Successful Executive On-boarding – A Leadership Retention Tool

by Etheline Desir & Dominic Ubamadu, FACHE | Atlanta Hospital News

During a recent conference, we ran into one of those young, up and coming military officers and he was all charged up as usual – but this time about his upcoming transfer to a new hospital position at a new location. We asked him if he had ever been there before, he said no and he had not even met his new boss. Rather, the “Sponsorship Program,” overseen by each commander and leader of the various units and agencies, was in gear, taking care of him and his family’s needs. “…Yes, the military is always mission first, but the family comes a close second…” he added. “Months before I get there, my sponsor has helped me identify potential schools, churches and housing arrangements”. On the work side, he had already been matched up with a peer or counterpart. This is the system that has been in place for generations of professional soldiers that allows each one to be the best they can be. The effectiveness of this program stems from the supervision of each leader at every level of the organization, and thus a leadership accountability.

In the civilian sector, we have no such program, but as leaders we are still expected to step forward and guide the new executives toward a similar end – well prepared to hit the ground running so as to achieve maximum organizational effectiveness. We call it Executive on-boarding, the deliberate process of preparing and integrating a new hire or a newly transferred executive to the cur-rent working environment. It begins during the candidate evaluation and selection process and has built in flexibility to respond to the unique needs of the new hire, incorporating both the internal and external environments. Studies continue to demonstrate that the better the on-boarding process, the higher the level of employee engagement and retention. Other sources say that direct and indirect costs associated with a poor hire, or ineffective on-boarding, can reach $600,000 per hire.

Studies have shown that performance tends to improve when a deliberate process with sound transitional strategies is employed to help integrate the new executive into the organization.

As Executive Search Consultants, we partner with our clients, as part of our recruitment and selection process, to help drive the on-boarding process. But no matter what organization we are working with, or how defined their policies might be, the key to an effective on-boarding still rests with the leadership – usually led by the immediate supervisor in conjunction with Human Resources. The most significant time investment is ensuring proper alignment of expectations among the board, CEO, peers and subordinates of the new executive – as applicable.

We also found that it is equally important that the new executive feels welcomed into the community as they are at new job. For example, if an executive is relocating from a city to a rural area, or a diverse candidate going into a majority organization, the Search Consultant, in collaboration with human resources should get a clear understanding of the internal, external, cultural and social factors that could impact the new executive’s assimilation into the organization and the community. Questions that might be addressed include:

How far will the new hire have to travel to find a hair stylist, church, restaurant that satisfies their needs?

• Prior to accepting the position, did they get a sense for the norms of the community?

How will their lifestyle and/or that of their family change?

• What’s the impact of the move on the job of the spouse and school for the children?

• Can they sell their home or will they be responsible for two mortgage payments once the temporary housing allowance has expired?

These are real life situations, if not properly addressed during the on-boarding process, can place undue stress on the new hire. At the Desir Group, we begin to discuss the on-boarding process at the early stages of the search process to uncover anything that could impair performance and tenure.

In a recent search, the hiring manager demonstrated his commitment to the success of the new VP hire, and took the follow-ing additional steps.

• Attained buy-in from the organization’s leadership

• Ensured a memorable candidate experience

• Provided the selectee honest feedback and career advice

• Assigned outside coach, internal mentor and established clearly defined goals and expectations

• Connected the finalist with a like-minded board member

• Extended monthly housing allowance in consideration of today’s housing market;

• Assisted the spouse in securing a position

• Was sensitive to selectee’s start date to facilitate open enrollment benefits

With the escalating cost of hires today, the proper on-boarding of new executive hires is critical and should be viewed as a business imperative. It provides a roadmap upon which the foundation for success is built. The selection of the executive is just one step in the talent acquisition process, but it is critical to develop and implement a plan for the new executive to be able to lead with confidence. Studies have shown that performance tends to improve when a deliberate process with sound transitional strategies is employed to help integrate the new executive into the organization. Adequate support systems and clearly defined goals, as a leadership imperative from the onset, will accelerate the assimilation, and improve the performance and learning curves of the new executive.