7 ways HR leaders can successfully onboard executives

When onboarding executives, HR can fall into a common trap: thinking that completing hiring documents and signing them up for benefits is all they need to focus on. But that misconception can be costly to the organization and the new executive.

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“We spend a lot of money and effort recruiting senior executives but once the person is recruited, we spend a small fraction of that effort onboarding them,” says Ajit Kambil, senior managing director of executive accelerators for consulting services firm Deloitte. “HR leaders need to be thinking, ‘How can I make this person successful once we bring them on board?’ “

A more strategic executive onboarding experience is particularly important, Kambil says, given that research has found that 40% of executives fail within their first two years with a company.

And new execs want more support. According to a global survey of more than 1,400 executives, only 36% of U.S. and Canadian executives said they received a formal onboarding process; in particular, U.S. executives rated their onboarding process as lackluster, giving it a score of 59 out of 100.

Meanwhile, HR executives, according to a report in the Harvard Business Review, believe their organizations do a good job with basic new hire orientation, including the legal and procedural processes. However, by their acknowledgment, only half of HR leaders find their organizations to be effective at helping new executives and their teams align. And just one-third said they actively assist newly hired executives in adapting to their new organization’s culture and political climate.

That suggests that HR is largely leaving executives to figure out the onboarding and integration journey on their own. As a result, according to the HBR report, it may take an executive six months to reach their full potential in terms of performance, like making critical decisions and having the right team in place, versus four months if they had received greater support from HR early in the onboarding process.

7 ways HR leaders can assist with onboarding executives

Through onboarding, HR leaders can establish a true partnership with newly hired executives to help them execute their talent agenda, says Kambil, author of The Leadership Accelerator. In particular, he points to seven ways HR leaders can strengthen onboarding based on executives’ distinct needs: 

  • Providing help getting the right people in the right seats
  • Offering assistance to built high-performing teams
  • Developing career pathways for an executive’s team to progress
  • Helping the new executive to focus on DEI
  • Showing the new executive the engagement level of their team
  • Creating leadership development opportunities for the executive’s team members
  • Aiding the new executive in understanding the future of the work

However, Kambil estimates that less than 25% of new executives are likely receiving the seven types of HR onboarding assistance he recommends. If HR leaders were to voluntarily approach new executives with an offer to help in these ways, Kambil predicts it would be gladly received.

Indeed. Bob Johnston, CEO of Executive Council, a community of established and rising corporate executives, agrees with Kambil’s assessment.

“Building a bond with new executives can be incredibly helpful,” Johnston tells HRE. “They will need to trust and rely on one another [for] the duration of the executive’s tenure.”

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.