George B. Bradt: An interview by Bob Morris

George B. Bradt

George B. Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his combined senior line management and consulting experience. He progressed through sales, marketing and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin off as chief executive. Now he is a Principal of CEO Connection and Managing Director of PrimeGenesis, the leading global executive onboarding and transition acceleration group he founded in 2002. George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), author of three books published by John Wiley & Sons: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (now out in 3rd edition), Onboarding, and The Total Onboarding Program, as well as of The New Leader Smart Tools iPad app, as well as a weekly column for, “The New Leader’s Playbook,” and the musical “Twitter Pi.”

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Morris: Before discussing your books, a few general questions. First, which person has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? Please explain.

Bradt: Got to be my wife, Meg. She is so strong in areas that I’m so weak in that she has helped me to see the value of opposing views and attitudes on a continuous basis over the past 35+ years. Not that I’ve adopted her views and attitudes, and not that I’ve tried to become strong in the areas that she’s strong in, just that knowing and understanding those things has helped me develop into who I am.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?

Bradt: I’m blessed to have the ability to take things in from a wide variety of sources. I’ve learned bits and pieces from the people I’ve worked for, worked with, and had work for me, from suppliers, from customers, from teachers, and thought leaders. I am the sum total of all these bits and pieces.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Bradt: At age 23 I took over a sales unit from my former boss. He was a dramatically better salesman than I was so I knew I couldn’t cycle his numbers by outselling him. I chose to out manage him.

I gave one of my key accounts to each of my four strongest salespeople and spent the next six months training them.

• Month 1: They came with me on the key account calls and didn’t do or say anything.
• Month 2: I let them do the paper work after the call.
• Month 3: I let them prepare the presentation – which I gave.
• Month 4: I let them give the presentation – but not answer any questions.
• Month 5: I let them give the presentation and answer the questions – with me there as back up
• Month 6: I had them meet me before the call, take me through their presentation, explain how they were going to answer questions.

Then I let them make the sales call while I waited outside.

Then we debriefed immediately after that

Then, I took a one-week vacation and went to a one week sales management meeting. When I came back, these guys were 150 percent of the month’s target – through two weeks. They knew what to do and owned their results.

It changed me. I know the leverage of a team vs. an individual. Since then, I’ve always put my first, best efforts into developing others and building the team.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have achieved thus far?

Bradt: I look good on paper and that gives me some credibility. Many of my best friends and business colleagues are people I met either at school or through post-school networking groups.

The real value is in the basics. My elementary school, St. Bernard’s, is remarkable. Had the most extraordinary teachers and students. Anyone that spent more than a few years there has a discipline around the use of words that is rare in the world. That was my foundation that allowed me to get the most out of Choate, Winchester, Harvard, and Wharton – though some of those were pretty good too!

Morris: What do you know now about business that you wish you knew when you left the classroom to begin a full-time job?


1)  Defining your own win. Must, must, must define your own professional and personal goals – and understand the trade-off choices you are going to make across those two. Everyone is different. Everyone needs to understand what’s really important to them and what’s not.

2)  The importance of a long-term view. It’s very hard to look way down the road at age 22. There’s so much power in thinking about what you want to be later on and what knowledge and skills you choose to acquire to get there. Steve Jobs says you can only connect the dots backwards. I buy that. But you can make choices about which dots you want to put on the paper.

3)  The applicability of where to play/how to win my own career. One of the most important choices people make is which industry to play in and then which company to play in within that industry. Choose wisely and the rising tide helps. Choose less wisely and your fighting the trend the whole way. The second part of that is choosing how you’re going to differentiate yourself to win within your industry.

Morris: When and why did you found PrimeGenesis in 2002?

Bradt: I got mad. I saw how poorly organizations were bringing onboard new leaders. I developed a process that improved that. I thought there was a business there and wanted to try.

Turns out we were right, my 12 partners and I have reduced the rate of new leader failure from 40 percent to 10 percent. Our top 10 clients have used us 140 times. We make a lasting impact on the people we help. It’s very cool.

