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The Importance of Onboarding

New leaders and new hires alike will benefit from getting to know the teams they'll be working with as quickly as possible.
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Consider that 40 percent of new leaders fail within their first 18 months on the job. Executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry Institute confronts the turbulence leaders face in their first months on the job in Career Playbook: Practical Tips for Executive Onboarding. The e-book suggests that the first 90 days are key for recently hired or promoted leaders.

Or consider, as Anne-Marie Slaughter does in her New York Times review of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, that "the start counts." Slaughter's reference is to Princeton University findings that the first few weeks on campus are crucial for female undergrads in establishing themselves as student leaders. If that principle translates to the business world, the early days in a new position might be even more important for women leaders than their male counterparts.

So what should those initial weeks look like for new leaders--whether they're in the C-suite or playing middle management roles--at your organization?

The Korn/Ferry e-book offers numerous practical tips, but one they highlight is to get to know the teams you'll be working with (and their expectations).

"If you will be leading a team," the e-book reads, "you'll need to probe around the following: What are the dynamics of the team? Did anyone on the team want my job or advocate for someone else to get my job? Awareness of these areas can help you avoid potential land mines."

This principle mirrors the process online marketplace Etsy uses for all new hires--not just its leaders. Etsy's onboarding process involves a "boot camp" that rotates its new personnel through every team in the organization.

"You come in, spend a week with the team who hired you and then spend the next four to six weeks out on rotation with other teams," explains Etsy CTO Kellan Elliott-McCrea. "That has obvious benefits in that you get cross-trained on the organization and you learn what we're doing, but it also has some non-obvious benefits, including the development of some strong personal ties. People you boot camp with end up being part of your support network at Etsy."

Etsy's boot camps aren't just for new hires. "At the one-year mark (and the two and the three), you do it again," Elliott-McCrea says. "It's nice. The first time, it was your first six weeks. You're smart, but mostly you're just trying to figure out how everything works. Once you've been here for a year, you can work on best practices during your rotation. It really creates an organic community of practice."

GOJO Industries, which makes Purell hand sanitizer, uses a different integration strategy: It works to impress the company's central concept on all employees. "All new hires spend time in the lab, as part of a two-and-a-half-day training regimen called Gojo Fundamentals, designed to instill exemplary hand-cleaning skills," writes David Owen in a profile of the company for the New Yorker.

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Last updated: Apr 25, 2013

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF

The Build Network staff curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.




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