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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


“Wow, I never saw this coming. How in the world did our new CEO fail so quickly? I thought this guy was perfect for the job; he looked bullet proof to me. By the way, do you see any egg on my face?” said the chairman of the board with a pinch of gallows humor.

His fellow board member and friend shook her head empathetically. “Well, he never seemed to grasp our situation fully and make the strides we expected. His style was a far cry from what I thought it would be, and by the time we realized there was a problem, it seems that he was already too far down the path to derailment,” she said. “It’s going to cost us a bundle to fix this mess. I guess hindsight is always 20-20.”

Studies of failure rates for newly hired executives range from 30-50% within eighteen months. The all-in cost of these failures has been estimated at 10 times the annual salary of these executives.

Surprised? How could a mistake with this magnitude of financial consequences happen this frequently? More to the point, how can you avoid this high probability of failure in your organization?

The answer is an effective “onboarding” process for the newly hired executive. The onboarding process is designed to facilitate and accelerate an executive’s early success in an organization. Onboading programs have been designed to last from a few months to two years in duration.

More specifically onboarding is designed to assist the executive in three main areas: 1) Understanding the organization, 2) Building effective relationships, and 3) Meeting performance expectations.

“Understanding the organization,” obviously includes the need to be aware of products, services, strategy, operations, etc. but perhaps less obviously the need to be aware of the historical organizational culture. While an executive may be charged with “taking the organization to a new level,” he or she can step on cultural landmines of “how things are done around here” that can lead to a failure to implement needed changes.

“Building effective relationships” has several components. One of the most important of these is that executives have a solid understanding of their own strengths, weaknesses, and style. Initially this can be achieved through a combination of interviewing and testing with results fed back to the executive. Later (e.g., after 6 months) you can use a 360 feedback process to provide ongoing feedback to the executive. Important stakeholder relationships that deserve attention are those with the board, the senior staff, and key customer/client relationships. Without successful relationships in these key areas, an executive cannot truly be successful.

“Meeting performance expectations” also includes several considerations. For example, executives need clarity in their roles and limits of authority, and they also need clear measurements upon which their performance is evaluated. In addition, executives must evaluate their current team with an eye toward whether they have the right people in the right places to meet their performance goals for the organization.

The best onboarding results are often achieved with the help of a skilled external consultant. This kind of executive coach can stay focused solely of the goals of the onboarding program without the limitations of an organizational perspective constrained by being “part of the system” or by any personal agenda or goals for the organization that potentially may cause conflicts of interest with onboarding and organizational performance goals.


Technique#1: Invest in an onboarding program for key executive new hires; the ROI makes the cost a mere pittance.

Technique #2: Make sure that the desirable outcomes for your onboarding program are clear and consensual before proceeding.

Technique #3: Retain a skilled and objective external executive coach to guarantee yourself the best probability of success for your onboarding process.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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