Morris: To what extent (f any) has its original mission since changed?

Bradt: We have not wavered. We’ve been in the business of helping new leaders and their teams deliver better results faster since our inception.

Morris: What is the CEO Connection and what does it do?

Bradt: It’s an organization of mid-market CEOs and rising CEOs that help each other. It’s like YPO for companies of $100MM to $3B in sales. CEOs helping CEOs.

As its website says,CEO Connection is about interaction with peers and access to functional experts. It helps its members develop business leads and friendships, fosters intellectual stimulation and creates career opportunities. Members receive exclusive access to the following programs and resources.

Peer Connections: In-person events that create the foundation for peer relationships.
Includes CEO Boot Camps, Forums, Dinners, Lunches, Conference Calls and Special Events.

Individual Attention: A Personal CEO Connector is assigned to each member to help leverage the benefits and opportunities of the organization. Includes connections to other members and to the resources that CEO Connection puts at your disposal.

Access to Information: Online resources that provide quick access to essential information and the collective wisdom of 4,000 CEOs. Includes a Member Directory, Idea Exchange and official LinkedIn Group.

Career Support: Expert support services that help CEOs develop and grow their careers. Includes Board Matching, Executive Coaching, Transition Support and Business Opportunities.

Special Privileges: Special privileges and status as a CEO Connection member. Includes CEO Nomination, Membership Badge, Penn Club Membership and Wharton Fellows Program

Exclusive Services: VIP treatment and special discounts from top companies. Includes Board Creation, HR Consulting, PR Services, Placement Service and Executive Onboarding support.

Morris: What differentiates the firm from others that offer comparable services and resources?

Bradt: The focus on mid-market. YPO is great for smaller companies. Davos is great for the mega-companies. CEO Connection is right for mid-market companies. Strong membership. Strong strategic partners

Morris: What is the relationship between PrimeGenesis and CEO Connection?

Bradt: In its infinite wisdom, CEO Connection hired PrimeGenesis to facilitate its CEO Boot Camps. (The fact that I personally own 50% of CEO Connection had nothing to do with this.)

Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face during the next 3-5 years? Any advice for them?

Bradt: Adapting. Per Darwin, survival of the fittest is all about being the one best able to adapt to changing circumstances. And we know we’re looking at all sorts of change over the next 3-5 years.

Make sure your strategic, operating, and organizational processes both mandate continual evolution in your organization and continually evolve themselves.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, Third Edition. When and why did you decide to write it and in collaboration with Jayme A. Check and Jorge E. Pedraza?

Bradt: Jayme, Jorge and I have been co-authors of all three editions of this book. It starts with my fundamental belief that teams beat individuals every time. Every one of my published business books was co-authored with at least one other person. Mary Vonnegut and I co-wrote Onboarding. Ed Bancroft and I co-wrote The Total Onboarding Program.

We originally decided to write The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan to share what was working at PrimeGenesis. We knew we were on to something that would help others. There was an argument for keeping it secret so people had to hire PrimeGenesis to get at it. We rejected that for two reasons:

1)  I spend my time trying to contribute to individuals, knowledge, and joy. This was a way to contribute to knowledge. So it was important on its own.

2)  It’s just good marketing. We’re so small and plan to stay so small that we couldn’t really worry about aiding competitors. We’re very happy taking an ever-decreasing share of an ever-increasing market. The book helps.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations along the way while writing it?

Bradt: It’s hard to distinguish between writing it and living it. I think about onboarding all the time. I’m constantly working the issues, probing the issues, living the issues. There’s no daylight between the writing and the doing.

Having said that, we’ve had a series of head-snapping revelations within our three main ideas of getting a head start, managing the message, and building the team.

Getting a head start

This, on its own, was a revelation. We definitely pioneered the idea of taking advantage of the time between acceptance and start, the “Fuzzy Front End.” The people that have had pre-start conversations with critical stakeholders before day one have seen tremendous value in that.

