Executive Onboarding

Sections of this topic

    Hiring External Leaders

    There appears to be a trend in companies increasingly looking outside the organization for new leadership. Some studies estimate that more than thirty percent of Fortune 1000 Companies are led by chief executives who were recruited externally. Sessa and Taylor (2000) found a growing bias toward external executive hires, noting that when corporate selection committees were open to both internal and external candidates, an external candidate was chosen 75% of the time. It is clear that externally hired executives are often favored because new perspectives are considered valuable, specific leadership competencies are desired, and a belief exists that an externally hired leader will be unabashed about implementing change.

    Leadership Derailment

    While it is hard to assail the logic of considering external candidates for openings in key organizational roles – it is easier to question the limited amount of time, energy, and resources that many organizations devote to helping these executives transition into their new positions. It is especially surprising that organizations will take the risk of an unsuccessful transition when, as Krista Peterson mentioned in her blog entry on November 2, there are certain factors that have been proven to contribute significantly to derailment. And here are numerous studies that demonstrate that — without a well developed transitional strategy — external hires are significantly more likely to fail than leaders promoted internally.

    Onboarding Strategies

    Fortunately, numerous companies are availing themselves of the research on derailment factors, and are employing onboarding strategies to mitigate these factors and assist external leaders in making successful transitions. But it is clear that for these efforts to be successful, onboarding cannot simply take the shape of a glorified employee orientation process. In my opinion, one of the most important factors of transitional success is for the incoming executive, and those assisting with his or her transition, to have an advanced level or understanding of three things:

    • Unique aspects of the organizational culture
    • Dynamics of the teams the executive is entering (whether as a leader or colleague)
    • Personality, knowledge and leadership skills of the incoming executive

    The first two factors require some level of awareness and/or assessment of the culture and team dynamics. The third requires an individual assessment that can then be used to guide the design of an onboarding strategy that effectively navigates the transition of the external leader into the organization. and onto the teams. This of course is a distinct oversimplification of factors related to onboarding – and it would be great to hear what others have found to work.


    Steve Wolinski provides leadership development, organizational change and talent management services to numerous public, private and non-profit organizations. Website, Email.