The fast-paced corporate environment and global marketplace of the 21st century has shortened the honeymoon period for newly hired C-level executives. After conducting an exhaustive executive search, multiple interviews and extensive 360 degree referencing, the recruiting process is usually considered over. But even in the best of circumstances, this is in fact only the beginning of ensuring that the organization receives the maximum benefit from a new hire.

To facilitate success for both the outside hire, as well as the company, some organizations implement ongoing orientation and mentoring programs referred to as onboarding. These programs or activities could last for several months to several years. According to the American Psychological Association, onboarding, also known as organizational socialization or assimilation “refers to the process that helps new employees learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviors they need to succeed in their new organizations.”

The first ninety-days or so of an executive’s tenure is viewed as a make or break period. Strategic onboarding programs can help align a new hire with the organization. As a team member rather than outsider this new executive has a much greater chance of success. The retention rates of these well-integrated individuals are also higher than those left to their own devices. Furthermore, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.

Sink-or-Swim is Not the Preferred Approach

In the old “Mad Men” days, executives typically spent their first day on the job filling out paperwork, before being escorted through the office by a human resources manager for a series of brief introductions. After that, senior executives were largely left on their own to navigate the often-hazardous terrain of unwritten rules, shadow alliances, office politics and an undefined corporate culture. The old sink-or-swim strategy is no longer recommended. Today, a targeted onboarding support network is preferred by many organizations to provide speedy assimilation into the organization’s culture, to help an executive develop successful networks and personal relations, and to develop a personal development plan that paves the way for success and credibility.

Michael Watkins author of the seminal manual on onboarding, “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels,” cautions organizations against what he calls, “Darwinian Leadership Development,” in which outside recruits are “thrown into the deep end” and left to their own devices. After expending considerable time and resources to recruit the right candidate, organizations should not leave the ultimate success or failure of a new executive to chance. Increasing shareholder value is ultimately dependant on the productivity and development of valuable “soft skills,” by individual executives and an effective onboarding program is essential to fostering productivity and profitability.

Study, Listen, Learn

Whatever the scope and complexity of an organization’s onboarding plan, newly hired executives would be well advised to get a running start during the pre-boarding window after accepting an offer and before reporting to work. New executives should learn everything they can about their organization’s culture, vision and goals. During the early days and months, new hires should spend the bulk of their time listening to their team and supervisor, as well as diligently studying and learning the ins-and-outs of the corporate culture. Numerous studies show that organizations with a comprehensive onboarding plan in place enjoy a lower turnover rate within their executive ranks. Taking charge of your own success and developing personal goals within the framework of the onboarding plan can go a long way in ensuring a successful outcome.

Early Onboarding Wins

In his onboarding tome, Watkins recommends that organizations help newly hired executives achieve an early win to instill confidence and develop professional credibility during the critical early months. Organizations can assist executives by providing an accelerated learning program and offering support during the crucial team building process. Establishing an individual performance plan with specific milestones, with plenty of coaching and mentoring throughout the process, can spur the all-important early achievements and wins that are crucial to job satisfaction.

Organizations that continue the extensive recruiting process throughout an executive’s early tenure with a strategic onboarding program will greatly benefit from an executive leader’s early success, confidence and buy-in of an organization’s culture. Onboarding should be viewed as the final step in the lengthy recruitment process and the beginning of a comprehensive retention program.