Implementing an executive on-boarding program is critical to the successful integration, retention and performance of new leaders. The statistics vary, but most sources agree that 40% of executive hires fail in the first 18 months on the job. It has been said that the failure and departure of a newly placed executive can cost up to three times the executive’s annual salary. For every leader that fails, there are many others who survive but never realize their potential.
Effective executive on-boarding programs have certain common denominators.
- They tend to be long-term (up to 12 months).
- They provide multiple sources of support (internal and external).
- They are customized to the individual and often provide coaching resources to shore up development areas that surfaced during the selection process.
- Key stakeholders are identified and held accountable for integrating the newly hired executive within the organization.
- The new hire’s boss is engaged, and Human Resources staff are actively involved in facilitating the design and execution of an effective on-boarding plan.
Initial steps can be taken to position the new executive for success. First, an announcement should go out to all members of the organization. This announcement should clarify the new leader’s role and provide information about how the individual’s background, experience and credentials align with the strategic needs of the business. Secondly, the hiring manager should take steps to proactively address any underlying emotional concerns of those directly impacted by the hire, minimizing surprises that could lead to potential distrust or avoidance, and working to create an environment of receptivity toward the new leader. Hiring managers should create and articulate clear role definition and expectations for the new executive and other team members to avoid confusion, overlap, and turf wars. Hiring managers can schedule introductory meetings. Lastly, they should schedule regular meetings with the new executive during the first few months of hire to listen to ideas, provide feedback, and help him/her interpret the culture and its implications.
During the early on-boarding period, emphasis should be placed on the development and implementation of an executive learning plan. This requires that newly hired leaders meet with multiple stakeholders (up, across and down) and be given access to key information. New executives need to learn about the organization’s mission, vision, differentiating strategy, brand, and business environment (customers, suppliers, business allies, internal capabilities, competitors, and external conditions). They need to understand the history of the organization, recent business performance, growth strategies, cultural dynamics and readiness for change. This allows them to identify and create plans to seize both short and long-short-term business opportunities.
Working with the hiring manager, HR can play a key role in facilitating the development and implementation of a learning plan. Often a mentor from HR is assigned to the new leader to support the on-boarding process and learning plan, identify or develop structured networking activities, and assist the newly hired executive in navigating the cultural and political landscape of the organization. New executives should be coached to be curious, ask questions and listen. Emphasis should be placed on developing relationships and effective networks of support throughout the organization during the learning period.
While still learning and gaining credibility, talented executives have assimilated significant data and have begun to seed a “Burning Imperative” by the second month of employment. They have begun the process of developing organizational/departmental strategies, designing a new organizational structure, and evaluating current team members. Before these plans are implemented in the months that follow, new leaders should obtain support for changes from top management. Once approved, HR can assist in developing a communication plan, realigning or recruiting new team members, leading team-building activities that facilitate shared vision and values, and providing change management support.
A key ingredient in the successful assimilation of a new executive is feedback. Feedback provided early and regularly to the new hire during the on-boarding process allows for self-correction and avoidance of serious mistakes. Some authors recommend the use of a 360-degree feedback instrument by the sixth month of employment to enable course correction and prevent escalation of negative perceptions.
With so much at stake for the organization and the newly hired executive, we believe that executive on-boarding represents a sound investment. Quality on-boarding programs avoid unnecessary anxiety and cost and facilitate the successful integration, retention and performance of new leaders.