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While the terms "onboarding" and "orientation" are sometimes used interchangeably they are notably different. Nevertheless, they are both critical processes in the successful assimilation of new hires. Here are some important distinctions between the two:
Strategic with an impact on bottom-line results
Evolving and progressive
An ongoing process
Used for transferred and promoted employees, as well as new hires
Is most often limited to new employees
Delivers information that is unique and customized to the individual employee and is generally handed out on an as-needed basis
Delivers information that is common to all new hires usually within a classroom setting
Has a long-term focus, and can last up to a year or more
Is a short term program, typically lasting from one day to two weeks
The sooner a new employee experiences the benefits of a comprehensive and well-implemented orientation and onboarding program, the sooner the employee will become a contributing member of that organization.
Executive onboarding is acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new leaders into the organizational culture and business1. The best onboarding strategies will provide a fast track to meaningful, productive work and strong employee relationships2 and be tailored specifically to the needs of the individual. Executive onboarding should be strategic, so that it not only prevents executive derailment, but expedites the executive’s contribution to optimize strategic achievement. Getting on Board: A Model for Integrating and Engaging New Employees is a report created from a study conducted by the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) and Booz Allen Hamilton in 2008. The study states that successfully onboarding employees during their first year of service increases engagement, raises retention by as much as 25 percent, improves performance and hastens the time to full productivity.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recognizes the value of ongoing assimilation into an organization and so includes a year-long orientation process among the five components of its new End-to-End (E2E) Hiring Roadmap. Though not specifically geared toward leadership positions, the E2E Hiring Roadmap can be used to help assure federal agencies recruit and retain the top talent they need to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century.
Onboarding of key executives is even more critical than it is for other employees because of the significantly greater performance expectations leaders face and the greater impact they have on the overall performance of the organization. Some federal agencies like the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) have established very comprehensive onboarding programs for their employees and their executives. Other agencies with executive onboarding programs are the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).
Agencies need onboarding solutions that address three types of new SES:
- Those from outside the agency, but still within the government
- External hires from outside the Federal Government
- Those who have grown within the agency
(What are some resources available to me? What are other agencies doing to onboard their executives?)
Use the links below to access agency-specific Executive Onboarding Program information. Established best practices from other Government organizations can be shared and tailored to meet your agency's needs.
Office of Personnel Management
Hit the Ground Running: Establishing a Model Executive Onboarding Framework, was designed to provide a consistent model in which to introduce new executives into the SES and to maximize executive effectiveness. It is a flexible framework allowing adjustments that adhere to specific agency rules, policies, procedures and needs.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of the Navy
The Department of the Navy has also recently implemented SES 101 and Flash Mentoring workshops, offered at a Senior Executive Seminar at the Washington Navy Yard.
SES 101 was an hour-long session designed for executives who have been in the SES less than three years. Topic areas included:
- Description of all executive types (SES, SL, ST, HQE, etc)
- Geographic locations of DON SES
- Executive lifecycle management
- Executive Stats
- Executive Benefits
- Executive Resource Management Governance
- DON Executive Development system
- DON Talent Management Process
- Executive Management Program Office Contacts
Flash Mentoring was a one-hour session that immediately followed SES 101. I thought of the idea of offering flash mentoring after some past conversations with Scott Derrick at DoD (see blog post, Mentoring in a Flash . He developed flash mentoring for members of the Senior Executive Association (information on SEA’s website) when he worked there and at another organization he was a part of (13L). I decided to modify the concept for a seminar environment to be more like speed mentoring. Some particulars:
- Three, 20-minute sessions for a total of one hour
- DON senior executives were asked in advance to volunteer to serve as a flash mentor
- Mentees were pulled from those who signed up for the session through the seminar registration site
- We had 10 mentors and 10 mentees
- The mentors committed an hour of their time to meet with 2-3 different executives who were earlier in their executive career
- Mentees were given bios of the mentors and asked to provide their top 3 preferences
- I matched mentors to mentees and created a schedule/schematic of the room
- The room at the seminar was set up with 10 cocktail style tables
- Mentees rotated every 20 minutes and mentors remained at their assigned table
- Mentees and mentors were given a folder at the seminar that included bios of the executives they were meeting with, a tip sheet based on their role, their schedule and an evaluation form; they also received an email in advance of the seminar with the same information
Agencies can also look to the private sector for best practices in executive onboarding. Here are a few examples of innovative practices:
Johnson & Johnson, Canada
New hires from outside the company enter a different onboarding track than those hired from within the company. Internal hires are also brought on board differently according to their key skill gaps, of which the company is already aware, as a result of their performance management process. Other best practices include providing an external onboarding coach who collects and uses business/organizational data anonymously to develop Onboarding development charter that outlines transition leadership priorities, stakeholder relationship map and individualized dashboard;
- Coach provides support to launch new team and then ongoing advice/counsel for six months;
- Assign a senior mentor ‘buddy’ outside direct reporting relationships;
- Schedule networking appointments with key leaders;
- Participation in corporate transition leadership workshop with other new executives to help plan their onboarding; and,
- Feedback on onboarding progress solicited during sixth month of employment to identify transition adjustments.
- Formulates 100-day plan with HR partner, hiring manager and assigned external assimilation coach day one who then continues to support executive through onboarding;
- Individual Development Plan (IDP) for transition is built for executive based on assessment data collected as part of pre-hire, role requirements and career aspirations;
- HR facilitates formal networking meetings/interviews with CEO and members with senior management team; and,
- Planned experiences with various parts of the company.
