How to Effectively Onboard New Executive Leaders in a Remote World

How to Effectively Onboard New Executive Leaders in a Remote World

Working remotely in and of itself is not a new concept. However, remote onboarding with a distributed workforce and limitations on the ability to interact face-to-face is a more recent development – and one that didn’t allow for much planning ahead of time. The remote nature of the world we currently find ourselves living can be particularly challenging for newly-hired executives who may not be able to meet their team in-person for months and who have not had the opportunity to visit the office and experience its culture live. While some individuals may choose to go ahead and make those real-life connections, it’s a personal choice that is not frequently possible, at least for the foreseeable future.

These circumstances call for the need to rethink our traditional ways of doing business, onboarding talent, and managing employee performance – especially when the success of your executive talent ties directly to the success of your organization. After all, companies put so much effort into finding, assessing, and recruiting top talent. That momentum needs to continue post-hire to ensure the placement has a long-term, impactful, and successful career with your company.

The Problem

Onboarding is a given when it comes to more junior talent within an organization, but it seems to fall off the priority list as you move up the ladder. In fact, a 2019 survey by BlueSteps found that a majority of executives in the United States received little or no formal workplace onboarding in their most recent roles. Further, by career level, CEOs and presidents are the least likely to receive formal onboarding and training. Those that do receive some sort of onboarding rate the experience as mediocre, with an average score of 59/100 – that means there is a lot of room for improvement in setting up new executive hires for success.

How Did We Get Here?

It’s a given that new hires will meet with IT to receive their computer and passwords, meet with HR to discuss benefits and do paperwork, go through mandatory compliance training, and get a basic introduction to the team. Unfortunately, this type of onboarding is where many companies call it a day. Most organizations want their executives to start adding value as quickly as possible and to focus on the strategic initiatives they were recruited to address. Further, companies may think that capable CxOs should be able to quickly adapt to their new work environment and not require much guidance. Or they may think they are doing the new hire a favor by providing the opportunity for them to reform the team or department to better accommodate their own working style. As such, new leadership talent is frequently left on their own to figure out how things work with little or no guidance, often leaving them to struggle up the learning curve.

Interestingly, most organizations believe that they are indeed integrating their executives effectively. But as HR Executive says, “While improving employee onboarding has been a popular topic in recent years, [we are reminded] that there’s a performance-preparation gap in priority setting, work-culture acclimatization, and relationship building that could have a serious effect on a company’s bottom line.”

What Can We Do About It?

‘Onboarding’ is an appropriate term for the process many organizations use now, which covers the administrative tasks and procedural formalities that really just serve to support the new hire. While these areas are important, they do not address hurdles such as company culture, corporate politics, or even the responsibilities of the new hire’s own role. The consequences of relying solely on this approach include extended time to full performance, negatively impacted perceptions of the new hire, and poor talent retention. Further, poorly managed executive transitions can be expensive to the organization. What should really be occurring is an ‘integration’ process, or what Harvard Business Review refers to as “doing what it takes to make the new person a fully functioning member of the team as quickly and smoothly as possible”.

Let’s explore some steps your company can take to more effectively onboard executive talent, particularly in a virtual world.

Develop a Strategy

An effective new leader integration program will guide placements through the most vulnerable and impactful phase of their career transition: the first three months in the role. This time period is even more critical in the case of a fully remote workforce. The focus of such an initiative should be on helping new hires navigate the learning curve, create positive first impressions, assimilate into the work culture, and build meaningful relationships with key stakeholders. The results? Optimized speed to value, improved likelihood to succeed, and a faster return on investment.  

Identify the Potential Stumbling Blocks for New Leaders

There have been several surveys conducted about what senior management-level professionals think is important to learn in their first several months in the new role (but are often not addressed). Following are some of the most common responses:

  • Information on the company’s goals, vision, and strategy
  • Information on leadership structure and how the organization functions, including outlines of internal workflows and processes and insight into how decisions are typically made
  • Overviews of corporate culture and insight into organizational and team dynamics
  • Clear expectations for priorities, objectives, and outcomes in the first 30-90 days

Communicate Early & Often

In a remote work environment, you miss out on organic run-ins in the hallways, informal cups of coffee or lunch with colleagues, and the opportunity to just drop into somebody’s office for a quick question. You now have to be more deliberate to improve the visibility of new executive hires and to help them identify, understand, align with, and build relationships with key stakeholders.

You may also want to incorporate a buddy system into your engagement plan. Assign a peer that the new leader can go to for questions about the business, processes and systems, stakeholders, and culture.

Another key component of communication is feedback. Especially early on in the learning process, there may be elements of miscommunication or misperception that can easily be clarified before impacting the success of the new hire or impairing trust.

Understand the Dynamics of Virtual

Because you lose the organic nature of on-site, in-person training, you need to be more deliberate in designing a structured virtual process.

  • Develop a comprehensive roadmap of priorities, initiatives, and resources to guide the executive in their first several months (and don’t forget to identify opportunities for some quick wins!)
  • Provide a lot of information and documentation and be sure to ask your new leader what data would be most helpful to them.
  • Coordinate video calls with the stakeholders that were identified earlier
  • Create opportunities for new executive talent to engage in and contribute to the company’s culture

Without the proper guidance and support, your new executive talent will struggle. However, per Harvard Business Review, “Well-integrated executives can build momentum early on and reduce the average amount of time to full performance (making critical decisions with the right information in hand and having the right people in place to help execute) by a third, from six months to four.” Connect with us to learn more about how new leader integration programs can accelerate the speed and quality of onboarding new talent.

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