How a new CEO is managed into an organisation – the onboarding process – can make the difference between a successful hire and one destined to fail, warns Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays in Australia.

    "When an organisation is looking to fill the top job, the processes usually applied to more junior staff members are often not employed, leaving the CEO to find his or her own way," says Deligiannis.

    "It's also much less likely that you will have a formal onboarding process in place when hiring your CEO because you only do it once in a blue moon. But the risk increases the more senior you go. Getting a senior leader's onboarding wrong from the outset is a fundamental problem for any business."

    Getting a Senior Leaders on-boarding wrong from the outset is a fundamental problem for any organisation

    Contrary to popular belief, onboarding does not start on day one of a new job. Onboarding begins before the new employee has started working, from the moment that he or she is in the running for the job. Induction or orientation programs are designed to help new arrivals learn the ropes, but they effectively take over where onboarding leaves off.

    At junior levels, best practice onboarding typically includes sending new recruits company information ahead of joining, preparing a personalised workstation for them and introducing them to their colleagues and key stakeholders, both formally and informally, ahead of time. However, this common-sense and straightforward approach can be ignored higher up the recruitment ranks.

    Many senior executive hires are given vital data before their first day, such as the names of key stakeholders, top-line figures and detailed project information. However, some other essential elements of the company – including organisational culture, values and working processes – are sometimes overlooked.

    Yet, Deligiannis says it is critical to help senior new hires grasp that informal side of the business and gauge how they are likely to be perceived, their perceptions of the organisation and if there is any misalignment.

    "Some new CEOs find it difficult to adjust in that first three-to-six-month period because they're not able to sort the wheat from the chaff and really understand what is meaningful to the business and what isn't," he says.

    Deligiannis cautions that the potential damage of creating a bad hire by failing to manage an individual into a business is great. Some estimates suggest that the financial cost to an organisation can be up to 14 times the employee's salary, though the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK puts this at a more modest level of between four and six times' base salary, depending on the seniority of the person in question.

    Either way, having an effective onboarding process can go some way towards avoiding such costly errors and can vastly improve the probability of a cultural fit. Deligiannis offers the following tips on how to better onboard your new CEO into the organisation:

    • Onboarding needs to begin during the recruitment process, including informal meetings with key people to ensure there is chemistry and a fit between both parties.
    • Time should be put aside as part of the early recruitment process to explain the culture of the organisation in depth. Time dedicated to cultural cohesion and aligning values before the first day of work is an essential part of any onboarding process, particularly for senior hires.
    • Ensuring a senior leader comes in to meet the team and his or her reports removes a lot of the fear of the unknown. It becomes a lower-pressure environment.
    • Department meetings, plus sessions with small groups from a mix of departments, are great ways to introduce a new CEO to the organisation.
    • Informal breakfasts and lunches allow a new boss to meet staff, share information about backgrounds and have conversations about what employees think is going well and what could be improved.
    • Some CEOs find great value in working "on the shop floor" as part of their induction to give them direct exposure to the company's "front line" business employees.

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