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Onboard to impress: How you onboard executives will be critical to their retention in 2022

As organisations wage a war for talent in 2022, Dr Ty Wiggins, a global expert in leadership transitions explains how an evolved onboarding process could be the strongest weapon in a company’s arsenal to keep the staff they’ve worked hard to attract. 

Executive onboarding is generally done poorly. Despite it being the first occasion to engage a leader and help them set the scene for their role, many organisations still do not meet minimum requirements in supporting their new hires to make an impact from day one.

The theory behind executive onboarding programs is outdated. Based on ‘new leader assimilation’, successful onboarding is measured as the shortest time frame required for the new hire to ’become one of us’, but the time of ‘assimilation onboarding’ is over.

Executives are looking for new experiences from their employer alongside greater fulfilment. They want to be able to offer insights and find innovative ways of working, not feeling like they’ve been “slotted in” to someone else’s old role.

In the current talent market, a bad onboarding experience can result in a drop in productivity at best, and a sharp decline in retention at worst as new hires leave quickly, eroding company culture.

It’s critical for CHROs, hiring managers and boards to ask themselves how they redesign the onboarding process to support the transition, especially around DE&I, set new leaders up for success, and ensure they stick with the company they’ve joined.

Instead of making the onboarding process about ‘getting up to speed with processes, jargon and past work, create opportunities for new hires to learn and share fresh perspectives in their first 90 days.

Below are two strategies to keep in mind when onboarding in 2022 to ensure leaders feel valued, seen, and are successful from the get-go.

Don’t leave DE&I at the door.

From the outset, you could have done everything right to hire the perfect candidate, omitted the biases during recruitment and hired a top executive with a diverse background and experience into the leadership team. 

But without a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion, an organisation will not retain the talent they’ve worked so hard to attract. What’s the point in hiring diversity in your leadership group if you don’t foster inclusivity once they walk through the door?

As the business case for diversity becomes better understood, an organisation must make efforts to ensure new leaders feel welcomed and valued. However, their individual voice, identity, and thinking are still encouraged.

During early meetings, your new executive should be supported when expressing differing views, without others pushing their thinking onto them.

Your DE&I strategy must be part of core company culture, not just recruitment and onboarding, to retain them beyond that. 

It starts with creating an inclusive environment that brings the entire organisation together. Existing leaders must be willing to adjust processes and team dynamics to accommodate and celebrate new ways of thinking and being.

Organisations that can create a tailored or bespoke onboarding program and continue their DE&I strategy during onboarding will have a better chance of keeping the talent they’ve worked so hard to secure.

Don’t lose company culture to a hybrid setting

A leader who understands and is aligned to company culture is more likely to stick around. 

While the past few years months have shown us how vital it is for organisations to be agile and innovative in working practices, we have also learned that simulating culture in an online world is hard to achieve. 

Proving company culture in the transition period is important in successful onboarding new hires, whether you have the luxury of doing that face-to-face or not.

If onboarding in a hybrid environment, start by structuring meetings using a set agenda that includes social interactions naturally in person. It may feel awkward at first, but fostering these early bonds is critical in making new hires feel valued early on.

Consider how your organisation expresses culture through written materials or physical items such as merchandise. Having a physical connection to the organisation in a remote setting can be powerful, and who doesn’t love some branded gifts on their first day?

Finally, find your organisation’s culture champions to conduct the virtual “office tour”. The office tour on the first day is a powerful tool to get to know the organisation. Make time to conduct these virtually rather than scrap them just because the new hire doesn’t need to be shown where their bathroom is in their own home.

2022 is set to be a challenging year for organisations when it comes to staffing and culture but evolving the onboarding process is a critical step in overcoming these challenges. Organisations that decide not to make their processes more diverse, culturally aligned, and connected risk undoing the hard work that’s been done. 

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Ty Wiggins

Ty Wiggins

Ty advises organisations on leadership transitions and executive onboarding to ensure more expedient paths to effectiveness. He works directly with individual leaders to set them up for success from the outset. Based in Sydney, Ty has a doctorate in Leadership Transitions. He leverages his deep academic and consulting backgrounds to provide CEOs, boards and senior leadership across industries with the skill and advice needed to enact transformational change. Previously, Ty was a sessional lecturer within the Master of Business Coaching Program at the University of Wollongong. He also spent 10 years working in the financial services industry after starting his career as a professional basketball coach, giving him a unique insight into how lessons from leadership in sport can be brought into the boardroom.

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