What's the Secret for Your New CEO's Success? Onboarding

This article accompanies Onboard the Executives, Too!

If onboarding is essential for executives, it is uber-critical for CEOs.

"An effective onboarding process for a new CEO is unique in that, not only is it imperative to make sure the new CEO is well-equipped to do a great job, but the entire company, board, investors and other stakeholders also must be part of the process to ensure success," says Keith Pearson, president and vice chairman of Dallas-based Pearson Partners International, an executive search and coaching firm.

New CEOs need to meet and understand key people, policies, projects and programs quickly. "HR can play a key role in putting together groups of employees from various departments so the CEO can meet them. This is important in terms of knowledge transfer and developing relationships," says Jonathan Segal, partner and managing principal at Philadelphia-based law firm Duane Morris' Duane Morris Institute. He offers new CEOs this advice: "Talk, listen, read and observe." Grasp the culture fast.

Expectations should be clear. The organization should require the CEO to produce an organizational assessment and proposed action plan of priorities to be tackled, says Pearson.

It's not easy stepping in at the top. China Gorman, the new CEO of Great Place to Work Institute, a human resource consulting, research and training firm based in San Francisco, has been on the job less than a month. The company got her acquainted with her team immediately. "My first day, face-to-face or virtually, I met 85 percent of the employee base," says Gorman. Her first day there was a three-hour window in which she was in the conference room, where lunch was brought in and people could come in and talk. She spent her first two days in company headquarters and days three and four in the New York office. In New York, she did happy hour, where she circulated from small group to small group. "It was important that I personally connect," says Gorman of the company's 80 employees. "In my first two months, I will meet all stakeholders."

One of Great Place's values is being "Kwirky." The firm has an annual Kwirky contest/talent show, where all things goofy, irreverent and funny are on display. Gorman wanted to show that she supports that value and aims to connect. She and the CEO she replaced, who is still with the company, performed a skit. "We did a CEO rap that frankly was kind of lame, but the employees loved it. I got a lot of feedback. I was open to humiliating myself on the third week on the job. It's important to participate in the culture ASAP," says Gorman.

She has a "buddy" in San Francisco and New York. "I have someone I can ask, 'What should I know that I don't know?' "

Gorman says changes are needed, but she is holding back until she knows more. "You have to know the nuances, the potential impact, to gather data from your team. I want to be comfortable with the lay of the land."


Dec 9, 2013
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