Most recently, I had a new revelation listening to a talk by Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability. It helped me understand why the Fuzzy Front end offers the first best chance for new leaders to let their guard down, be vulnerable, and make connections with their most important stakeholders. This is played out in the new third edition of the book.

The other new tool in the third edition crosses context and culture to help new leaders choose the right approach to onboarding. People are loving that and our BRAVE cultural framework (Behaviors, Relationships, Attitude, Values, Environment).

Manage the Message 

My old boss at Coca-Cola, Sergio Zyman, drilled the point that everything communicates. He was right (on this and on a bunch of other things – though not on New Coke). Applying this to onboarding has made a big impact.

Most recently, we had a revelation that the growth of social media changes everything about how new leaders (and everyone else) need to communicate. We went back in and completely re-wrote our chapter on communication in the third edition.

Build the team

Who won eight gold medals in the last summer Olympics in swimming? Michael Phelps….and his team. (Three of the races were relays and the team membership includes far more than just the guys in the water). We know that the only thing a new leader can do all by himself or herself is fail. All success requires is the team. Hence our strong emphasis on building the team over the first 100 days.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ from the once you originally envision? Please explain

Bradt: The original draft of the book was organized across people – plans – practices. Our editor at Wiley, Richard Narramore, had us pivot the book to turn it into a much more actionable, timeline. He was right. It was also his idea to add the downloadable tools – another winner.

Morris: The copy I have is the Second Edition and another edition has just been published. What are the most significant differences between and among the three editions?

Bradt: The big jump is actually from the second edition to the third edition. The big changes are:

• Taking a BRAVE new approach to culture and context: We have added a new comprehensive approach on how to engage hearts and minds in the intended culture. Now included is explicit guidance on how to assess and manage the business and internal political context and how to use a BRAVE approach to assessing culture, which looks at Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, and Environment.

• Applying social media to onboarding: To address the changes that social media has brought to communication and leadership, we have shifted the emphasis of the communication chapter to downplay sequential, programmatic communication campaigns and present a current, dynamic, iterative, and interactive approach to conversations across a network of multiple stakeholders, and across a wide variety of media.

• Incorporating more robust crisis management techniques: We have added a new appendix on a 100-Hour Action Plan for crisis situations. This iterative approach to crisis management has already been adopted and deployed by the American Red Cross and has enabled it to improve its disaster response time frame significantly by starting to do things on the second day after a disaster that it previously was not doing until the sixth day.

• Providing advice for the new leader’s boss: For a whole new perspective on onboarding, we have added an appendix on onboarding a new leader, with advice for the new leader’s boss drawn from George Bradt and Mary Vonnegut’s “Onboarding” book (2009).[1]

• Including sample 100-Day Action Plans. In response to clients’ and readers’ requests, we have added an appendix with sample 100-Day Action Plans to show what completed plans might look like.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read any of the editions, please explain briefly what the onboarding process is and what it can accomplish.

Bradt: Onboarding is the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new team members, whether they come from outside or inside the organization. The prerequisite to successful onboarding is getting your organization aligned around the need and the role

Align: Make sure your organization agrees on the need for a new team member and the delineation of the role you seek to fill.

  • Acquire: Identify, recruit, select, and get people to join the team.
  • Accommodate: Give new team members the tools they need to do the work.
  • Assimilate: Help them join with others so they can do the work together.
  • Accelerate: Help them and their team deliver better results faster.

Morris: Here are three admonitions (characterized as “key ideas”) explored in the book. To whom are they addressed?

Bradt: To the leader going into the job

Morris: Please explain each. First, “Get a head start before the start.”

Bradt: Day One is a critical pivot point for people joining from outside the company. The same is true for the formal announcement of someone getting promoted or transferred from within. In both situations, you can accelerate progress by getting a head start and hitting the ground running. Preparation breeds confidence and a little early momentum goes a long way.

