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: http://webcasts.astd.org/webinar/406

In 2014 OPM partnered with several groups, including the President's Leadership Workshop (PLW), to create an Enhanced Executive Onboarding Model that can be used in tandem with the current framework and manual. This enhanced model, even further, ensures new executives have optimal support and resources in place to quickly and successfully assimilate into the organization. The enhanced model comes with a Roadmap and Checklist to help support and ease implementation. 

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. Visit this link: http://ourpublicservice.org/OPS/publications/viewcontentdetails.php?id=128 to download the report.

Agencies need onboarding solutions that address three types of new SES:

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)

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:

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

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.

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;


American Express


Bristol-Myers Squibb

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

SES Onboarding Pilot Materials FY 14-FY 15

In addition to using the SES Onboarding Manual "Hit the Ground Running" and the other resources above, agencies taking part in OPM's FY 14 pilot of the Enhanced SES Onboarding Framework can find additional materials and sample templates listed here:

SES Onboarding Enhanced Framework
SES Onboarding Roadmap
SES Onboarding Checklist
Onboarding Standard Operating Procedures.docx
Logic Model-Executive Onboarding (OPM Sample).doc
SES Onboarding Key indicators and Questions.docx
SES Onboarding Sample Metrics Dashboard.docx

Supervisor Announcement Email to Staff.docx
Supervisor Checklist.docx
30 Day Supervisor Onboarding Survey final 28 Apr 14.docx

Sponsor Welcome Email Samples.docx
Sponsor Checklist.docx

30 Day Employee Onboarding Survey final 28 Apr 14.docx

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.



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