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updated: 3/15/2019 3:03 PM

Executive onboarding for success

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While executive training is a crucial part of continued leadership development, that training is best started at the very beginning with a strong executive onboarding program. Onboarding is a critical activity, regardless of the role or position. For new executives, it's even more critical to encourage employee engagement and improve retention.

Some companies feel that previous experience can carry new execs through any situation. However, a crucial competency of a successful leader is understanding and harnessing the power of the corporate culture. Having cultural alignment across the organization that's directed by leadership results in happier customers, better ideas, and more engaged employees.

Consider these guidelines for implementing a specialized program to effectively onboard senior leaders:

Outline onboarding expectations: The new exec, who is focused on making a strong impression, may not wish to appear confused or uncertain, and in some cases there may be no supervisor to ask. Determine in advance the onboarding process and expectations.

Identify the values, mission, and struggles the organization faces: An in-depth look at your company's business and market position helps provide context. It is also important to analyze the culture and people. How do employees interact? How are processes completed?

These questions and unique perspectives will provide a complete 360-degree view for your executive. Since it takes time to learn about a new organization and all its unique facets, it is important that the executive fully understands the organization before making any decisions.

To assist with this understanding, it may be beneficial to provide a coach for day-to-day advice on decisions before they are made. This coach should be an expert in the political and cultural environment.

Create relationships with stakeholders: Onboarding activities should carry a heavy focus on meeting key stakeholders. Discussion guides can help prepare execs in advance. Remember, these meetings are not just to build a knowledge base; they are essential in building trust, a sense of shared understanding, and a common culture.

Check in regularly: It is important to have frequent check-ins with the executive. Ask the executive if he or she is beginning to feel comfortable in the new role, what is needed, and how you can help. Perhaps the executive is excelling in one area, but needs more work in another. You can revise the learning objectives and goals by communicating regularly.

Onboard executives well and you'll greatly enhance your chances of making true organizational strides. As with all onboarding programs, be patient. At a minimum, it requires six months for an executive to be fully integrated into the new role. A one-year onboarding program is ideal. Onboarding your new executive will ensure a more positive introduction and experience, and ultimately help your organization run efficiently.

• Beth Mathison is the Director of Member Relations at MRA -- The Management Association. Visit or follow MRA on LinkedIn:, Facebook:, or Twitter: @MRA_HR_Pros.