'Onboarding': Crucial Feedback for Executive Hires

An emerging ritual to measure performance 90, 100, or 120 days into a top manager's new job can stave off disaster or reinforce excellence

"I never knew you felt that way." Those words often evince an epiphany that can save a rocky relationship—including one between a high-priced hire and the company that paid the bounty for him or her.

Indeed, those words frequently encapsulate the reaction business executives have when presented with feedback from a so-called onboarding process, which serves up a consensus view of the first impression he or she has made on an employer 90, 100, or perhaps 120 days into a new management role.

Also referred to as executive integration or assimilation, onboarding happens long after the kind of employment orientation intended to familiarize an executive with his or her new colleagues and working environment in the early days of the job. Orientation enables an executive to perform in a new role, whereas onboarding offers the first feedback on how the executive is fulfilling that role.

Avoiding Disaster

This emerging ritual to measure individual performance is critical because it provides the kind of intelligence an executive can use to correct a course of action, setting things right before it's too late. Onboarding amounts to an organizational poll about how a new leader is fulfilling the objectives of his or her role and executing the company's strategic mandate.

A growing body of research suggests that up to 40 percent of externally hired executives fail within the first 18 months. And the stark truth is that the sink-or-swim approach that still pervades management succession simply doesn't work. It exacts a huge toll on organizational performance and productivity.

It makes no sense to spend time and money on an executive search only to leave the individual who eventually accepts the job wholly responsible for figuring out how the company truly operates.

Executive onboarding is essential insurance for employers, executives, and those who recruit them, since all have a vested interest in seeing the manager make a good initial impression. The feedback from an onboarding exercise can be a shot in the arm—if the executive is indeed making a great impression—or a guide to immediate changes in behavior, focus, and everyday work.


Putting effective onboarding into practice requires forethought and a commitment to incorporating it into the process of executive hiring and promotion. Employers that decide to use onboarding should make their executive recruiters the first line of communication about that expectation and should include details about the process in the offer of employment. Internal interviewers should also make clear that it's an expectation.

And executives who either accept a new role within their current organization or with a new employer would be wise to start building bridges with new colleagues even before they start their new job. The most successful first impression often is made in the weeks before a new hire reports for duty. Employers should invite that kind of contact between an executive hire and his or her key subordinates.

Unfortunately, upon accepting an offer, many executives decide that it's time for a well-deserved break, and they lose a critical window of opportunity. Making friends and learning about the responsibilities that come with the new role can influence how colleagues perceive an executive's work ethic, management style, and commitment to excellence.

Sooner Might Be Better

Employers also might consider accelerating the onboarding process. Many consultants argue that effective onboarding happens 90, 100, or perhaps 120 days into an executive's tenure. But there's an argument to be made for doing it at the 60-day mark, the better to learn of mistakes or missed opportunities quickly.

A commitment to onboarding conveys a sense of purpose and an interest in organizational excellence. Companies want executives who fit in and are performing at their peak. They should, therefore, give them the tools to make that possible. For their part, executives should take advantage of whatever resources and information are available to them.

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