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  • Date posted:29/04/2019
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Effectively onboarding your executive hires is critical to both their performance and the long-term success of your organisation. The best onboarding programs provide a fast track to success, integrating executives with the wider organisation and bringing them up to speed quickly. Most, however, leave their executive hires to fend for themselves and navigate the nuances of organisational culture and politics, often with disastrous consequences.

In fact, the three most common executive onboaring blunders in the life sciences are:

1) Excelling at admin

Organisations are competent at onboarding admin –  contracts, creating a welcome pack, setting up their workspace, and providing mandatory training – but little is done to assist the new leaders in clearing the biggest hurdles in cultural and political challenges that they will have to overcome.

2) Forgetting culture

It’s mission critical that an executive is quickly immersed in the organisations culture – it’s mission, values and guiding principles – so they can conduct themselves in a manner befitting of the organisation and one that won’t risk alienating their coworkers or cause distrust. First impressions matter.

3) Assuming they’ll survive

This minimal approach to executive onboarding leaves everything to chance and can make for a slow transition, costing you time and money. Expecting your executive hires to figure the rest out on their own with minimal support will only increase the time it takes them to reach their potential.

6-9 months to  impact

Establishing what it takes to ensure your new executive hire gets up to speed as smoothly and efficiently as possible is vital for success. Egon Zehnder’s recently examined 588 executives who had joined new companies across Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia. The survey deducted:

  • 60% reported that it took 6 months to have full impact in their roles.
  • 20% reported it took 9 months for them to have full impact in their roles.
  • Only 33.3% said they received meaningful support during their transition.

When you invest in onboarding and integrating your new executive hires, they can build momentum earlier, rather than struggling up steep learning curves. This momentum reduces the average time for new executives to reach full performance (critical decision making with the right information and the right people in place for proper execution) from 6 to 4 months.

Yet, despite this, some organisations shy away from emphasising their executive onboarding process under the false proviso that they run the risk of insulting an executives ego. This is an incredibly flawed perception as  senior-level hires face significantly higher performance expectations and have greater impacts on the overall performance of the organisation.

Why executive hires fail

Pinpointing the reasons why your new executives can fail allows you to take action before they cost you time and money.

Back to the Egon Zehnder study. Of the 588 senior executives surveyed, 70% pointed to a lack of understanding of norms and practices for the reason for failure. Poor cultural fit was close second.

According to another study the by Senior Executive Service, 16% of senior executive service members failed to complete their one-year probationary period. Reasons include:

  • Termination for performance.
  • Performance significantly below expectations.
  • Voluntary resignation from the new position.

When examining why these executives fail, there are generally 5 main reasons:

    • Lack of understanding of norms and practices preventing them from being a cultural fit.
    • Failure to build relationships with key stakeholders.
    • Unclear about performance expectations.
    • Executives were not business savy.
    • Organisations lack the strategic and formal process to support executives during the transition.

RELATED: Increase quality-of-hire by partnering with a reputable boutique talent consultancy

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Executive onboarding workflow

Executive onboarding programs should be tailored to the requirements of the organisation and the individual’s needs. Done right, they minimises the likelihood of failure while ensuring your new hire can making positive contributions earlier. A good onboarding experience also translates to higher retainment, with 69% of executives more likely to stay with the company for 3 years.

Use the time-proven techniques below to help you establish a standardises executive onboarding workflow that delivers results:

Start onboarding immediately

For a smooth and quick transition, start your executive onboarding during the hiring process. Have your employees interview your candidates so the potential hires can get a feel of what it is like to work at the company and the calibre of individuals who work there. Allow time for casual conversation where the prospective executive can ask questions about organisational culture.

Give them time

It takes time for an individual to understand and familiarise themselves with an organisations processes, procedures and products. Give sufficient opportunities for your new executive hire to become familiar with the workplace and build an environment where new hires can ask questions and seek information comfortably, whatever their levelling.

Talk politics

Executives need to understand the organisation – the history, what makes it tick, successes, failures, values, and the company mission. Discuss the culture in all-inclusive detail. Ensure your new executive is aware of any important company policies (functions, events, remote working policies etc) as well so that everyone is on the same page from the get-go.

Break the ice

Help break the ice when onboarding executive hires by arranging for your new executive hire to meet with VP’s, Director, Senior Management and their direct reports. 

Assign a mentor

It can be difficult to build relationships with other function leaders and senior executives. Find an executive in your company that is willing to lend assistance and give advice to your new hire. 

An executive onboarding 90-day action plan

Developing and implementing a successful executive onboarding action plan is mission critical. Concentrating on a number of key elements in the correct sequence will produce better results.

0-3 days

During your new executives first few days, you should concentrate support on emphasising:

      • Understanding of protocols and processes.
      • Clarifying expectations of the role.
      • Meeting peers, superiors and other stakeholders.
03-30 days

This period of time is when the executive should emphasise:

      • Getting to grips with the role and responsibilities.
      • Accessing their team, its composition and goals.
      • Identifying quick wins which can be auctioned in the coming weeks.
      • Discover possible risks and problem areas in their function.
      • Creating a 90-day action plan.
30-90 days

Key tasks for a new executive in this period should include:

      • Action their 90-day action plan.
      • Establish learning priorities.
      • Forge close working relationships with key stakeholders.
      • Refine expectations and resource requirements.
      • Start shaping organisational strategy.

Measuring Impact

You shouldn’t t expect your new executive hire to know the inner workings of the organisation on the first day or even by the third month, but they should be having full impact within 6 months.

To help you measure the success of your executive onboarding programme, aim to identify specific metrics tied to organisational outcomes. Examples include the impact on talent retainment, employee satisfaction and employee engagement. Bare in mind that results aren’t going to be instantaneous. It might be many months before the your efforts start bearing fruit.

For more job search advice tailored to senior managers and executives…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.