onboarding first class

Welcome to your new home away from home.

Author: Steve Tennessen

 Thanks for signing all those forms, here’s your personal ID and a badge.  Now I’ll escort you to your space and later somebody will come by to drop off supplies.  Over there is where we eat, to the right are several common areas and the parking lots are in the back.  You do know we’re meeting up front at 11:00, right?  Well, here we are.  Bathrooms are down the hall on the left, good luck.

Sounds like a standard first day on the job.  Just the basics, throw you right in, no gimmicks.  But do you realize this just as easily describes a new recruit’s first day at boot camp?  That’s not to say the two environments are alike in so many ways, but it makes you think.  Does your onboarding program exemplify the culture of your organization?  How does your engagement set the tone for success and the longevity of your best leaders?

Granted, every organization provides some form of onboarding past the first day.  Let’s even assume most companies instill a focus on action plans, key messages, quick wins and the like.  So let’s explore three higher level concepts that will upgrade second rate onboarding.

Leadership Jump-Start

In today’s fast-paced, competitive economy if your new executive is waiting to get started until his or her first day, they are already behind.  Get them up to speed faster by outlining what your new leader should know before walking in the door on Day One.  In most cases, this means sending him or her various org charts, product dossiers, business plans, and roadmaps, whatever feels appropriate to share early.  The general idea is that data and any sort of “concrete” information are time-consuming to internalize.  Avoid sandbagging your new executive with this tedium during Week One, you’d much rather have them cruising full steam ahead and engaging with others.

Getting in sync with a new team is a mission-critical, often times obscure challenge.  So facilitate enthusiasm and transparency by mobilizing the new executive and his or her team in a group alignment session (led by a nonpartisan moderator).  Start with a round-robin conversation about career motivations, success stories, and personal interests to establish authenticity.  Then with the new leader absent have the team volunteer questions, concerns, unresolved issues and whatever else that tends to undermine teams.  Once everybody has had time to deliberate individually, reunite the group to address major points and set ground-rules for working together.

Network Mapping

No doubt your new executive will spend ample time building relationships with the usual suspects – boss, team, peers, etc.  But these perspectives are unfavorably narrow; enable your leader to see the forest for the trees by co-crafting a framework of other key stakeholders.  Help him or her follow a (visual) roadmap for connecting with board members, inter-department allies, culture “mavens”, technical experts, tenured customers, even vendors.  Encourage these conversations to focus on the story of the organization – where have we been, what got us here, when have we failed, etc.

Peer Mentors

Every distinguished explorer has a trustworthy guide that knows the local terrain – climate changes, the oasis, pitfalls, and the sacred ground.  You want your new executive to successfully (and safely) navigate this unfamiliar landscape, so partner them with a vigilant mentor.  A good match will share relatable war stories and lessons learned, as well as have a sixth sense for unique blind spots.  Select a good communicator from outside the new executive’s domain, ideally from one of the key channels identified while network mapping.  For greater diversity, companies that perform six-month onboarding could even rotate in a second or third mentor.

Wise organizations know how to leverage the power of tribal knowledge and oral tradition.  The best know how to do it at scale.  Larger companies should host a quarterly teleconference or interactive webinar to congregate new leaders and share experiences.  Smaller, familial groups might prefer to convene semi-annually in a roundtable setting, to focus on recent hires as well as leaders who have transitioned into new roles internally.  Tech-savvy organizations could maintain a corporate wiki, record a short video testimonial or even a series of journal entries.

What are you doing to buoy the success of your leaders?