Morris: Next, “Take control of your message.”

Bradt: Everything communicates. People read into everything you say and do, and everything you don’t say and don’t do. You’re far better off choosing and guiding what others see and hear, and when they see and hear it, rather than letting happenstance or others make those choices for you.

Morris: Finally, “Build a high-performance team.”

Bradt: The first 100 days is the best time to put in place the basic building blocks of a high-performing team. You will fail if you try to do everything yourself, without the support and buy-in of your team. As a team leader, your own success is inextricably linked to the success of the team as a whole.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of high-performing teams?

Bradt: High performing teams have tactical capacity. That is, a team’s ability to work under difficult, changing conditions and to translate strategies into tactical actions decisively, rapidly and effectively. It is the essential bridge between strategy and execution. In contrast to other work groups that move slowly, with lots of direction and most decision making coming from the leader, high-performing teams with strong tactical capacity empower each member, communicating effectively with the team and the leader (you), to come up with critical solutions to the inevitable problems that arise on an ongoing basis and to implement them quickly. The goal is high-quality responsiveness and it takes a truly cohesive BRAVE teamwork to make it happen. High-performing teams build on strategy and plans with ADEPT people and practices to implement ever-evolving and acutely responsive actions that work

Morris: You suggest that there are five building blocks that underpin a team’s tactical capacity: communication campaign, Burning Imperative, milestones, early wins, and ADEPT people in the right roles. What is a” Burning Imperative” and what is its significance?

Bradt: The “Burning Imperative” is a sharply defined, intensely shared and purposefully urgent understanding from each of the team members of what they are “supposed to do, now,” and how this works with the larger aspirations of the team and the organization. While mission, vision, and values are often components of the Burning Imperative, the critical piece is the rallying cry that everyone understands and can act on. Get this created and bought into early on—even if it’s only 90 percent right. You, and the team, will adjust and improve along the way. Don’t let anything distract you from getting this in place and shared—in your first 30 days!

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of ADEPT people and what are the benefits of having such people in the given enterprise?

Bradt: ADEPT is an acronym for Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent:

Acquire: Recruit, attract, and onboard the right people.
Develop: Assess and build skills and knowledge.
Encourage: Direct, support, recognize, and reward.
Plan: Monitor, assess, plan career moves over time.
Transition: Migrate to different roles as appropriate.

These are among the most important responsibilities any leader must accept…and do well.

Morris: You offer a wealth of information, insights, and advice to a new leader. To what extent (if any) are there significant differenced between the challenges faced by someone promoted or reassigned within an organization and those faced by someone hired from outside the organization?

Bradt: The basics of (1) get a head start, (2) manage your message, and (3) build your team, apply in every case. What’s different for someone promoted from within or reassigned with an organization is what he or she needs to get a head start on and the restrictions around that, the nature of their message and the context for that message, and the conditions and context of their team building.

Our prescription is:

1. You can’t control the context—so prepare in advance and be ready to adjust as required.
2. Understand the context (planned, unplanned, interim).
3. Secure the resources and support you need—especially internationally.
4. Go with the flow, regain control of the situation, or jump into the dirty work as appropriate.

It’s hard to make a clean break—so take control of your own message and transition.

• Manage the announcement cascade.
• Secure your base, ensuring your “old” area’s ongoing success.
• Recognize the people who helped you along the way.
• Use the time before you start to strengthen relationships and jump-start learning.
• Assess your predecessor’s legacy and clarify what you’ll keep and what you’ll change.
• Manage first impressions in the new role—with all due respect.

There’s no honeymoon—so accelerate team progress after the start:

• Evolve the stated and defacto strategies (Burning Imperatives).

• Improve operations and implement dramatic changes as needed (milestones, early wins).

• Strengthen your organization (role sort).

Morris: Which career plan do you recommend for someone to position himself or herself for a new leadership role or position?

