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Training and Development Policy Wiki

Page History: Executive Onboarding

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Page Revision: 9/11/2013 8:56:55 AM

Executive Onboarding

Executive onboarding is acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new leaders into the organizational culture and business1Hit the Ground Running: Establishing a Model Executive Onboarding Program is an OPM and framework manual designed to provide a consistent model in which to introduce new executives into the SES and to maximize executive effectiveness. Its flexible framework (found in Appendix B) allows adjustments that adhere to specific agency rules, policies, procedures and needs. Both the framework and manual were created as a result of a collaborative effort with the Senior Executive Association, the Partnership for Public Service and SES members (new and experienced).  An archived webcast recording of OPM’s “Hit the Ground Running” presentation can be viewed here:

While the terms "onboarding" and "orientation" are sometimes used interchangeably, they are in fact, notably different. Nevertheless, both are critical processes in the successful assimilation of new hires. The table below shows some important distinctions between the two:



Strategic with an impact on bottom-line results


Evolving and progressive


An ongoing process

An event

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 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 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.

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

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).


Although there are no laws/regulations that mandate the establishment of an executive onboarding program, an effective program will help ensure seamless integration of executives into the agency thereby facilitating the  accomplishment of SES performance requirements in 5 CFR 430.301 (Managing Senior Executive Performance) and 5 CFR 412.401 (Executive Development).

Federal Government Tools and Resources

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.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

  • Hit the Ground Running: Establishing a Model Executive Onboarding Program is a manual designed to provide a consistent model in which to introduce new executives into the SES and to maximize executive effectiveness. Its flexible framework (found in Appendix B) allows adjustments that adhere to specific agency rules, policies, procedures and needs. Both the framework and manual were created as a result of a collaborative effort with the Senior Executive Association, the Partnership for Public Service and SES members (new and experienced).

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.

The National Science Foundation (NSF)
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)
  • The personality, knowledge and leadership skills of the incoming executive.

The NSF addresses these factors, respectively, within their executive onboarding program by:

  • Taking a heavy and multifaceted approach in addressing org culture at their Executive Leadership Retreat, and taking steps to implement a new executive mentorship program.
  • Encouraging Associate Directors and their deputies, and Division Directors and their Deputies to work closely together through team formation workshops to inform one another on these dynamics.
  • Making 360 degree assessments and coaching available to new executives, having all levels of staff (administrative / scientific) interview applicants, emphasizing Personality & Leadership skills in Executive Leadership Retreats, and offering multiple opportunities for employees to take the Leadership & Problem-Solving Skills course each year. The NSF also piloted an "Art & Science of Picking the Right People" workshop, highlighting selection methods based on these attributes.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)


The U.S. Department of the Navy (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 (e.g. SES, SL, ST, HQE, etc.), Geographic locations of DON SES, Executive lifecycle management, Executive Stats, Executive Benefits, Executive Resource Management Governance, Boards, Navy’s Executive Development system, Navy’s Talent Management Process, and Executive Management Program Office Contacts. See this attachment for more details.
  • Flash Mentoring was a one-hour session that immediately followed SES 101. See the Mentoring in a Flash blog post for background information. Flash Mentoring is a modified speed mentoring concept for a seminar environment.  See this attachment for more information.

Click here to see slides from US Navy's Executive Onboarding Briefing.  Questions asked about Navy’s Executive Onboarding Program and their corresponding answers can be found here.

Private Sector Tools and Resources

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.


American Express

  • 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
  • The Human Resources Office 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, the company obtains 360° feedback and uses data for further development, provides feedback to onboarding process for improvements, inclusion in succession planning process to determine future potential, and encourages senior-level participation at their annual AMEX New Leaders Orientation Summit


Bristol-Myers Squibb

  • Leadership ability and organizational fit are determined at the interview stage, and meetings with influential colleagues are set up for the new hire
  • Progress is tracked for first year by outside consultant(s) and their Human Resources office
  • Onboarding processes are tailored based on information gathered about the individual during the hiring process. Given 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

Resources are made available the employee’s first day on the job and are kept in place for several months.

Helpful Tips

There are many resources through the Internet, webinars, books, training and other media that provide good instruction on developing a comprehensive executive onboarding program.


  • Connect the Dots shares valuable tips on how to implement an Onboarding process in your organization.
  • An Ohio State study Accelerating Leader's Transitions: A New Approach to Executive Onboarding helps build a business case for executive onboarding
  • RHR's Beyond the First 90 Days gives a comprehensive look at their research findings.
  • The Defense Business Board's Report on their Civilian Leadership Orientation Program reviews the status of orientation in the organization at that time and recommends ways improve.
  • The CPMS report on Building Strategic Capabilities gives great insight on what a successful executive onboarding program looks like
  • The Navy's Strategic Systems Programs website has sample Onboarding Roadmaps that may be helpful


  • 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.

Cited Sources:

1.   Hit the Ground Running: Establishing a Model  Executive Onboarding Program
2ONBOARDING – How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time
3.  OCDE New Employee Onboarding Manual

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