Active Leadership Onboarding

Selecting and hiring a new team member frequently brings me a sense of completion and excitement at having a new colleague to work with. It is the end of a long search having found someone who will make our team better, who will improve our organisation and take us to new places. Now they will need your help and support with their leadership transition.

At the same time, it is also the very start of a long process of adjustment. One that from personal experience tends to be neglected and left to the new joiner to figure out. Not only is the new team member going through a transition to a new role with much to learn, so are their peers who are adapting to a new colleague. If they are a leader, their direct reports all now have a new manager to understand. New vendors or customers to work with. There may be country changes to manage on an international move, also leading to changes at home for any family. Even within the same company, office cultures can differ significantly. Leaving a new employee to work this out alone – whether new to the company or an internal mover – leaves far too much to chance.

A Planned Transition Process

Taking an active approach to helping new colleagues onboard to your team improves their chances of being successful, sooner, and reduces the downside risks of them falling into underperformance.

For my own transitions I have often worked through Michael Watkins book, The First 90 Days and that also forms the foundation for how I work my new leaders on their onboarding process. A new leader needs to take ownership of their own move, recognising and acknowledging the challenges and changes ahead. Taking the time to work through any such methodology is a strong sign that your new employee is conscious of their need to learn and adapt.

Reading provides some good inspiration but is clearly insufficient if not paired with action. I strongly encourage all new staff to familiarise themselves quickly with their people, the working dynamic & relationships in the team, performance, customer and vendor relationships and from there build their own plan for the coming weeks and months.

In that plan, I come back to Watkins’s message on getting to success through focusing on quick wins that also support your medium to long term strategy. Change for changes sake is not progress. Making conscious positive change though that signals a new leader’s style and expectations while laying the foundation for bigger future goals can be very powerful. That combination requires forethought on what a company or team requires together with what the new leader wants to achieve. It is also a critical touchpoint for the new leader with their direct manager to take one on one discussions on shaping or aligning on the plan.

A Transition Buddy

While the main responsibility for successful start up falls to the new leader and their direct manager, there is no need for this path to be taken alone. I find it beneficial to assign new leaders a ‘buddy’, likely a peer, to help me in achieving the goal of successful performance for the new joiner sooner. Buddy selection depends on a range of factors – are we coaching a new leader on their first time as a leader of others, helping an experienced employee adapt to working in a new office & country, supporting a leader who is taking over a dysfunctional team – and how the personal chemistry is between the two people in question. As useful as it can be for the new joiner to have an extra supporter to work with, it also creates an excellent development opportunity for the buddy to improve their coaching and mentoring skills.

In Summary

Successful onboarding covers a huge range of factors and there is no silver bullet which guarantees that a new hire will reach highly successful performance. The points mentioned here though are part of an approach that can help in setting your new joiner up for success – and creating the opportunities for our staff to be successful is the responsibility of all leaders.

To summarise:

  • Be active in helping the new colleague onboard.
  • Have them work to a transition plan.
  • Focus on quick wins for the new leader.
  • Ensure the new leader takes responsibility for their own transition.
  • Support the new leader with a peer transition buddy.
  • Provide coaching support to your new leader.

Additional reading:

Leadership Interview: James Wroe my Leadership Transition Coaching Journey

Watkins, The First 90 Days (Book Summary PDF)

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