When it comes to the success of new executives in your organization, just about nothing plays as critical a role as onboarding. Sure, a new hire could be a highly-skilled, perfect-match leader eager to start. But without proper onboarding, these executives are far less likely to excel in their roles, resulting in high and costly turnover. This is especially true for senior-level placements requiring a robust and comprehensive executive onboarding process.

When organizations bring on a new executive or support an executive transition, a lot is on the line, and even a slight misstep could lead to widespread impact. The financial costs of executive turnover are high (about 100 to 300% of the employee’s total salary), and the cultural and organizational effects can be significant. Because of this, new executive placements need holistic support through a rigorous executive onboarding process.

Executive onboarding, the process which results in a new executive excelling in their role without assistance, does far more than just support them while they “get the hang of things.” Executive onboarding gives prospects the professional, cultural, and personal tools they need to succeed in all elements of their new position, maximizing the chance these executives will be successful. It also helps organizations excel during the executive transition, adjust to their new executive leadership, and support their new executive.
Let’s dive into how to use this process to set your people and company up for success.

What Is Executive Onboarding?

What exactly is executive onboarding, and why does it play such a critical role in the long-term success of a new executive placement? Executive onboarding is the process that supports your new executive as they transition into a position with your company, and it goes far beyond simply providing them with an orientation and welcoming them to the team.

If executives are the best of the best, shouldn’t they be able to succeed on their own accord?

Research reveals that executive transitions are anything but inherently successful. Data compiled by McKinsey shows that nearly half of all leadership transitions fail, and just two years after executive transitions, up to 46% of them “are regarded as failures or disappointments.”

Executive onboarding might look different in other organizations. Sometimes it is just logistical support for new executives (such as email logins and sharing necessary contacts). But for executives to realize their full potential in their new position, leaders and decision-makers should offer more in-depth and robust executive onboarding, allowing them to be fully integrated and independently functioning.

Best Practices and Organization Benefits of an Executive Onboarding Program

Here are some of an executive onboarding program’s best practices and organizational benefits.

Company Culture

Executive team members play a critical role in forming and maintaining company culture. If executive transitions are challenging, not only will the newly-placed executive feel it but others in the organization will feel the impact. But when a new executive fully integrates into the company culture, they’ll be able to respectfully and seamlessly introduce change.

When it comes to best practices, your new executive should be aware of the current cultural landscape, make excellent first impressions, and build meaningful connections with employees from the get-go.

Information Transfer

New executives can’t operate in a silo and need access to information to fill the shoes of the previous leader, break the mold, and start leading in earnest.

Regarding best practices, information transfer needs to start with the essentials, such as contacts for who-does-what, goals and KPIs, and future visions for the organization. It also needs to include “inside baseball” or the minute details that will be of great interest and use to your new executive. Before onboarding a new executive, they and leaders should compile resources and documents to assist with the information transfer process.

Effective Communication via Clear Responsibilities

When a new executive steps up to bat, there should be no hesitancy about what they own or fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. Their roles and responsibilities should be clarified and shared before day one, and your new executive should know what tasks they have ownership of. When responsibilities are clear, it leads to more effective communication, they can accomplish tasks more easily, and executives and their teams will know exactly what’s happening.

Defining the 4 Phases of an Executive Onboarding Process

What exactly does an executive onboarding process look like? Here are the four typical phases of one.

Pre-Onboarding Process

Successful executive onboarding begins well before the formal onboarding process. The pre-onboarding phase begins after a new executive is hired and continues until they start working with your organization.

During this time, many of the elements of the roles and responsibilities which were addressed during the interview stage should be reconfirmed. This means that candidates will have undergone thorough assessments and evaluations, know where their relevant strengths lie, and what tasks and goals they will eventually have ownership of.

During pre-onboarding, your new executive will complete any relevant paperwork, submit documents, and will have their physical space and technological tools prepared. At the same time, the current team will be informed of the hire, and first introductions might be made.

Onboarding Process

The onboarding process is the beginning of a new executive’s experiences in the day-to-day of your organization. Your new executive will be formally introduced to their direct reports and other team members, and they’ll start transitioning into their new role. This part of the executive onboarding process will also clarify task ownership and roles and responsibilities with your new executive and the rest of the team.


Executives might be highly skilled but still need training in their new roles. Executive training might look very different from the standard employee training process.
Sure, your executive needs to learn how to use your computer systems, ensure paperwork is filled out, and get the general lay of the land. But more importantly, they’ll need to learn how to collaborate with other executives and board members, understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current team, and get aligned with the organization as a whole.


In the final stage of executive onboarding, your new hire slowly transitions until they are fully-fledged in their role and require no assistance. This transition can be likened to the training wheels eventually coming off the bicycle. This is where new executives take full ownership of their tasks and goals, build deeper interpersonal relationships with other executives and team members, and start flexing their muscles as agents of change, showcasing their unique skills and specialties.

How the Search Process Prepares the New Executive for an Effective Onboarding

Executive onboarding doesn’t begin when a new executive is hired: it starts during the executive search. That’s because the executive search process involves several steps that prepare new executives for their roles and dovetails into onboarding. We outline them below.

Mutual Understanding of the Outcome of the Role

During the executive hiring process, potential new hires should gain an excellent handle on the scope and desired outcomes of the role. For example, here at N2Growth, we go to great lengths to support candidate interviews to ensure both prospects and the organization are in alignment regarding what is required of this future leader. This means that by the time executive onboarding begins, and your new executive leader should be well-versed in the desired outcomes of the role.

Assessing the Leadership Team

Typically, effective onboarding involves more than sourcing top-tier candidates. It also involves an in-depth and rigorous leadership team assessment to gauge its strengths and skill gaps. This means that by the time executive onboarding takes place, organizations should have an excellent handle on what value their new executive brings to the table, where they can make the most impact, and how they will integrate into the leadership team.

Assessing the Finalist Candidate

Executive hiring strategies likely include robust assessment and evaluation processes, which means that when a placement is successful, conditions are prime for success. For example, at N2Growth, we have various ways to approach the assessment and evaluation portion of an executive search. We go to great lengths to support our partners as they assess candidates. These assessments ensure true 1-to-1 alignment on skills, cultural fit, goals, and desired outcomes, all contributing to a far more seamless and successful executive onboarding.

You should not leave executive onboarding up to chance or approach like any other type of onboarding. Onboarding an executive is far too high stakes and requires heavy lifting to get right. And when organizations partner with leading executive search firms, they’re setting themselves up for success during the onboarding process by mitigating the risk of a placement going awry and ensuring a smooth transition into the new role.

Interested in partnering with N2Growth to run a best-in-class executive search experience to maximize success during your next executive placement? Contact us today.