Leveraging Executive Transition with Pre-Boarding

A Cook Associates Trend by Mary Kier, Vice Chairman

In the fast-paced C-suite world of high rises and corner offices, executives entering into new leadership positions need to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, no matter how talented new executives may be, they need help transitioning into their new environment. As more executives express dissatisfaction with current On-Boarding practices, a new process known as Pre-Boarding is being recommended by Cook Associates Executive Search as a complementary method.Cityscape

According to Mary Kier, Vice Chairman for Cook Associates Inc., “The likelihood of success when transitioning to a new work environment is enhanced when an executive makes use of what we call Pre-Boarding. This is the time from the interview stage – when a candidate is really under serious consideration – until the day they officially begin. During this time they should proactively build relationships, before the first day in the office, as it greatly increases chances of success in their new role.”

Kier goes on to say, “According to The Right Leader by Nat Stoddard, nearly 40 percent of all new leaders fail in their first 18 months. That failure is a result of critical mistakes made even before the person enters the job.”

For executives seeking a smooth transition into a new role, Cook Associates has created a guide to the secrets of Pre-Boarding success.

Make a Powerful First Impression

Early momentum is critical to success and the demeanor of the potential new executive during each round of interviews is crucial. Overall, determine what goals are to be met, and communicate how you can add value to that initiative.

“It is true, and I have seen it, that better people have more preparation in their search efforts,” says Maureen Ausura, the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Lowe’s Companies, Inc. “It’s a good thing to read the proxy and the analyst reports. And I firmly agree that through the interview process a candidate should have numerous conversations and pro-actively reach out to those on their team. It affords a much easier transition into the new role. The most successful people help themselves be On-Boarded.”

Gauge Corporate Culture

Understand the implicit – and often unspoken – rules and beliefs held by people in the organization that influence how things really are accomplished. Failing to understand and adapt to the culture can cause derailing at any point during the integration process. Through due diligence, you must make sure the position, culture, new boss, and team fit your strengths and even your weaknesses. Moreover, be certain to understand your role, its relationship to others in the organization, and how success is measured.

Carey Cuddeback, Senior Vice President of Product Development at Wal-Mart International says, “I think people overlook the importance of ‘self-onboarding’. No matter what else you do, at the very least get on the phone with all your direct reports and also grab as much time as you can with your direct boss before you start. When you are told – ‘it is a strong culture here’- that statement should be explored. Ask questions. It all comes down to having the tools in your toolbox that are appropriate to the culture of the company to really effect change.”

Turn Key Stakeholders Into Allies

While going through the waiting process identify key stakeholders, often peers, or those who indirectly affect your position. Take the initiative and concept of Pre-Boarding to task and meet with these people, as it is critical to success in the role. Suggest meeting key stakeholders if they are not part of the formal interview process. If they are part of your interview team, ask permission to follow-up with a telephone call to pose any questions after the interview. This leaves the door open to schedule an appointment for an additional meeting over breakfast, coffee, or lunch.

Meeting Over Coffee Jeff Lombardo, Group Vice President of Food Service Sales for Heinz weighed in as well on how to make the most of the Pre-Boarding process, “Find out what the core issues are, what the challenges are going forward, and together construct your 30/60/90 day plan. You will have a more robust first ninety days.”

Build Loyalty & Trust With Early Wins

Before your first day in the office, research backgrounds of peers and learn as much about them as you are able. When you meet them, probe about their goals and aspirations at the company. They will appreciate your interest and jumpstarting the relationship will be vital to success. You can prepare yourself for potential pitfalls and issues ahead of time with this type of due diligence.

Jumpstart The Relationship

Congratulations! You have a brand new position and your start date is two or more weeks away. Call your new Executive Assistant and schedule a lunch. Find out special details and determine how you can best work together. Probe to find out if there are key employees or peers you met during the interview process with whom you should socialize. If you knit yourself into the fabric of their lives ahead of time it will send a powerful signal – that you care about being proactive, engaged, and are willing to learn from them. By engaging in Pre-Boarding practices, you will become a trusted friend and colleague by day one.

Mary Kier is Vice Chairman of Cook Associates, Inc.Mary Kier and a senior consultant within the executive search division. With 25 years of experience delivering exceptional search services in consumer related markets, Mary is well-positioned to comment on industry trends. She can be reached at 312.755.5614 or via email at [email protected].

Cook Associates, Inc., is a retained Executive Search and M&A Advisory Services firm.


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