The 5 Most Important Steps for Onboarding New Leaders

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Have you found yourself transitioning into a new leadership role? Are you an HR executive charged with onboarding new leaders? These 5 steps can be applied in any leadership onboarding situation.

There’s a lot to do, but these steps can empower you to do it all.

For any company—large or small, brand-new or well-established—it can be difficult to bring on a new leader. There are so many factors and steps in the process. New leaders have to build relationships with stakeholders, figure out short-term and long-term goals for themselves and their teams, and so much more—all while learning the ins and outs of a new company. 

With so much needed for new leaders to succeed, it’s no wonder that up to 70% of them fail within the first 18 months (Forbes). To ensure success in your new leadership position, or for your company’s new leader, make sure you have an efficient onboarding process.

I have worked as an HR director for multiple corporations, coached leaders through their new roles, and provided invaluable support to companies as they bring on new leaders and develop succession plans. Over the decades of my work in talent development and leadership onboarding, I have distilled my experience into 5 digestible steps to improve your onboarding process. 

Create clear short-term objectives. 

Depending on how long it’s been since the start of the hiring process, there could be changes that have taken place within the organization. Make sure that whatever you discuss during the hiring process still holds true for the leadership position today, as they move forward into this new role. Provide some direction and clarity as you empower the new leader to establish their priorities and objectives for the first 90 days in the position.

Establish structured learning processes. 

When I was working in HR for various organizations, one of the things I would do with new team members is I laid out a very clear plan, especially for those first two weeks. Before getting started with the new leader, I made sure to answer these questions: What are the things they need to learn about the organization? How are we going to accomplish that, and who will support them in that journey? Figure out what you will teach them, how you will get the information to them, and who will be delivering the information.

Prioritize stakeholder engagement. 

In order to properly lay out a clear plan for the new leader, you need to include the people who matter. Who do they need work with? Who is going to be critical to their success in the role? Establish who those key stakeholders are and their role in the organization. If at all possible, set up interviews and conversations with those people in advance of the person actually joining the company. That first week with the new leader will be so much easier with these steps out completed first.

Find an onboarding buddy. 

Assign somebody in the organization to assist your new leader—someone who can really be that person that they can go to, to ask questions can help them to navigate the organization, and know who the key people are. And just to be somebody to check in with when they have a simple question, like where to locate something, or questions that maybe aren’t worth going to their manager about.

Have a virtual team building exercise. 

One of the things that has worked for me in many past leadership onboarding situations, and that I continue to do with new leaders now, is facilitating a leader assimilation process. That may sound like a Star Wars reference—assimilator—but it is a fantastic opportunity to empower your new leadership to succeed, and you can do the assimilation process virtually or in person. Both are great options. I’ve done virtual and face-to-face facilitations of this process, and it is extremely helpful to both the leader and the organization. 

First, go through a series of questions. There’s eight different questions that you ask the team without the leader present. Then you bring the leader back into the room and go through a debrief with them, discussing the things you heard from the team and pulling out those key themes so that the leader in a can address all of those concerns at one time. In today’s context, it’s vital that the leader has a way to virtually meet their team. 

How to implement these steps in your organization

You may know that I do coaching for leaders that are jumping into these new roles. The big part for us is to make sure that they have an effective coach to support them on that journey. Inevitably, things will come up that will require them to check in with someone. And it may not be easy for them to do that within the organization. Even just having someone externally to bounce ideas off of, or to hear them say how they’re viewing things and to share back with them, can be infinitely beneficial to a new leader. 

The easiest way to ensure your new leaders, and your company, are empowered to succeed is to hire a coach who specializes in leadership onboarding, corporate transitions, and succession planning. Make sure your leadership is in good hands with Talent Activators.

More From Talent Activators

Subscribe to the Talent Activators YouTube channel, where you will have access to even more information and insights. We publish something new each Thursday. I know you’ll enjoy the series that is coming up next. It’s all about the Talent Activators PLANS Method™, and how you can use that to integrate into a new role—whether you’re with an organization or you’re coming in from the outside.

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