Onboarding Leadership Coaching: Improve the Return on Your Investment
While leaders fail to hit the mark for many reasons, one factor is often overlooked. Many do not get the onboarding support they need to assimilate to the new role, such as working with a coach.
In today’s VUCA world, newly-appointed senior executives have to hit the ground running. Whether hired from the outside or promoted from within, their expected time to impact is typically less than six months. Many are falling short. For example, up to 50 percent of senior outside hires fail to achieve desired results.
This can have significant consequences. From just an economic standpoint, when a new hire at the senior leadership level does not pan out, the cost to the organization—including replacement and loss of productivity—can reach as high as 213 percent of his or her annual salary.
While leaders fail to hit the mark for many reasons, one factor is often overlooked. Many do not get the onboarding support they need to assimilate to the new role, such as working with a coach
. Onboarding is often confused with orientation but they are very different animals (see below). Orientation programs are generic and operational while onboarding is individualized and part of a broader talent development strategy.
Recently, I provided onboarding coaching for “Louise,” an incoming COO at a major healthcare organization. The board had admired her transformative results for other employers and she was hired to be a change agent for their rather staid organization. Even with this mandate and her experience, the depth of change aversion Louise encountered was a bit stunning. Our conversations centered on ways to build her credibility with skeptical team members and how to identify key influencers who were receptive to change and could help cascade a positive message for her with their peers.
To broaden this coaching encounter to more general onboarding principles, I provided Louise with what many new leaders need:
- A safe space to talk candidly about the challenges they’re facing. This is a particular advantage of engaging a coach from outside the organization. Leaders feel they can unburden themselves to an unbiased coach without fear of exposure.
- A sounding board to brainstorm possible strategies for overcoming challenges. New leaders are expected to immediately demonstrate they have ALL THE ANSWERS. A coaching relationship removes the isolation that many new leaders experience and provides a private forum to explore potential solutions.
- Time to breathe. Many new leaders are pressured to show how hard they’re working. Coaching conversations give executives an opportunity to slow down and make sure they are being deliberate about their choices and priorities.
How important is onboarding? When 2,600 Fortune 1000 executives were interviewed, 76 percent said that the formal development processes in their companies were only “minimally” helpful and 55 percent said they had little to no coaching or feedback to help them perform better.  In other words, companies are making huge investments in leadership talent without ensuring they have the right resources in place to help their leaders succeed.
Onboarding coaching should be considered an essential best practice
when hiring or promoting a new leader. I can’t think of a single instance when it wouldn’t be helpful, even for a few months, starting on the leader’s first day in the new position. Research bears this out. The number of organizations with an onboarding strategy has nearly doubled since 2004, while the failure rate of new hires has declined , suggesting a clear link between onboarding and positive business outcomes.
Amanda Buschi, MBA, PhD, PCC, Managing Consultant, North America Coaching