Executive Onboarding

Many organizations are bracing themselves for high levels of turnover at the executive level, as Baby Boomers prepare for retirement. Internal leadership pipelines are often ill-equipped to deal with these challenges, and organizations are forced to look externally to fill senior level vacancies. A considerable investment of time and money is made to attract and select senior executive talent. However, research indicates that 40% of all new senior leaders will fail within the first 18 months.

Given the high cost of executive derailment, more and more organizations are recognizing the need for a well thought out and structured approach to executive onboarding.

The key drivers of executive onboarding initiatives include:


  • Reduced time to productivity – the time it takes for new leaders to reach expected performance standards
  • Increased retention – the percentage of hires that stay with the organization
  • Increased engagement – measured by engagement survey results for recently hired employees

According to research conducted by the Aberdeen Group¹, best-in-class organizations demonstrate a number of common characteristics in their approach to on-boarding:

  1. Deep commitment to align onboarding to overall business objectives
  2. A combination of both tactical and strategic onboarding initiatives to drive productivity and engagement
  3. Investment in world-class technology through the onboarding process
  4. Integration between onboarding and other areas of talent management, including recruitment, performance, and learning and development functions

They also encourage strong cross-boarding initiatives, which involves onboarding someone from an individual contributor role to a leadership position.

So where does onboarding coaching fit in? An onboarding coach can be instrumental in helping new executives to explore and understand the cultural and political nuances that impact the approach a leader needs to take to exercise influence and navigate effectively through formal and informal channels.

Onboarding coaches provide a framework and ask thought provoking questions as newly hired executives meet one-on-one with direct reports and the boss to understand their expectations and identify challenges to address and opportunities to leverage. It’s also critical to support new leaders in identifying key stakeholders outside of the vertical chain of command, since many new executives fail to devote sufficient time to developing lateral relationships with internal and external constituents.

During the critical first 90-Days, new executives need to diagnose the business situation. Is the new leader dealing with a situation involving start-up, turnaround, realignment or sustaining success?² Each of these challenges requires a different approach, and an onboarding coach can act as a sounding board as the new leader develops a plan of action.

Ultimately, a seasoned onboarding coach can support a new executive in developing a plan of action for the first 90-Days to generate quick wins and establish credibility. This can help to assimilate the new leader, reducing the time required to make a value-added contribution and increasing levels of engagement and retention.

¹Madeline Laurano, Onboarding 2013 – A New Look at New Hires (Aberdeen Group, 2013).
²Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2013).