At six month milestone:
- Obtains 360° feedback and uses data for further development
- Provides feedback to onboarding process for improvements
- Inclusion in succession panning process to determine future potential
- Participation at annual AMEX New Leaders Orientation Summit
- Leadership ability and organizational fit are determined at the interview stage; Meetings with influential colleagues are set up for the new hire;
- Progress is tracked for first year by outside consultant and HR;
- Onboarding processes tailored based on information gathered about the individual during the hiring process;
- Understanding that even the best candidate will have some development gaps, the company arranges the needed coaching resources to help the new executive shore up any development areas that surfaced during pre-selection assessments and behavioral interviews; and,
- Resources are made available the employee’s first day on the job and are kept in place for several months.
(What can I learn to help me refresh my knowledge base and add value?)
As a result of a collaborative effort with the Senior Executive Association, the Partnership for Public Service, and experienced, newer SES members, OPM developed a Governmentwide Executive Onboarding Framework and Executive Onboarding Manual. These documents are tools to assist agencies in creating a business case for and ultimately implementing an executive onboarding program for their new leaders.
Please contact Cheryl Ndunguru (email@example.com) for copies of the framework and manual. The framework and manual will be posted shortly.
Discover Helpful Tools and Resources
(What other tools and resources including guides, articles and websites are available to me?)
There are many resources through the Internet, webinars, books, training and other media that provide good instruction on developing a comprehensive executive onboarding program. Here are a few:
Executive Onboarding (Navy) Questions and Answers
The following questions were asked of Navy's Executive onboarding program:
Does your onboarding program begin once a year, at various times throughout the year, or as new executives arrive?
We onboard executives based on their entrance on duty date, so we aren't delaying when an executive begins. We don't have a cohort per se. For clarification, the Department of the Navy (DON) does not have an orientation that new executives come to at specific times. We meet with them 1:1 at the beginning (in addition to what the Command provides) and then check in with them throughout the year. We also see them at the various events and meetings that support executive development.
How do you onboard each new SES as they come in?
At the Department of the Navy, we link executive onboarding with selection decisions in the recruiting phase. Once an entrance on duty date is confirmed, we partner with our points of contact in each Command. Our centralized office holds an initial overview (first day/first week) with each executive about their role within the greater department, near-term priorities/actions, services and support for leadership development and engagement. We provide them with a welcome packet, which includes an onboarding guide and plan that is tailored to their position and location. In addition, a soft copy of the onboarding plan is provided to the executive prior to their entrance on duty. The field activity where the executive resides takes care of local responsibilities such as introduction to the organization/staff/stakeholders, badge access, ethics counseling, etc. The bulk of our executive appointments are internal employees, so there has been more of an emphasis on assisting with their position transition and working at the executive level than topics such as benefits (which remain the same).
Which aspects of the program were most costly? Which were the least costly?
The onboarding experience is aligned with leadership development, performance management and succession planning processes. That being said, probably one of the most costly aspects is an executive coaching engagement, which includes a 360 assessment (aligned to the DON SES Competency Model) and 12 coaching sessions with an external executive coach (typically over 6 months). We introduce this opportunity to new executives after 90 days and typically recommend it begin within their first year.
One of the least costly aspects of the program (but impactful) is the face-to-face meetings with new executives throughout their first year. The cost is our time, but it pays dividends in terms of the executive understanding expectations, feeling included/valued, and building relationships with our customer and points of contact.
National Science Foundation
Studies demonstrate the success of incoming executives largely depend on the following:
- Understanding the unique aspects of the organizational culture;
- Understanding the dynamics of the teams the executive is entering (whether as a leader or colleague); and
- The personality, knowledge and leadership skills of the incoming executive.
This is how NSF addresses (or intends to address) this within their executive onboarding program:
Understanding the unique aspects of the organizational culture
Our new Executive Leadership Retreat has a heavy and multifaceted approach to addressing org culture.
We are planning to develop a new executive mentorship program that will also serve in this regard.
Understanding the dynamics of the teams the executive is entering (whether as a leader or colleague)
We're piloting a team formation workshop in the fall to serve this purpose.
Associate Directors and their deputies, and Division Directors and their Deputies work closely together and inform one another on these dynamics.
The personality, knowledge and leadership skills of the incoming executive
360 assessments and coaching available to new Executives.
Having all levels of staff (administrative / scientific) interview applicants.
Personality & leadership skills emphasized in Executive Leadership Retreat.
Leadership & Problem-Solving Skills course offered multiple times per year.
We're piloting an "Art & Science of Picking the Right People" workshop this fall; the workshop will highlight how to select based on these attributes.
Please feel free to share any articles, classes, webinars or best practice events related to executive onboarding on this page.
- Bradt, G., Check, J. A., & Pedraza, J. (2006). The new leader’s 100-day action plan. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Brodie, J. M. (2006). Getting managers on board. HR Magazine, 51(11), 105-107.
- Concelman, J., & Burns, J. (2006). The perfect storm or just a shower? TD, March, 51-53.
- Friedman, L. (2006). Are you losing potential new hires at hello? Organizations need strong new hire onboarding processes. TD, November, 25-27.
- Pomeroy, A. (2006). Better executive onboarding processes needed. HR Magazine,51(8), 16.
- Taleo, A. S. (2006). Researching onboarding best practice. Strategic HR Review, 5(6),32-35.
- Van Maanen, J., & Schein, E. H. (1979). Toward a theory of organizational socialization.
- Research in Organizational Behavior, 1, 209-264.
1. ONBOARDING – How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time
2. OCDE New Employee Onboarding Manual