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Recruiting and selecting new leaders is high stakes, difficult and time consuming, but just as crucial for success is the often neglected on-boarding process.

The organisation recruits people to add value and quickly make a positive impact – expectations are high. Meanwhile, the new leader also has high expectations – typically looking for confirmation that they’ve made the right choice joining this organisation and that this is 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 this, the transition often leaves new recruits being vulnerable – feeling that every action is being judged, knowing that they have to build a reputation and feeling isolated, without the support network that they had built in their previous role.

There can also be other emotions – I speak to many 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.

So, 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 on-boarding and their insights from personal experiences as a new recruit.

Four important areas of on-boarding senior leaders


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

  1. Business insight. The leader needs to be able to quickly prioritise their attention and action in the early days. They need help to grasp the context, to get up to speed with the market, strategy, business model, key challenges, culture and technology as well as countless other things!
  2. Building a network. The early days can be hugely frustrating – not knowing how things get done round here, who to go to, who to use as a sounding board… simple things like authorising invoices can take too long. Building a network helps the leader know who to go to for what, speeding things up and starting to rebuild a new support network so they feel less vulnerable.
  3. 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 they are, what roles they perform and any detail on performance assessments can speed this up.
  4. Key relationships. Strong boss and peer relationships are essential for the high performance needed to deliver the strategy. It takes an investment of time to become high performing – time having conversations, building understanding of strengths, working preferences and how to get the best from each other.

This provides a great framework for senior on-boarding – helping to provide the knowledge, insights and support to help make it a successful transition for all parties.

Five top tips for senior on-boarding:

So, what can organisations do to make this on-boarding 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 this into five top tips for senior on-boarding:
  1. On-boarding starts when the offer is accepted. Plan to connect 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. Automation and digital. Identify which bits of on-boarding can be automated and how digital interaction can support on-boarding – this makes it easier for the person to access information, complete requests and be connected at a time to suit them. A more digital approach to on-boarding can also apply across all your new recruits which saves time and provides a consistent introduction.
  3. Guide. Providing a ‘buddy’ who can help the new recruit to navigate their way round the systems, culture, processes and structure of the organisation can speed up learning time and reduce frustration. It’s someone who they can ask the ‘dumb’ question to, who can remind them of people’s names and where to find key information.
  4. Personalisation. 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 really value a coach, others a mentor, some may want help to arrange an away day with their team or particular support on one aspect of their new role. Developing a personal programme sends really strong messages about how much you value them and sets the tone for a strong working relationship.
  5. Clear deliverables. Having clear goals for the first three months helps new leaders to know how their contribution will be judged – and this helps remove false expectations from both parties. Often one of the deliverables is a plan for how to move forward – which requires them to build the business insight, network, team intelligence and key relationships.

How does your senior on-boarding measure up? What can you do differently to accelerate the impact of your senior hires?