Executive onboarding and transition: the what, why, and who of onboarding programs

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Summary: This article covers the essential fundamentals of executive onboarding, transition, integration, and assimilation including programs and coaching basics for transitioning C-level executives or senior level leaders including CEO, COO, CFO, CTO, CMO, CHRO, Executive Director, CXO, VPs, Division leaders, and Business Unit leaders.

Whether you are hiring a new executive, promoting someone from within your organization, or you are an executive transitioning to a new role yourself, we’ve compiled comprehensive resources to cover all of your questions on executive transitions.

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What is executive onboarding?

Executive onboarding is the process of bringing an executive into a new role and supporting the process of their transition and performance in their new role.

What is an executive onboarding program?

Executive Onboarding Programs support leaders’ transitions into new roles by preventing and addressing important issues common to most new or transitioning executives.

The result of executive onboarding programs is quicker and more effective transition into a new role, culture, and/or team.  Executive onboarding programs prevent executive transition failure and missteps making specialized executive onboarding programs the simplest and most cost-effective strategy to optimizing the success of executive new hires or internal promotions.  

Executive onboarding programs should include a series of events, meetings, coaching, development, feedback, and teambuilding.

Learn more about Avenue to Executive Transition Success which includes all of these elements.

What is executive transition?

An executive transition is the process of an executive moving into and assuming a role.  Executive transitions happen when a leader is promoted from within an organization or when a leader makes a move to a new division, unit, or team.  Executive transitions also occur when a leader is hired from outside of the organization for an executive role.

What is executive assimilation?

A structured learning process designed to introduce and integrate a leader into the culture and relationships of their new team and organization.  The result of the learning process is an understanding about the organization and the team the executive leads.

Learn more about Avenue’s to Executive Assimilation coaching program which includes tools and process to accelerate executive assimilation.

What is executive integration?

A structured program to align expectations between the leader and organization, develop stakeholder relationships and support, reveal critical success factors and common derailers, and build a team.  The goals of executive integration are to accelerate the learning of leaders in transition, to build credibly, diagnose opportunities, create direction, and to gain alignment and commitment through engaging others.

Learn more about Avenue to Executive Transition Success program which includes tools and process to accelerate executive integration.

Why implement executive onboarding and transition programs

There’s a 50% chance a new executive will fail or leave the organization within their first 18 months whether hired externally or promoted internally.1 

These failures happen despite the significant efforts made to hire the right executive.  Searching and hiring for senior executive roles is expensive, often estimated at over two times their annual salary.2

A more significant cost is losing them at 6, 12, or 18 months after hire or promotion.

The cost of an executive failure is significant.  It is 10 times the executive’s salary – sometimes more.

The cause of most transition failures is not poor selection or gaps in technical and managerial competence, but rather what happens during onboarding and assimilation. This stage in the executive hiring process is too often less intentional and strategic than the hiring decision, and often relies on the new executive to successfully navigate assimilation into their new role and organization.

Learn more about the costs of executive transition failure.

Learn more about Avenue to Executive Transition Success best in class executive onboarding program.

1 HBR The Biggest Mistakes New Executives Make by Sabina Nawaz May 15, 2017

2 Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn, There are significant business costs to replacing employees, Center for American Progress, November 2012, americanprogress.org.

Who should participate in an executive onboarding program?

Newly appointed executives and experienced executives who have accepted new, challenging leadership positions in promotional, lateral, developmental, temporary, “turnaround” and start-up assignments. Executive onboarding is particularly relevant and helpful for:

  • Executives hired from another company or industry
  • Newly promoted leaders with expanded responsibilities
  • Leaders transferred from another department or division

In addition to the executive themselves, there are other critical roles of who should participate in an executive onboarding program.  

  • The sponsor, which is usually the hiring manager or board chair, plays an important role in aligning expectations and delivering feedback.  
  • A human resources partner helps align the executive boarding process to the organizations overarching onboarding process and arranges resources to assist the executive that is onboarding.
  • An executive coach guides the executive through onboarding, integration, and assimilation process and supports the executive’s development during the transition.

Learn more about Avenue to Executive Transition Success program for external hires and internal promotions or transfers.

Why an external coach is recommended for executive onboarding

  • Executives benefit greatly from a person who guides other executives through transition often to help them understand the most critical aspects for success and the most common pitfalls.  
  • An executive transition coach is a skilled facilitator with executives and senior teams and can effectively influence senior leaders.  
  • External coaches provide an external to the organization, within-industry, and cross-industry perspectives.

An internal facilitator, by contrast, can find it challenging to deliver frank feedback and direction an executive requires during a transition.  Additionally, executives hesitate to fully disclose what they are experiencing and what support they need to internal consultants.  Finally, in many organizations, executive transition is infrequent.  Often processes and practices need to be created for a fast approaching first day of an executive’s transition.  It can be more efficient and effective to utilize an external resource to deliver highly impactful processes and support.

Contact us to learn more about executive transition and onboarding coaching

Executive transition, onboarding, integration, and assimilation coaching

A proactive approach to ensuring executive transitions are successful and don’t end in failure should include providing the executive an executive transition, onboarding, integration, or assimilation coach.  Executive coaches that assist in role transitions go by many names.  An executive transition coach, executive onboarding coach, executive integration coach, and executive assimilation coach are interchangeable terms.  These coaches all focus on the same things which are:

  • accelerating the value the executive brings to the new role, team, and culture  
  • improving the effectiveness of the executive in the new role

Executive coaching is a one-on-one approach to leader development that is mindset and behavior oriented based on targeted goals or development areas. Executive transition coaches act as a trusted advisor and sounding board in the critical early days of a new executive’s role which are often the most challenging of their career.

Executive transition, onboarding, integration, and assimilation coaching involves working with leaders to:

  • clarify and validate expectations for their roles
  • build relationships with key stakeholders
  • build cohesive teams
  • create a plan of action to achieve positive, visible impact
  • integrate their knowledge, expertise and capabilities into their new leadership role while also addressing development areas

How does coaching support executive onboarding and transition?

Providing a coach to an executive in transition or during onboarding results in:

  • faster speed to effective impact
  • less costly mistakes or pitfalls that slow progress
  • greater executive confidence
  • accelerated learning in situations of change
  • enhanced adaptability
  • increased ability to lead change
  • improved wellbeing

Contact us to learn more about executive transition and onboarding coaching

How do executive coaches collaborate with the organization the executive is a part of?

The Avenue Executive Transition Success program is founded on collaboration between the organization and the executive coach when designing the onboarding and development process for a specific executive by first building upon the onboarding efforts and plans the organization already has in place.  The executive coaches ensure onboarding processes and approaches are aligned and that the organization is supported in the process to be the primary resource during transition.  We provide resources to the organization to help support the executive’s onboarding and prompt organizational resources to offer the executive.  The organization’s human resource department is a key stakeholder in the transition process, and we support them by providing suggestions on what support they can provide to executives during the transition process.  Executive coaches always recommend executives turn to internal resources and facilitators before looking externally as they discover needs.

Learn more about executive onboarding and transitions

Causes and solutions of executive transition failure

Executive onboarding and transition timeline, toolkit, plans, and templates 

Mistakes in executive onboarding and transitions

Top challenges executives face during transition

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