By Marji McClure
Fortunately, executives are increasingly recognizing the connection between onboarding and their career success. Ultimately, their success or failure in a new position will depend on how well they complete their onboarding program and assimilate themselves into the culture and processes of their new organization.
Typically, onboarding processes receive the most attention during the first 100 days of an executive’s job, as evidenced by the focus currently being placed on the progress of President Obama during his first few months in office. While most executives won’t face the scrutiny that Obama undoubtedly will as he works to translate campaign promises into early wins, most recognize how their first 100 days will define them as a leader and provide the framework for their tenure.
“The first 100 days sets the tone of an executive’s leadership and how he or she is going to be received by the rest of the organization, which determines his or her long-term success,” says Dilip Saraf, executive, career and life coach at California-based Career Transitions Unlimited.
Yet, because executives want their tenure to last, they need to also forge a strong connection between their first 100 days on the job (which is usually the main focus of onboarding) and their second 100 days. As important as that solid 100-day plan is, an even broader outline for their goals and objectives for their new company is a must.
“Executives must start with the organization’s purpose,” says George Bradt, managing director of PrimeGenesis and co-author of Onboarding — How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time. “That informs the organization’s objectives, the department’s objectives and their long-term objectives.” With those, executives can then create a two-year plan, a one-year plan, a 100-day plan and a six-month plan, he notes.
“Onboarding never ends,” adds Bradt. “It’s all about the pursuit of mastery. The minute you think you’ve arrived, you’re on the way down. Executives need to keep onboarding until they start onboarding into their next role.”
An Ongoing Onboarding Plan
At the end of the first 100 days of their current role, executives should be nearly ready to implement the change plan they have formulated in their first months on the job, says Saraf. “As they enter their second 100 days, they should be well underway with their changes and getting everyone’s support and cooperation as the change is executed,” he continues.
Executives need to continue learning as much as they can about a company and its stakeholders so they can craft and modify their plan to address pressing organizational issues. They must build upon the fact-finding mission (learning about a company’s goals and objectives as well as its employees’ wants and needs) that usually defines an executive’s first 100 days. “Even after the first 100 days, the new executive should never stop asking questions and learning about the business and the co-workers personally,” says Peter Rosen, president of Atlanta-based HR Strategies & Solutions.
“Typically, at the end of the first 100 days, executives must have a plan that integrated what their boss had in mind before their arrival and what they have learned during this initial period,” says Saraf. “This plan must include all that can be done in the first year (before the performance review) with timelines, tasks, responsibilities and assumptions.”
Creating a strong action plan and getting buy-in for the components of that plan during the first 100 days certainly sets the tone for an executive’s second 100 days and beyond. Scott Eblin, executive coach and author of The Next Level, says that leaders should be able to identify early wins that can be launched during the first 100 days and completed during the second 100 days on the job. “These wins should provide a platform for initiating work on the ‘A’ list priorities that will begin to move the team toward accomplishing the two- to three-year strategic objectives,” says Eblin.
Building Relationships, Securing Buy-In
The success of a plan hinges on how well an executive builds relationships with his team and garners buy-in for ideas. This framework should begin during the first 100 days and continue through the next 100.
Rosen agrees how a plan should be developed more as “an ongoing fluid roadmap” since things can change too fast for a solid plan for the next 100 days to be put in place. “It’s rare that anyone’s first 100 days go perfectly, so I have found that an effective way to earn trust is to publicly address those issues,” says Rosen. “Determining what they are can be done through personal conversations, formal or informal 360s (depending on the history and culture), boss or mentor’s input. Addressing them becomes a big part of the next 100 days.”
Saraf notes the experience of a recent client hired by a Fortune 100 company. This executive was brought in to help the company change how it conducted its business, yet despite a mandate from the CEO, he encountered resistance from others within the company. So he formed strong relationships with key administrative and support personnel during his first 100 days.
“They started helping him with ‘inside’ information to avoid certain traps and forewarning him about those planning to resist his initiatives,” says Saraf. “Pretty soon, he was able to use this knowledge to avoid these traps and start accomplishing what he set out to do. Without this simple and critical relationship, he would have been out of that company in about six months. Once good relationships are built, they can be harvested long-term.”
Yet moving the team toward its goals can provide a great challenge for leaders as they continue their tenure. Linda Dominguez, CEO and executive strategist for Executive Coaching and Resource Network Inc., stresses how you can’t actually motivate other people; they have to do that themselves. “But you can, as a leader, create an environment of motivation for others that will sustain the momentum gained through onboarding,” says Dominguez. She suggests working with team members to build a custom-fit motivation plan, keeping in mind what motivates you may not motivate others.
Determining an individual’s motivating factors (recognition, control, security and quality are just some that Dominguez highlights) can be accomplished through a DISC assessment or by just asking individuals what they believe motivates them, explains Dominguez. “Once you’ve identified the motivating factors for each individual, have them identify motivational opportunities with your help,” says Dominguez. “Then, check in during one-on-one sessions to see how well their motivational factors are working for them and tweak, when necessary.”
Your Team’s Next 100 Days
Just as executives need to manage their own onboarding, they need to play an equally integral role in the continued onboarding of their employees. Experts agree that this can prove to be quite a challenge.
“It’s not so much that executives need to ensure that direct reports maintain the momentum gained by an organization’s onboarding program as it is that the leader should make sure the onboarding program fits with their long-term plans for that new direct report,” says Bradt. “It is the leader’s responsibility to create a plan for the individuals’ second 100 days and third 100 days and fourth and so on. They should offer stretch assignments, and they should always expect too much from new employees, letting them grow into those expectations over time.”
Bradt notes how onboarding can sometimes become intermingled with other processes related to new employees and that executives need to ensure their organization’s onboarding program is complete and effectively guides new hires. “The fundamental flaw with the way many organizations handle onboarding today is that they split recruiting, orienting and ongoing management into discrete pieces, with different people managing each other and often failing to coordinate across the pieces,” says Bradt.
Saraf says that some companies invest more time in the recruitment process, leaving little time for proper onboarding. “Hiring managers rationalize their lack of time for new employee onboarding by looking back on all the time they spend on this process, starting with posting the job opening, and convince themselves that the new hire is armed with sufficient information to hit the ground running,” says Saraf. “Studies show that nearly 30 percent of the hires (at manager or director level) do not work out, and many of them end up leaving in the first year. Worse yet, the rest simply check out and just stay on the job rather than in it.”
“Ideally, the hiring manager should be clear about the objectives and what success looks like in a two- to threeyear time frame and not just the first 100 or 200 days,” says Eblin. “With the 24- to 36-month strategic objectives identified, it then becomes easier for everyone to ‘reverse engineer’ back from those objectives and determine a broad outline of what needs to be accomplished and when.”
The Next 100 Days Until a New Job
Bradt notes how onboarding is comprised of stages that are marked by the gates of first contact, offer, acceptance and start. Executives need to start preparing before they even make that first contact with a potential employer, according to Bradt. “Before contact and offer, their only mission is to get the offer. The time between offer and acceptance is all about due diligence and negotiating,” explains Bradt. “The time between acceptance and start is a great chance to jump-start learning and relationships and craft their message so they can focus on building the team over their first 100 days and beyond.”
One of the most important points to consider is, while you will be enthusiastic about a new position and confident you can succeed, you have to recognize that it will still be a challenge to know what action items your second 100 days on the job will include; you don’t want to promise too much and risk disappointing yourself and others.