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Sabine Dembkowski

The Coaching Centre


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On-boarding: The first 100 days – a seven-stage action plan


In 1933, when Franklin D Roosevelt talked about the importance of his first 100 days in office, he can hardly have imagined that the concept would be relevant to the upper echelons of business almost a century later. Today, the term ‘on-boarding’ has come to mean the introduction of a new leader to a company: what they need to do in their first 100 days.

Surprisingly, more than 40% of new directors leave their positions within the first 18 months. This attrition rate is alarming and causes high costs. For top management posts, we estimate that the direct costs of a failed appointment can exceed £1 million in search and selection fees, remuneration, severance packages, rehiring, etc.

However, the direct costs can be dwarfed by business impacts such as missed opportunities, lost revenue, delayed initiatives, quality impacts, poor morale, etc. Financial consequences will be unique to an organisation’s particular circumstances but various studies have estimated such costs to be from 10 to 24 times the executive’s salary.

To increase the chances of success, new people must not only have the skills for their role but also adapt to the new culture, forge political connections and understand what is expected of them. Organisations can significantly improve their chances of success by providing new entrants with systematic support with these issues throughout their initial period with the business.

This can be achieved by a structured on-boarding program to introducing new executives to a business and systematically integrating them into the existing senior management team. The key benefit of this approach is to reduce the time it takes for the senior manager to become effective in their new role and so to make a positive contribution to their employer’s business objectives.

The process builds on the latest insights and research from around the globe and provides a comprehensive agenda for effectively assimilating new senior talent into an organisation, something that can only strengthen a search consultant’s relationship with their clients. There are seven elements:

1.       Preparation for the role 

As soon as they are selected, the new executive can start learning about their new working environment to …

  • Start adapting to the organisation’s culture
  • Identify key individuals and relationships
  • Clarify expectations of their role
  • Decide on realistic objectives that their department are able to achieve

…so that, on their first working day, they arrive knowing the ‘big picture’ and having established who and what really is important.

2.     Expectation management

Whenever a senior appointment is made, everyone involved will be eager to know what is expected of them. Each new appointee should answer three seemingly simple questions:

  • What do I stand for?
  • What do I want to accomplish in this position?
  • How do I want to collaborate with others?

Explicit consideration and discussion about these topics helps to build an understanding of the new role and to clarify needs and expectations of all involved. This part of the process can be helped by psychometric tests and feedback sessions to gain insights into personal preferences and ways of working. Used skilfully, such diagnostics can have an immediate impact on the way the executive works with colleagues, how they use their own strengths and how they communicate.

3.       Setting the strategic agenda

Best practice on-boarding programmes set aside time for the whole of the senior team to engage in strategic work, therefore involving the new executive in the strategic agenda. This ensures that the new team member understands the overall strategy, its rationale and their function’s role in its delivery. It is a pre-requisite for delivering the organisation’s objectives and provides an excellent basis for longer term cooperation amongst those involved.

4.       Creating the right team

By the end of their first 100 days, the new leader needs to understand enough about their team to have decided:

  • Who remains in the team and who needs to be replaced?
  • Who can take on more responsibility?
  • What new capabilities or resources are needed?
  • What personal development is required?

These decisions can be expedited by using formal, independent assessment of team members.

5.       Forming alliances

An early investment of time to identify and develop key relationships pays significant dividends. This is best done as a planned activity to which the newcomer allocates time and energy. Regardless of seniority, people are more effective when working with others who can provide a different perspective and challenge their thinking. This is particularly true of new leaders who have the added pressure of learning about their fresh working environment, the way the organisation operates, the people and the market.

6.       Developing the culture

The ‘fit’ of a new person to the culture of the organisation is the main determinant of success in the role. So, the new leader needs to understand the existing culture, something which is not straightforward. It relies on paying attention to symbols, norms and principles, much of which is likely to be unwritten. Some questions that will help:

  • What behaviours are rewarded?
  • What unspoken assumptions are in use?
  • How are things done?
  • How is poor performance managed?

Having formed an opinion about the culture, other questions arise:

  • Is the existing culture conducive to the achievement of the desired strategic goals?
  • If not: What needs to change? How should we change it? Who needs to be involved?

7.      Effective communications

Once their plan is formulated, successful leaders work to engage others and to gain their commitment to its implementation. They communicate not only the goals and the rationale but their expectations of others and the roles they should perform. They keep other stakeholders up-to-date with progress and manage their expectations.

In summary, everyone involved with the selection process of a new senior executive has a vested interest in ensuring that he or she becomes effective as soon as possible. For search consultants, successfully meeting the 100-day challenge is an opportunity to provide added value and to genuinely differentiate their services to both clients and candidates.

The seven-stage on-boarding plan offers a best practice approach to help new senior executives to deliver positive results and integrate well into the culture of the organisation.


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Sabine Dembkowski


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