The Importance of Onboarding

Kurt Wilkin

When you hire a new executive to join your team, you’re expecting a lot. You want them to bring their expertise, passion, and skills to the table. And you want them to fit seamlessly into your business. After months of looking for the right candidate for the job, you feel like you finally found the one. So you bring them in and put them straight to work, right? They’ve got the experience, expertise, and know-how to help elevate your company to the next level. So what are you waiting for? Hit the ground running and get to work!

If you’ve ever made a key hire, this probably sounds familiar. You found the perfect candidate on paper, but several months into the job, it just isn’t working out. The criteria that matched up so well in the recruiting process seems far from the reality you now face. Your priorities may have changed, or the new hire may not have understood his or her role, or maybe you’re both just not on the same page anymore.

Let’s face it—there are a number of things that can derail a new hire’s first days, weeks, and months on the job. But when you invest your valuable time and money finding that new executive to lead your business, you want to ensure that they have every opportunity to be successful.

Effective onboarding and employee integration results in lower turnover rates, better productivity, higher rates of engagement, and keeps everyone aligned throughout the entire transition process.

The truth of the matter is that by throwing the new executive to the wolves on day one, we’re hurting their chances to integrate into the team. Effective onboarding is the key to ensuring that they become a fully productive, contributing member of your team, in the shortest possible amount of time. And no, I don’t mean onboarding in the traditional HR sense of the word. I‘m not talking about filling out forms, giving them a tour of the office or handing them their parking pass and restroom key. I’m talking about full-on integration.

New executives need time to learn the business, the team, and the industry. They need to spend time visiting with customers, vendors, employees, and others so they can better understand the company and the market opportunity. More important, they need quality time with the CEO or the board to ensure that priorities and values remain aligned throughout their first three to six months on the job. An effective onboarding process takes time and money, but it is worth it to protect your investment in your new leader – and in your company’s future!

Real-Life Example

A friend of mine is the founder of a successful $10 million consumer packaged goods company. After putting blood, sweat, and tears into growing the business for several years, the time came for him to move into a new role. He recognized that for the company to continue to grow and reach its full potential, he needed to hire a new Chief Operating Officer to run the company’s day-to-day operations, allowing him to focus on his areas of strength.

After months of searching for and recruiting the right candidate, he made a great hire. His new COO hit the ground running, working to bring processes, structures, and accountabilities into the company. But he had a very different style from the founder, and, as you would expect, he questioned why the team did certain things the way they did. My friend struggled to let go of his old role and to get on board with the changes the COO was bringing. Existing team members didn’t like the changes in accountability and style, and they complained to the founder about their new boss. It was a recipe for disaster. The relationship between the two leaders quickly deteriorated.

For this company, the lack of a true process to integrate the new executive caused major problems for the business. The problems increased with their growing misalignment of priorities and lack of communication in the COO’s first months on the job.

Ultimately, my friend and his new COO did not work out. This was an unfortunate instance, one in which we felt like an effective integration program would have made a huge difference in the success of the new hire.

Shifting Expectations

When you conduct a search for a key employee, you lay out expectations and define critical success factors. In theory, the person you hire meets those expectations and you are fully aligned.

The problem is that life gets in the way. Priorities and expectations shift, and reality is often different than expected. This natural misalignment happens as new employees move through the transition process. With proper planning and onboarding, you can address and mitigate these issues. Otherwise both parties can become disenchanted with one another and the “marriage” ends in divorce – something that happens more often than people want to admit.

You may think that spending time, money, and effort on a new employee’s onboarding seems unnecessary. Let’s look at the bottom line: Effective onboarding and employee integration results in lower turnover rates, better productivity, higher rates of engagement, and keeps everyone aligned throughout the entire transition process. Given those numbers, one could argue, that onboarding serves as a kind of “insurance” for your talent investments. After spending a ton of time, money, and energy on recruiting and hiring, don’t you want to be sure that new team member sticks around for a while?

Trust the Process

It is not generally in human nature to be patient, but with onboarding it is especially important to slow down, stick to the plan, and trust the process. A partnership relies on trust, respect, and communication. When those are there, you’ve got a great relationship but when those foundations break down, problems occur. What often happens is that one of those cornerstones of partnership falters in the early days of a new hire’s tenure. Whether or not things go off the rails depends on how we handle these situations and whether we work together to realign amidst ever-shifting priorities.

Misalignment will happen and priorities will change. Leadership teams have to work together to navigate those difficult situations. Trust, respect, and communication are keys during the onboarding process.

Learning from Mistakes

As for my friend, the CPG company founder, he had the wisdom and insight to learn from his mistakes. The next time he hired a COO, we agreed on an onboarding process to ensure the success of the new hire. He set out his goals and criteria for the role and my team at HireBetter managed the executive integration process for him.

We helped the two leaders work together to establish clear roles and responsibilities. We facilitated a consistent cadence of communication, which allowed them to build a solid foundation of trust. The founder was patient and gave the new executive time to learn the business, the industry, and the existing team. We counseled the new COO to not come in guns blazing but to respect that the company was the founder’s “baby.” And, as priorities inevitably shifted, our program helped the two of them successfully navigate these changes together. Through the effective use of onboarding, the new COO became a fully integrated member of the team, and has since been effectively scaling the company.

This process took some time, but the company’s continued success and the founder’s ability to step back from day-to-day operations bears witness to the critical nature of the importance of alignment. Effective onboarding made it possible.

Do you have stories similar to my friend’s? Stories like his are all too common, I’m afraid. In fact, only one-third of executives say they had any meaningful support during their transitions. At HireBetter, we truly believe that an effective onboarding process is vital to successful employee relationships that can take your business to the next level.

What do you think? I encourage you to check out our new Executive Onboarding page and let us know your thoughts!

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