Onboarding: A Good Insurance Policy

You have spent six months working with a search firm filling a vital Executive Vice President role with someone who should have the potential to become the next President or CEO of the company. You have interviewed four people, tested and assessed them all and followed up with the psychologist to find out what all of the data means. You have invited the candidates’ significant others in to meet the senior team and to tour the community. The background and reference checks are consistent with the information you have received concerning the interview feedback and psycho-metrics, so you have decided to make an offer. Your offer includes a large signing bonus and an executive relocation package. This price tag, including the search fees, is large enough that there is pressure to make sure you have made the right decision. You’re done and now time will let you know if you hired the right person.

Are you done?

At the level you are hiring it is too critical to just hope everything falls into place. What you need to consider is an insurance policy to get you closer to guaranteeing the success of this important investment you are making in a new EVP. That insurance policy is “Onboarding” and it is well worth the investment.

Michael Watkins, in his book The First 90 Days, conducted a survey in which 87% of senior HR professionals either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Transitions into significant roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers.” Fully, 70% agreed or strongly agreed that “success or failure during the transition period is a strong predictor of overall success or failure in the job.”

Many companies have an internal onboarding process to give new hires information on benefits, experience of peers, financial information, marketing and sales, IT, engineering, operations and HR. They offer summaries of recent opportunities, failures, threats and a review of market conditions including company strengths and differentiators. There are often planned meetings with the new hire and the CEO to provide feedback, direction and pieces of the vision. These are all necessary and important steps, but they are not enough. What is needed is a third party intervention to assist the new executive in completely understanding the culture. The third party is needed to help the new hire figure out the correct strategies for moving forward while keeping in sync with the needs of the company.

Recruiting a candidate is like romancing your spouse, but once you hire a candidate the relationship is more like a marriage, which needs everyone’s full attention and effort. First, the consultant brought in to assist with onboarding has to find out where the company is today. Michael Watkins’ STARS model is a good starting point; S for startups, T for turnarounds, A for accelerating growth, R for realignment or S for sustaining success. Often a company can have more than one issue, but all have one of these starting points. Each of these types of companies requires different strategies and tactics which all need to be facilitated by the consultant, the CEO and the new hire during the transition period.

Getting people to talk about the more subtle issues that are coming up is the job of the consultant as a facilitator. There will be assessments made about systems, people, strategy, products and other issues which may require additional vetting before actions are taken. There is also some low hanging fruit that will be great for initial success which needs to be discussed. One of the most important roles with a new hire is to provide the history and context to the current situation. It is essential to discuss what has and has not worked in the past and why. Some strategies will be valid and others, because of timing, may need to be resurrected. Even simple things like when to communicate, how a person likes to get information, when a decision will be the new hire’s to make and when the CEO will want to weigh in need to be discussed. It is the job of the consultant to make sure that the new hire is well aware of their CEO’s expectations, timeframes for action and metrics of performance.

Forcing people to be frank with each other and expressing themselves with candor and respect are important jobs for the facilitator. You will have reviewed reports from the psychologist on compatibilities, recognizing where the new hire and the CEO will get along and where they may have potential issues. Again, it is up to the facilitator to recognize these differences and work through them. It is easy to start off with good intentions to cover these issues, but they quickly get forgotten once the new hire is firmly in place and working on a particular issue or they may be too busy to get together. Another concern may be that the CEO has noticed some behaviors he/she didn’t like, but chooses not to make an issue of it until it comes up again. With a firm foundation set in a new relationship through onboarding, many of the challenges and quick turnovers can be avoided. Remember, like a good marriage, a solid relationship between a new hire, the CEO and the rest of the company usually doesn’t happen by itself.