Bradt: Positioning yourself for a leadership role is about connecting values with goals, and crossing strengths and communication. You must supplement your talent with learning and practice to build your knowledge and sharpen your skills over the short, mid, and long term. Then, when you’re ready, you need to communicate those strengths to secure the promotion or new leadership role you deserve.

Leadership is personal. Your message is the key that unlocks personal connections. The greater the congruence between your own BRAVE Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, and the Environment you create, the stronger those connections will be. This is why the best messages aren’t crafted—they emerge. This is why great leaders live their messages not because they can, but because they must. “Here I stand, I can do no other.”[2]

Morris: Please explain this suggestion to candidates in Chapter 2: “[begin italics] Sell [end italics] before you buy.”

Bradt: You cannot turn down a job you have not been offered. So,  first put your energy into getting the job offer.

Morris: What are the most common “land mines” during the onboarding process and how to avoid them?

Bradt: In general, you’ll want to mitigate organization, role, and personal land mines before accepting a job, and jump-start relationships and learning even before Day One so you can concentrate on successful delivery and adjustment after you start. We’ve seen way too many people join organizations and discover that what they are really expected to do does not match what they thought they were signing up to do. There are ways to avoid finding yourself in that situation.

Morris: Obviously, it is highly desirable to know what these “land mines” are and how to avoid them. New leaders also need to obtain information about much less perilous issues and circumstances to avoid saying or doing anything, inadvertently, that could be counter productive. Here’s my question: How best to conduct “due diligence” on the context of the new leadership role or position?

Bradt: The ability and willingness to assess and deal with risk is often a critical differentiator between success and failure. Once you’ve been offered the job—and only after you’ve been offered the job—do in-depth due diligence to make sure it is right for you. This involves mitigating organization, role and personal risks by answering three questions:

1)  What is the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage?
2)  Did anyone have concerns about this role; and, if so, what was done to mitigate them?
3)  What, specifically, about me, led to your offering me the job?

With those answers in hand, you can then decide if you’ve got a low level of risk that requires no extraordinary actions, manageable risk that you’ll manage as you go, mission-crippling risk that you must resolve before going forward, or insurmountable barriers requiring you to walk away.

Morris: Back to “the fuzzy front end.” How best to “embrace” it?

Bradt: The time between acceptance and start is a gift you can use to rest and relax or to get a head start on your new role or next 100 days. Our experience has shown that those who use this Fuzzy Front End to put a plan in place, complete their pre-start preparation, and jump-start learning and relationships are far more likely to deliver better results faster than those who choose to rest and relax. Five important steps:

1)  Identify the most important stakeholders up, across, and down—both inside and out.
2)  Plan your message, Fuzzy Front End, and first or next 100 days.
3)  Manage your personal setup so you have less to worry about after you start.
4)  Conduct pre-start meetings and phone calls to jump-start important relationships.
5)  Gather information and learning in advance to jump-start learning.

Morris: You and your co-authors offer 21 downloadable “Tools” throughout the book that consist of forms that the reader can complete. Any suggestions as to how to take full advantage of what these valuable resources offer?

Bradt: It’s best to use these as you go, accessing each tool as you need it, when you need it, as often as you need it.  There’s no time-limit on how long you have access to the tools so they’ll be there.  None of this is designed as a theoretical exercise. Instead the tools are there to help you and your new hires deliver better results faster.

Morris: How best to identify what you call “ADEPT” people during the interview process?

Bradt: Per above, “ADEPT” is an acronym for Acquire – Develop – Encourage – Plan – and Transition. Nevertheless, we use a strengths-focused, targeted selection/behavioral approach to interviewing with good success. Complete the interviewing process with formal post interview de-briefs, additional information gathering, and post interview follow-ups with candidates to learn even more (and set up closing the sale later).

Morris: Please explain the meaning of Chapter 7’s title, “Decide How to Engage the New Culture: Assimilate, Converge, and Evolve, or Shock.” Also, how so “shock”?

