Onboarding – Transition Agenda for Executives

Entering a new organization in a senior position can feel like the proverbial “dog that caught the car.” This is a post for leaders in transition by a leader in transition, sharing in hopes of making your move better for you and those depending on you.

You’ve prepared and pursued a consequential opportunity that has some hope and promise. You’ve likely left a position of strength, a context you understood, a reputation, and a team of people. Now, amidst the congratulations and feelings of achievement, you must make the transition effectively for your vision to become a reality. Like your past successes, your future success will be constructed upon not only what you bring to the party, but also upon your understanding of the context, your ability to earn trust and influence in the relationships you form, and the choices you make about priorities and how to expend resources. While evidence is mixed on whether it is rational to evaluate new leaders by performance in the first 90 to 100 days – clearly it varies by role – it is clear that transitions into positions of significance carry expectations that new leaders must acknowledge. It is also clear that your actions – or lack there of – impact your team and other stakeholders from day 1.

I’m in a period of transition myself. After 8 years of progressive leadership responsibility with an organization, leading talent and HR, I’m in transition from a place of being well established to what’s next. While I’ve planned and contributed to the onboarding of many leaders joining the organizations in which I led, a recent experience provided additional insight into how consequential transitions can be. I was asked to present how I plan to approach onboarding at the final stage of a selection process for a CHRO position for a firm that was: (1) planning a large acquisition, (2) working through a previous merger that occurred before the on-set of the C19 pandemic, and (3) joining a very impressive international team who are committed to delivering a challenging plan. The opportunity didn’t materialize in the end as the acquisition wasn’t successful, but the work that I put into preparing was very well received and has been valuable in several forums where I have shared it as an example. I hope the underlying approach will be helpful to you.

When planning to onboard a new team member into an organization, there are many things that the organization will (or should) provide and likely has owners for (e.g., INFOSEC, travel profiles, electronics and systems access). There are areas of orientation that process owners and hiring managers within organizations are accustomed to brief and transition leaders into (e.g., company culture and history, policies / processes / tools). However, the transition agenda and “story arc” priorities for a leader’s appointment must be owned by the leader in transition. It is you who will be judged by the choices made in this period. It is you communicating with the first data points of your time in role to the stakeholders you serve.

In preparing to present my onboarding proposal and transition plan, I revisited the resources in my library and did some research for examples and templates, finding many helpful inputs (see below). I did not find a simple synthesis that I felt comfortable presenting to a selection committee, so I made one. In the end, the core came together in three steps / views for me.

  1. Objectives for the transition period. What do you want for yourself and your stakeholders in this period to form a foundation for your tenure?

2. Break down the transition period into addressable parts, what objectives will you prioritize in each period? What will you focus on to know, do and value and in what sequence? What choices / decisions do you plan to make and in what timing (to set and manage expectations)?

For step 2, having a view on the business calendar to understand key milestones in the planning cycle (e.g., budgeting, talent review, strategy and board reviews) along with the status of key projects / decision points is critical.

3. Plan activities to deliver on the planned commitments and achieve the objectives set in steps 1 & 2. This is where you commit time on calendars and enlist others into the agenda.

Plans are a starting point for actions. They will change. By having this foundational work prepared, you will be able to enlist available resources and activities in service to your objectives. You will have clarity on your priorities. You are prepared to show great respect to the team you will lead and demonstrate your commitment to delivering for your stakeholders.

Add to the conversation – what can you share to help those of us in transition? What have you experienced that has made a significant difference?

Helpful Resources:

Why the First 100 Days Really Matters – M.D. Watkins, HBR, 2009

It Really Isn’t About 100 days – McKinsey Organization Blog, 2017

The First 100 Days of Leadership – xquadrant.com

Advice for CHROs: Architect Your Transition into Your New Role – Russell Reynolds Associates Whitepaper

The First 90 Days – M.D. Watkins, 2013

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