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Rajesh Raj
Rajesh Raj

Managing Partner EMEA

Published 28 March 2022

Setting executives up for success through effective onboarding

Businesses make significant investment into the search and recruitment of executive talent. Once an appointment has been made the first 180 days become an important time for new executives to integrate into their new organisation and to start performing in their new role.

Setting executives up for success through effective onboarding

Raj Rajesh, a Partner for Gerard Daniels in London, argues that this early period can also be a time when new executives easily derail. “The first 180 days are the most critical in any new executive’s new journey,” he says. “During this time senior leaders must navigate many new business challenges, a new business environment and unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations, often with no formal consensus on what is expected of them.”

Here we consider how onboarding can help to shape the success of businesses and their newly appointed executives, and what effective onboarding can look like.

What is executive onboarding?

To support the appointment of quality leadership consulting firms like Gerard Daniels invest considerable time and due diligence into understanding the brief, and identifying, assessing and appointing the right executive talent.Following a successful appointment onboarding becomes the generic term used to describe all of the processes that happen behind the scenes to bring that new employee on board, and to get them set-up and ready to perform.

For many organisations the focus during onboarding is largely transactional. However, experience has taught Raj thatworking through a checklist of things that new executives would need – like the tools of their trade, an introduction to the team and a brief overview of the role – falls drastically short of what new executives really need to succeed.

Why do executives need onboarding?

Effective onboarding is an important part of the hiring cycleand a critical tool for helping new executive hires to navigate their new environment and to create a foundation for their success. Onboarding can help businesses and their new executives to achieve:

Unfortunately onboarding is not as straightforward as many businesses assume it to be. Only 12% of those recently surveyed by Gallop believe their organisation does a ‘great job’ of delivering onboarding. And the consequences of not getting onboarding right can range from poor business productivity to poorly performing executives and high employee turnover.

Delivering effective onboarding

While incoming executives typically bring a wealth of experience, industry knowledge and a solid track record, applying this in a new environment can be extremely challenging without a formal onboarding process. “Integrating executives with a new and diverse team, understanding a new organisational culture, defining and building consensus around strategic priorities and achieving the required outcomes are just some of the areas where leaders need and benefit from formal and focused onboarding support,” says Raj.

“A 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of global senior executives who had recently transitioned into new roles revealed the primary reasons for failure as there being a poor cultural fit, and a lack of understanding around cultural norms, practices and politics,” says Raj.

“This tells us that effective onboarding needs to be less about transactional activities and more about helping executives to understand how an organisation operates, how to integrate into their new team and how to align themselves culturally,” Raj continues. “Onboarding must also start long before a new executive commences their new role.”

Below are four key components of effective onboarding for new executives.

1. Team and stakeholder alignment

Through onboarding businesses can support new executives in defining and getting to know the teams and stakeholders that will ultimately determine their success.

2. Engaging with the new organisational culture

No two organisations are culturally the same and onboarding provides businesses with an opportunity to help new executives experience and buy into an organisation’s values and culture.

3. Defining the strategic intent

A significant part of effective onboarding involves facilitating objective and collaborative conversations with the right team members and stakeholders to define and achieve strategic alignment.

4. Affirming assumptions

During the first six months executives are constantly evaluating the assumptions they made in taking on their new role. Some of these assumptions may be right, some may be proven wrong, but without support executives can waste a lot of time with this process, lose momentum and miss the opportunity to make an impact. The onboarding process is also an important way to help executives feel valued and to affirming their decision to join your organisation.

“Given the investment that goes into hiring new executives there are high expectations on performance in these new roles,” Raj concludes. “Onboarding empowers new executives to deliver on this expectation, because the easier it is for executives to integrate, to culturally acclimatise and to determine their strategic priorities the more quickly they can have the impact that their businesses need.”

To discuss your executive onboarding needs connect with Raj, or reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.

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