Bradt: Be careful about how you engage with the organization’s existing business context and culture. The business context is a function of the business environment, organizational history, and recent business performance. Together, these factors indicate the relative importance and urgency of the change required.

An organization’s culture underpins “the way we do things here” and is made up of Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, and Environment, which all feed into the culture’s readiness for change.

Crossing context and culture can help you decide whether to Assimilate, Converge, and Evolve (fast or slow), or Shock. Then map contributors, detractors, and convincible watchers so you can move each of them one step by altering their balance of consequences.

Morris: What specifically do you and your co-authors have in mind when recommending an “ongoing communication campaign”?

Bradt: Actually, this is one of the big changes from the first and second editions to the third edition. We now think it’s important to motivate and focus your team with ongoing communications including through social media.

Where the emphasis used to be on logical, sequential, targeted, ongoing communication campaigns, the communication revolution has made it essential to manage multiple, concurrent, ever-evolving conversations across an ever-changing network of stakeholders. Leverage your core message as the foundation for those conversations by seeding and reinforcing communication points through a wide variety of media with no compromises on trustworthiness and authenticity.

Morris: What are the most important do’s and don’ts for a new leader on Day One?

Bradt: Everything is magnified on Day One, whether it’s your first day in a new company, or the day of a big announcement. Everyone is looking for hints about what you think and what you’re going to do. This is why it’s so important to seed your message by paying particular attention to all the signs, symbols, and stories you deploy, and the order in which you deploy them. Make sure that people are seeing and hearing things that will lead them to believe and feel what you want them to believe and feel about you and about themselves in relation to the future of the organization

Morris: What are the most important do’s and don’ts for a new leader’s associates on day one?

Bradt: Managing first impressions goes two ways: the impression the new employee makes on the organization and the impression the organization makes on the employee. None of this is underhanded or secret. Each should work to make the best possible first impression on the other. There are some basic ideas that always help.

First, in terms of the impression the organization makes on the new employee:

• Do a reality check on what’s really going on inside the organization. You can’t get the organization to pretend to be something that it’s not. You can manage the new employee’s expectations around what they’re walking into so they’re not shocked.

• Design a superlative new employee experience for your new employee so they feel welcomed, valued by and valuable to an organization they will take pride in.

Next, in terms of the impression the new employee makes on the organization

• Serve as a scout for the new employee, letting them know what time to arrive, where to park, what to wear, what to bring, etc.

• Help your new employee design Day One experiences that seed his or her message

Finally, from both perspectives:

• Pick the right Day One – a time and a place when and where you and your new employee’s most important colleagues can be there to greet him or her and participate in the Day One activities.

• Don’t reinvent the wheel – start with our prototypical Day-One plan and modify it to fit your situation.

Morris: What are “key milestones” and how can they “drive team performance”?

Bradt: The real test of a high-performing team’s tactical capacity lies in the formal and informal practices that are at work across team members, particularly around clarifying decision rights and information flows.[3] The real job of a high-performing team leader is to inspire and enable others to do their absolute best, together. These leaders spend more time integrating across than managing down. The milestone tool is straightforward and focuses on mapping and tracking and what is getting done by when by whom. High-performing team leaders take that basic tool to a whole new level, exploiting it to inspire and enable people to work together as a team!

Morris: Please explain what it means to “overinvest” in early wins.

Bradt: Put extra resources against them. It’s the difference between putting 20 percent of your time and resources against each of your top five priorities and putting 40 percent against the one you designate as the early win and 15 percent against each of the other four.

Morris: How best to determine which people need to have which roles?

Bradt: The match between the role requirements and their own strengths, motivation and fit.

Morris: Please explain Chapter 14’s title, “Evolve People, Plans, and Practices to capitalize on Changing Circumstances.”

Bradt: Early wins are all about credibility and confidence. People have more faith in people who have delivered. You want team members to have confidence in you, in themselves, and in the plan for change that has emerged. You want your boss to have confidence in you. Early wins fuel that confidence. To that end, identify potential early wins by Day 60 and overinvest to deliver them by the end of your first six months—as a team!

