Leadership transitions are some of the toughest challenges people face – professionally and personally. Nearly half of new leaders fail in their first 18 months. Often, those failures are the result of mistakes made in the very beginning that can be devastating for organizations and leaders alike. This is why onboarding is one of the most important crucibles of leadership.

This article proposes a framework for how you can take charge, build your team and deliver better results faster than anyone thought possible. It’s about leveraging four ideas across the five stages of onboarding to get done in your first 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months.

The stages are before your first contact, and then between contact and offer, between offer and acceptance, between acceptance and start, and after your start.

The four ideas are


  1. Get a head start
  2. Manage the message
  3. Set direction and build the team.
  4. Sustain momentum and deliver results


Before first contact

Those that wait until their first day to start their new jobs are well behind the curve. Onboarding begins before your first contact with any prospective employers. Before then, figure out what you want and how to position yourself.


  1. Think through your personal likes/dislikes as your raw data.
  2. Determine your ideal job criteria
  3. Choose your long-term goals
  4. Create options
  5. Choose between your options by comparing them to your ideal job criteria and long-term goals.
  6. Do a gut check. Write down your answer. Sleep on it. Look at it in the morning. If it feels wrong, you lied to yourself on your weighting of ideal job criteria.


Click here to request a free copy of our job search tips, elaborating on this.

The other thing to do before contacting anyone is to clarify your own positioning. Don’t aim to be generally acceptable. Find the 90/10 positioning that 90% of prospects reject on the first read of your credentials and 10% have to have. You’d rather come in first 1/10 times and last 9/10 than second 6/10 and never first.

Between contact and offer

At this stage you’re selling. Everything you do and say, including your questions, has to be designed to get you an offer. Prepare to ace the only three interview questions:


  1. Will you love the job? (Motivation)
  2. Can you do the job? (Strengths)
  3. Can we tolerate working with you? (Fit)


Between offer and acceptance

Here, the tables turn. Flip from selling to buying and do a real due diligence. Dig in to get answers to three questions:


  1. What is the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage? (To get at organizational risk.)
  2. Did anyone have concerns about this role; and, if so, what was done to mitigate them? (To get at role risk.)
  3. What, specifically, about me, led the organization to offer me the job? (To get at personal risk.)


Pull your answers together to decide if your overall risk is low, manageable, mission-crippling, or insurmountable with the appropriate actions on your part. You may want to read more about our tool to assess onboarding risk.

Between acceptance and start

At this point you’ve made the choice – but you haven’t started yet. There’s a temptation to take a deep breath and relax. Don’t do that. What you do next, what you do before Day One can make all the difference. So, choose the right approach for your situation, draft a plan, and get a head start.


  • Choose the right approach for your situation based on the culture and context, assimilating in converging and evolving or shocking the system as appropriate.
  • Draft a 100-day plan, mapping your stakeholders, thinking through your message, and then laying out a timeline for getting set up, jump-starting relationships, learning and working through day one, and your first 100-days.


After the start

Now and only now are you ready to begin:


  • Manage your entry and your message per your plan.
  • Get buy in to the one burning IMPERATIVE.
  • Use key MILESTONES to drive team performance.
  • Invest in EARLY WINS to build team confidence.
  • Get the right people in the right ROLES with the right support.
  • Shape the team culture with ongoing COMMUNICATION.
  • Continue to sustain momentum and deliver results by adjusting along the way.


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #608) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.