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Onboarding Process for New Leaders and Managers - How to Reduce the Risk of Failure

May 14, 2012, by

Corina Sibley

| Employee Onboarding

You have just hired a senior leader for a newly created role at your company.  It has taken an expensive headhunter months to find the right person and tomorrow is her first day on the job.  How do you ensure she is successful so that you quickly see a return on your investment?

The successful assimilation of new managers or leaders has a huge impact to a company’s bottom line. A recent white paper from Drake Beam Morin (DBM) and Human Capital Institute (HCI) on this topic cited a study listed in “Topgrading” by Bradford Smart.  It “asserts that for those earning between $100K and $250K, the cost of turnover is 40 times base salary. This… includes both direct costs as well as indirect costs, such as missed opportunities and lost productivity.”Unfortunately, there is often the perception that a new leader is a “plug and play” new hire; you can hire an experienced executive, plug them into the organization and they are off to the races, creating value and contributing to the bottom line.  In fact, the studies cited in DBM’s and HCI’s white paper say otherwise:

'According to the Corporate Leadership Council, “Fifty percent of newly hired executives quit or are fired within the first three years.” Similarly, the Center for Creative Leadership states that “Forty to 50 percent of new CEOs fail in the first 18 months.”’2

How can an employer change the odds in their favour?  There are several ways companies can successfully assimilate a new leader or manager, including:

  • Providing the new leader with a senior level mentor in the company that can help her navigate through the company culture and norms.  This individual can also suggest other leaders the new leader should meet with and get to know, in a way, helping her put together her personal board of directors. 
  • Putting together a 30/60/90 day plan – what goals need to be accomplished during this timeframe and setting up one on one meetings between the new leader and his manager to review them.
  • Assisting the new leader in achieving some “early wins” in order to establish trust and credibility with his new team.

GE, a company known for its development of top-notch leaders, has a process whereby new managers, whether new to a team or new to the company, are provided a New Manager Assimilation session that is typically facilitated by HR or a third party.  The New Manager Assimilation (NMA) is normally scheduled during the first 3 months of the new manager’s tenure.  The NMA is designed to ensure a two-way flow of communication between a manager and his/her new team early on in the relationship.  The process often helps to defuse problem areas or misunderstandings that can quickly become mountains when it would have been easier to tackle the molehill.

NMAs are typically 4 – 5 hours in length and are structured in a way that allows the team to confidentially air their concerns, provide suggestions to the new manager, and ask questions of the new manager. The result is a discussion facilitated by the third party between the new leader and his/her team. The output is often action items the team owns going forward, and a commitment to review the output and progress from the session again in 90 days’ time. An added advantage is that it gives the company an opportunity to obtain a neutral third party’s observations as to how the team interacts and works together as a team. This provides information for the new leader’s direct manager on how he or she can further support the new leader in potentially working with a tougher team or a dysfunctional team.

The stakes for an employer hiring a new manager or leader are high and the timeframe in which to get it right is very short.  Adopting an onboarding process for new leaders that includes mentoring, 30/60/90 day goals and a new manager assimilation facilitated by a third party will lessen the risk of the new leader being added to the statistics of failed leaders.



1,2Best Practices for Onboarding: Ensuring Successful Assimilation:  HCI White Paper By DBM & HCI, April 2011


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