When it comes to executive onboarding, the difference between success and failure often comes down to following eight essential steps. They are really just common sense. So it never ceases to amaze that more people don’t follow them:
- Position yourself for success heading into a new job
- Leverage the Fuzzy Front End between accepting and starting
- Take control of Day One
- Activate ongoing communication
- Get alignment around a Burning Imperative
- Drive operational accountability
- Start strengthening the organization
- Extend onboarding efforts well beyond your first 100-Days
Underpinning all of these are the basics of leadership and culture. As John Lawler puts it in the executive summary of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (request a copy of the executive summary):
In many respects, leadership is an exercise in building culture. However you define it, culture is the glue that holds organizations together. It may be the only truly sustainable competitive advantage and the root cause of every merger’s success or failure.
Executive onboarding is a crucible of leadership. If you want to reduce the odds of ending up as one of the 40% who fail in their first 18 months in a new role, do these eight things:
1. Position yourself for success heading into a new job
As you start to position yourself for success heading into a new job, remember that leadership is personal. Your message is the key that unlocks personal connections. The greater the congruence between your own preferences across behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, environment and the new culture you enter or create, the stronger those connections will be.
2. Leverage the Fuzzy Front End between accepting and starting
Everything new leaders do and say and don’t do and don’t say sends powerful signals, starting well before they even walk in the door. So jump-start your approach, message, relationships, set up and 100-day action plan.
3. Take control of Day One
Our brains remember information “presented first and last, and have an inclination to forget the middle items.” People will remember vividly their first impressions of you and their last interaction with you. Although you can update their last interaction constantly, you are going to be stuck with those first impressions – many of which will be formed on first day.
4. Activate ongoing communication
Because we live in the midst of a communication revolution, the guidelines for communicating are changing dramatically. As much as you would like to treat communication as a logical, sequential, ongoing communication campaign, in many cases, you must manage it as an iterative set of concurrent conversations.
5. Get alignment around a Burning Imperative
Experienced, successful leaders inevitably say that getting people aligned around a vision and values (purpose) and focused on urgent business matters are the most important things they have to do—and often the most difficult during their first 100-days. Get it done and use it as your moment to pivot from converging into the team to co-creating the next stage of its evolution.
6. Drive operational accountability
The real job of a high-performing team’s leader is to inspire and enable others to do their absolute best, together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. These leaders spend more time integrating across than managing down. Do this by implementing a milestone management tool that focuses on mapping and tracking who is doing what, by when and managing it as a team.
7. Start strengthening the organization
Of all the tools in your toolbox, putting people in the right roles is one of the most powerful. It is also the most explosive. As you seek to evolve (or shock!) the culture, these moves will be the most decisive and will have the greatest impact. Use your first 100-days in a new job to get ready and to start seeding changes, knowing that the #1 regret of experienced leaders is not moving fast enough on people.
8. Extend onboarding efforts well beyond your first 100-Days
Keep going. Keep Building. Continue the never-ending evolution of your strategies, operations, and organization adjusting to changes in your situation or ambitions to accelerate through points of inflection as appropriate.
 Kevin Kelly, CEO of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, discussing the firm’s internal study of 20,000 searches – As quoted by Brooke Masters in “Rise of a Headhunter,” Financial Times (March 30, 2009).
 Elizabeth Hilton, “Differences in Visual and Auditory Short-Term Memory,” Indiana University South Bend Journal 4 (2001).