Five Tips to Facilitate Strategic Onboarding

George Bradt

Here is an article written by George Bradt for the “Talent Management Perspectives” series featured online by Talent Management magazine (March 2011). To check out all the website’s resources and sign up for a free subscription to TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazine, please click here.

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Your company is celebrating a great new hire – someone whose skills, experience and reputation precede him.

Now what? No one had fully expected him to say yes. No one was exactly sure what his responsibilities should be.

Now it’s time to figure that out. But now is way too late.

It’s not just about landing the best candidate. Part of hiring and onboarding employees is strategic planning. Attention must be paid to onboarding new employees so that they can deliver results that move the organization forward in line with its purpose and priorities.

To that end, here are some guidelines for talent leaders to bear in mind:

Start by stopping. Onboarding begins with business objectives. Start by getting managers to stop and figure out what they want to accomplish and how they expect their future new employees to deliver or contribute to target results.

Think business strategy. The company risks leaving a lot on the table if the people doing the hiring treat it as a transactional event as opposed to a strategic opportunity.

Here are three common phrases hiring managers should never accept without following up:

•    “Just fill the position.” Hang on. Will the positions as defined deliver the results the managers need? If not, this is a great time to push them to re-craft the jobs to further their business strategies.

•    “Find me the best candidate.” The best at what, precisely? Do they need the best skill set, or will the individual’s inherent behaviors and motivators be more important to delivery of business results than skills and experience?

Push senior leadership hard to complete their thinking before implementing anything, even a broad search initiative.

•    “I know what I need…” They may know what they need, but do they know what their stakeholders and their new employees’ stakeholders need? Without stakeholder alignment, they will never make the right hire because their new employees — no matter how great they are — will be burdened with incompatible expectations.

Onboarding is a strategic exercise in that it’s about building capabilities and capacity for the future. Thus no one can begin to recruit anyone until they understand how the new recruit’s role is going to help deliver results.

Clarify purpose and priorities. Begin with the organization’s general purpose and main priorities. That’s the big picture destination. Next, drill down to the specific destination for this onboarding. When managers onboard new employees, they are implementing strategies to achieve business objectives and should therefore treat new employee onboarding as they would any other investment. Define the business objective: Did they hire to replace, change the culture or add capabilities? What is their expected return on investment? How will they measure their return?

Check onboarding track record. Look back at any given manager’s onboarding track record to make sure he or she retains the tactics that proved successful in the past and work to enhance areas that need improvement.

Make sure everyone follows through. Push managers to lay out their messages so everyone understands purpose, priorities, responsibilities, required strengths and organizational values.

Managers oftentimes communicate with candidates more than they expect to during recruiting, interviewing and every subsequent step of onboarding. Intentional and inadvertent actions and inactions leave candidates or new hires with strong impressions, which is why it’s important for everyone to be on the same page – from before.

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After his education at Harvard and Wharton, George Bradt progressed through sales, marketing and general management roles around the world at Fortune 500 companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and then J.D. Power and Associates as chief executive of its Power Information Network spin off. Today, he is managing director of PrimeGenesis, a consultancy focused on transition acceleration and executive onboarding. He is the author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan: How to Take Charge, Build Your Team, and Get Immediate Results as well as the co-author of Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time. He can be reached at


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