and we decided to try starting a business around it.

Since then, you’ve traveled around the world evangelizing and teaching about effective onboarding. Why is the subject now more important than ever?

It’s because the need is so huge, and most people haven’t addressed it. We started because of my own experiences. A study by Manchester had said that 40 percent of new leaders fail. It was vaguely right and we used that for a while. Then last year in the Financial Times, the CEO of Heidrick & Struggles revealed the results of an internal study they had done on 20,000 searches. They figured out that of those, 40 percent were either fired, forced out or quit within 18 months.

So it’s a big deal because 10 years later, the general market number hasn’t changed. The need is huge: It’s really expensive for everybody involved for a new leader to fail. And the reason we’ve got a business is we’re just so focused on helping these leaders – and their teams -- deliver better results faster, that we’ve reduced that failure rate from 40 percent down to 10 percent. So the difference, the delta, is so huge that people understand it’s important.

How do you do it? What’s the program you teach and write about in your books?

It’s partly a program and partly a way of approaching things. My firm and I are driven by this understanding of what we call "hot landings" by senior leaders. Those are pivotal, bet-your-career events. And we believe that we can make a difference for the good on those occasions.

The program is really three ideas implemented over two things. The ideas are:

1. Get a head start; preparation is the key to everything. Vince Lombardi once said, "The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win." So get a head start; preparation breeds confidence.

2. Manage your message; everything communicates. And we get people to get a head start so that on Day One – before Day One, and then on Day One and through their first 100 days, they’re in control of their own communication and their own message. That makes a big difference.

3. Build a high-performing team. After Day One, the only thing a new leader can do by themselves, without anybody’s help, is fail. If they want to succeed in any way, however they define success, it always involves building a high-performing team.

And so with those three ideas in mind, we do two things:

a.) We help new leaders craft their 100 day action plan as soon as we can after they’ve accepted their job and as far in advance as possible before starting.

b.) And after they start, we help them implement those plans.

That’s what’s laid out in all three of the books. The New Leader’s 100 Day Action Plan was written for the new leader going into the job. Onboarding is written for the new leader’s boss, because that partnership is critical. And then the third book, which comes out in September, The Total Onboarding Program, is for the whole organization. It’s the whole "it takes a village" -- leaders can’t do it on their own; they have to partner with their boss; and bosses can’t do it on their own – they need to do it in the context of the whole organization.

Will you be teaching your Total Onboarding Program in the Master Class at the Talent Management Expo & Conference, September 27-29 in Las Vegas?

We won’t so much be teaching, because a lot of this is common sense. It’s a Master Class because it’s for people who know what they’re doing; this is not Onboarding 101. We expect the people who come to this workshop to contribute as much as they take away. We’ll be leading the discussions based on the ideas in the Total Onboarding Program book, but people should expect a highly interactive session.