The most important new ideas coming out of last week’s Conference Board Onboarding Lab include 1) Deploying a systemic integrated approach to onboarding, 2) Personalizing onboarding efforts and 3) Not leading until you’ve earned the right to lead.

I helped lead last week’s session along with authors Ed Betof, Michael Watkins, Mark Stein and Lilith Christiansen (the authors’ books are listed below).  Participants in the lab included the heads of talent management, recruiting and onboarding from a number of blue chip companies (also listed below).

Here are the three main takeaways for organizations and leaders:

  1. Deploy a systemic integrated approach to onboarding – Get key stakeholders aligned before starting to recruit, and then integrate recruiting, hiring, operational, assimilation and management practices;
  2. Personalize onboarding efforts – Match the level of support to the risks and complexity inherent in the organizational and personal transition;
  3. Leaders must earn the right to lead – Even with onboarding support, leaders moving into new roles must remember, and must be helped to remember, not to lead until they have earned that right.

The business case for onboarding is proven. Reducing the 40 percent failure rate for new leaders and accelerating their time to productivity are doable. Thus, shame on organizations that are not using at least some of the available tools to do so.

Old forgotten rowboat in Utajärvi, Finland.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Systemic Integration

Both Watkins and I discussed the importance of systemic integration. Watkins has started to link recruiting, assessment and executive onboarding processes. I pushed the necessity of having the hiring manager lead onboarding efforts from aligning the organization before starting to recruit, through talent acquisition, accommodation, assimilation and acceleration.

Stein, Christiansen and their co-presenter Kate Ebner argued the importance of onboarding people through their entire first year. As one participant put it, “It’s about executive movements.” Enough people fail in new jobs because of poor hand-offs along the way to make integration compelling.

Personalized Onboarding Efforts As Appropriate

New leaders need different levels of help based on the complexity of the organizational transition they are being called upon to lead, and the complexity of their own personal transition. Watkins has pioneered an approach to deploy different levels of assistance in different situations. As one leader put it, “Customization is the key to adoption.”

  • If the organizational and personal transitions are both complex, leaders need full onboarding transition help – particularly if people are making multiple transitions in parallel, switching across jobs, functions, companies, countries, cultures and the like
  • If the organizational transition is complex and the personal transition is relatively simple, leaders need moderate onboarding transition help
  • If the organizational transition is simple and the personal transition is complex, leaders need developmental coaching
  • If the organizational and personal transitions are both simple, leaders can get by with limited support beyond a mentor

Converging and Evolving

One of my main contributions to the conversation centered on converging and evolving. New leaders cannot lead until they have earned that right. See last week’s article on “The Cure for Incompetent Onboarding” for more on this.

People involved in onboarding must converge and evolve to mitigate fit, delivery and adjustment risks. This is a way to get around what Betof describes as “The New Leader’s Dilemma” of high expectations for results coupled with low levels of patience. The art is in timing the pivot from converging (becoming part of the team) to evolving (initiating change) since it’s different for every individual and every situation.

Onboarding is a crucible of leadership

Almost by definition, onboarding into a new leadership role changes all that are involved. It certainly changes those being led. It changes the leader himself or herself. And it changes those helping and supporting the new leader.

It’s not just a transactional or acculturation event. It is a transformational event and should be treated as such by all involved. As John Deere’s Kim Goodley told us, involvement by all makes them “appreciate that (they are) working for a great company.”


Ed Betof is author of “Just Promoted! A Twelve Month Roadmap for Success in Your New Leadership Role

Michael Watkins is author of “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels”, “Your Next Move” and “Right from the Start”

Mark Stein and Lilith Christiansen are co-authors of “Successful Onboarding: A Strategy to Unlock Hidden Value within Your Organization.”


George Bradt is co-author of “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan”, “Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time” and “The Total Onboarding Program”



Companies in attendance: ADP, American Securities Corporation, Boeing, Booz Allen, Caterpillar, Charles Schwab, Cox Communications, Credit Suisse, Eaton, Environmental Resources Management, Erie Insurance Group, Estee Lauder, FedEx, Google, Gregorian University, Iron Mountain, Jafra Cosmetics International, John Deere, JPMorgan Chase, Kohl’s, Libery Mutual, Met Life, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Millenium, PDI Ninth House, Pharmexecel Holdings, Prophet, Qualcomm, The Aerospace Corporation, TIAA/CREF, United Airlines



This is a critical part of step 9 of The New Leader’s PlaybookSecure ADEPT People in the Right Roles and Deal with Inevitable Resistance

Make your organization ever more ADEPT by Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent:

  • Acquire: Recruit, attract, and onboard the right people
  • Develop: Assess and build skills and knowledge
  • Encourage: Direct, support, recognize, and reward
  • Plan: Monitor, assess, plan career moves over time
  • Transition: Migrate to different roles as appropriate