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Hiring a new executive for your company is an expensive and important process, but your job isn’t over with the hire. Making sure the new leader gets oriented and feels supported is crucial to solidifying a good match and increasing their productivity as quickly as possible. How do you create an effective, welcoming and nurturing onboarding process for a new executive?

What Is Executive Onboarding?

Onboarding refers to how new employees are brought into the organization. Executive onboarding refers to that process for executive positions, including upper management positions such as CEO, CFO, COO, CHRO, or Senior HR Manager. Since executives are responsible for driving culture, values, and vision in a company, making them feel well-equipped to contribute to the success of the company is particularly important.

Short- and Long-term Outcomes Of Executive Onboarding and How to Achieve Them

A robust onboarding process is important to attracting and retaining good talent. This couldn’t be truer than with executives, as they are typically brought in to make changes or to elevate a company. The onboarding process gives them time to consider what kind of impact they can make at a company.

In the short term, executives need to establish meaningful working relationships with other executives and the teams they supervise. You can facilitate onboarding activities like these to support that process.

  • Have the new executive spend time with coworkers and their team.
  • Announce the new executive to the company and build them up.
  • Set goals and KPIs early on.

In the long term, executives should feel that the relationships they have established are strong enough to implement strategic changes for the company’s growth. That’s why the onboarding process extends for a year or more, including activities such as:

  • Leading the company to the next steps in growth.
  • Following up on goals and KPIs.
  • Developing the new executive’s unique voice and vision.

Why Is Executive Onboarding Important?

Executive onboarding is an investment in the future of your company as well as the success of the new hire.

  • Employee experience is crucial. The new executive benefits greatly from orientation and onboarding. Robust onboarding drives retention and satisfaction rates up while enabling the new executive to be more efficient and effective. Also, executive employees have been through countless onboarding experiences, good and bad. A bad onboarding experience can raise red flags for them and increase the chances that they will leave, whether at that point or down the road.
  • Potential impact on a company. Executive employees brought into a company have far more experience than other new hires. They likely have worked for various companies and various industries. As an executive employee, they are looking to see what kind of impact they can make as an executive and what changes can be made at the company. During onboarding, the new execs see what the culture is like and how they might improve it.
  • Subordinate workers are quick to judge. Executives can be viewed as distant and disconnected figures in the daily lives of employees. When a new executive onboards, all employees lower on the organizational chart will be very critical of their early success and failures. During a new executive’s first months, they must overcome this challenge by.working diligently to gain trust across the company.This determines the long-term acceptance or rejection of the executives’ decisions, such as workforce changes, benefit packages, or operational procedure changes.
  • Coworkers are quick to judge. New executives not only have to win over their subordinate employees, but they must also win over their executive coworkers, who will quickly judge whether the new executive fits into their team culture or not. Part of the onboarding process, then, is to create opportunities to and support the new hire in establishing solid peer relationships, such as helping fellow executives appreciate the new executive’s achievements that led to their new role.
  • Executive acquisition is expensive. As we will detail later, pursuing and hiring a new executive can be expensive. From a signing bonus to high-cost compensation and benefit packages, companies invest a lot in their leadership. Each day that goes by without the new executive being able to work confidently is another day without ROI, so an effective onboarding process pays dividends.

Executive Onboarding Best Practices

There are several best practices for onboarding, but these three ideas mix simple principles with effective action.

Practice 1: Have the New Executive Spend Time With Coworkers and Their Teams

There is a famous saying: “Love is spelled t-i-m-e.” The absolute best practice for new executives is to spend the right amount of time in the right way with coworkers and those they will oversee. As mentioned, executives need to create meaningful working relationships in the short term so they can effectively use them in the long term. Most executives appreciate cooperation and teamwork between areas of responsibility. A good example of creating early cooperation is for the new executive to meet with fellow executives and ask them, “What are you in charge of and how can I help you achieve success?”

Similarly, those that work for the new executive will need to feel a connection to them. If this connection is a positive one, direct reports will typically support the new executive. Team sizes vary from company to company, but if possible, invite the new executive to spend time getting to know their team members one-on-one or in small groups. The important principle to focus on is for the new executive to  show appreciation for an employee’s work and inquire as to how they can support their goals. If your company size is too large to meet with employees, focus on the next two practice suggestions.

Practice 2: Announce the New Executive and Build Them Up

Making an announcement about the arrival of a new executive shows excitement and support for the new hire. Include a picture with their name in the announcement so employees know who to look for. List former achievements that help spark a reputation of success and express excitement and confidence in the new person.

Practice 3: Allow the New Executive to Speak for Themselves

Although companies should help create early excitement for the addition of the new executive, the new executive needs to use their own voice in a genuine way. Coworkers and subordinate workers want to hear from their new leader. When new executives portray messages of appreciation, excitement, and vision for the future, they can win early support.

Human Resources can create opportunities to make this happen by setting up meetings with leadership and inviting the new executive to lead a discussion on a specific topic. Additionally, Human Resources could conduct a short interview about an important item of business and send out the new executive’s answers to the entire company as part of an introductory series to management.

Practice 4: Give Executives a Chance to Provide Feedback

One often forgotten part of the onboarding process is to solicit feedback. Executives are employees with a lot of experience and are probably full of ideas. This is a great chance to learn from them and understand how the onboarding process could improve. This will not only be beneficial for future executives, but all future employees’ onboarding experience.

What Does the Executive Onboarding Process Look Like?

The key to success in onboarding is to adapt the process to the needs and size of your company. Each executive is different, and therefore will react and progress in a variety of ways. Adapt the following generalized steps to the individual.

Step 1: Set Expectations and a Schedule

First impressions are everything in the workplace. Putting yourself in the position of the new executive, which is the better option in the following onboarding scenarios?

  • The first day is scattered and unorganized, or the first day is well planned and introductions feel intentional.
  • They leave work the first week feeling disconnected and distant from their coworkers, or they leave knowing coworker’s names, positions and areas of responsibility.
  • They walk in on their first day of work to their office and it is dirty and disorganized, or they walk in on their first day to a clean and “ready to go” office with their name on the door and a welcome gift.
  • After the first week, they feel confused about what to do next week, or they have 30-, 60- and 90-day plans set for the new job.

Help your new executives by planning a productive first day and week, structuring ways for them to connect with coworkers and teams in a meaningful way, setting up their office space so they feel ready to hit the ground running, and setting expectations for what they will accomplish during their onboarding.

Step 2: Introductions to Essential Coworkers and Teams

New executives need to know who they are working with. Plan one-on-one or group meetings so new execs spend time with fellow executives, coworkers and the teams they will supervise. Elevate the experience by avoiding simple meet-and-greets with planned decision topics that create early success.

Step 3: Set Goals via KPIs

How will the new executive measure success? Executives typically like to know what they are aiming for rather than a generalized “go out and do it” attitude. Introducing Key Performance Indicators help the executive know where to put their focus. For example, a new admission executive might focus on a number of leads, while a new human resources executive might have a KPI around employee turnover. Key elements of this step include communicating where the data comes from and how often one reports on KPIs.

Step 4: Decrease How Much Time You Spend With the New Executives

The amount of direct attention and direction a new executive needs decreases over time. The first day you should spend almost all day with them to ensure onboarding is going well. By the end of the first week, some independence should be established so they can work on their own. By the end of the first month, the new executive should be working on their own most of the time. By the end of the first quarter, onboarding should consist of following up on goals and confirming knowledge retention.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Executive Onboarding

Executive onboarding should be handled by the HR team (or onboarding team), as well as some of the executive team. Typically, much of the training will be done by members of the executive team. On a more general level, the entire company needs to be introduced to the new hire.

Onboarding costs include sign-on bonuses; payment of direct compensation (including salary); cost of recruiting and hiring; cost of background, professional, or drug tests; and the amount of payable time and opportunity costs spent by the employees who train and onboard the new executive.

If a new executive feels lost, disconnected, or unsupported, the onboarding experience is not going well. Additionally, if new executives are not becoming independent with time, one should find ways to change this before frustration or lack of trust occurs.

This is different for every company. Some executive onboarding includes meeting with clients, which can take up lots of the time. At some companies, onboarding is seen as a process that lasts a week or two; others consider it a year-long experience.

Austin became the HR Director at Discovery Connections in 2021. Before that he worked as an Account Manager for a Section 125 benefits and COBRA administrator. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Exercise Science in 2019 and from Southern Utah University with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership in 2021. At end of 2021, he became certified with SHRM-CP.

Originally from Oklahoma, Austin enjoys trying new foods in new places he travels to, watching college football, and snowboarding the local resorts in Utah. He has been married to his wife since 2019 and owns a cockapoo named Hershey.

Want to contribute to our HR Encyclopedia?

Tanner has over 4 years of HR professional experience in various fields of HR. He has experience in hiring, recruiting, employment law, unemployment, onboarding, outboarding, and training to name a few. Most of his experience comes from working in the Professional Employer and Staffing Industries. He has a passion for putting people in the best position to succeed and really tries to understand the different backgrounds people come from.

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