Morris: Let’s say that someone reads and then re-reads the book, highlighting key passages. This person strongly aspires to occupy a new or expanded leadership position by acting upon the wealth of advice provided in the book. Where to begin? Any do’s and don’ts to keep in mind while proceeding?

Bradt: Keep focused on the basics. Success is far more likely if people prepare, deliver, and follow through. In this case, that translates to get a head start, manage the message and build the team.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Onboarding. As I note in my review for Amazon, you and Mary Vonnegut cover more, far more than how to get a new hire “on board” and in place. In fact, you propose a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective Total Onboarding Program (TOP) that covers everything from recruiting, interviewing, and hiring to orientation, performance measurement, and even succession planning. Is that a fair assessment?

Bradt: Yes.

Morris: How do you explain the fact that relatively few organizations now have an effective TOP in place, one that includes a capable person to supervise it?

Bradt: It’s hard work, requiring more thinking and execution than most organizations are prepared to invest. Those that are doing well, don’t think they need it. Those that are not doing well don’t have time to do it.

Morris: You stress the importance of five components of such a program: Alignment, Acquisition, Accommodation, Assimilation, and Acceleration.

Bradt: Yes.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, please explain the essential objective of each. First, Alignment

Bradt: This is about getting critical stakeholders aligned around the need for a new employee, his or her role, and that role’s relationship to others.

Morris: Next, Acquisition

Bradt: Identify, recruit, select and get people to join the team.

Morris: Accommodation

Bradt: Give new team members the tools they need to do work.

Morris: Assimilation

Bradt: Help them join with others so they can do work together.

Morris: Finally, Acceleration

Bradt: Help them and their team deliver better results faster.

Morris: Of the five, with which do most companies seem to have the greatest difficulty? Why?

Bradt: Alignment. Though there are issues across the board, many hiring managers fail to get real alignment around the role before starting to recruit. The issue almost always comes to roost with one or more of the new hire’s peers.

Acquire. Some companies focus purely on “buying” during acquisition, treating candidates like second-class citizens. It’s hard to turn around and make offerees think you respect them after that.

Accommodate. Some companies fail to make it possible for new hires to do work on Day One. The classic case is the guy that joined IBM and wanted to go to the training center his first afternoon. The guard at the door stopped him and said he couldn’t come in without an ID. But no one had thought to give this new hire an ID.

“I don’t care if you are the CEO. You’re not getting in here without an ID.”

“I am the CEO”

Someone eventually got Lou Gerstner an ID – but not that day.

Assimilate. Some hiring managers fail to take a proactive approach to assimilation, leaving their new hires to fend for themselves.

Accelerate. Some companies stop their onboarding efforts too soon, failing to help new hires accelerate. I don’t know if they need help for 100 days or six months, or eighteen months. But, in any case, it’s way more than the first week.

Morris: Based on what you have learned about onboarding over several decades, what are the most common reasons for a new employee’s failure to fulfill expectations?


1)  Failure to establish productive relationships
2)  Failure to adjust to changing circumstances
3)  Role failure – going into a role no one could be successful in
4)  Personal failure – not having the strengths, motivation, or fit for the job
5)  Organizational failure – no way to win
6)  Learning failure – not getting up to speed fast enough

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question: More often than not, who’s at fault? Why?

Bradt: Everyone. Shame on the new hire if he or she did not do his or her due diligence to mitigate organization, role, or personal risks before accepting. Shame on the new hire if he or she fails to establish productive relationships, get up the learning curve fast enough, deliver, or adjust.

Shame on the hiring manager and the organization if their organization fails, if they fail to get alignment behind the role, if they make a bad hire, if they fail to help the new hire get up the learning curve, establish relationships, deliver or adjust.

Morris: Let’s say that several different people in an organization function as a hiring manager. Should each be responsible for the new employee’s onboard experience all the way through? Please explain.

Bradt: No. The direct supervisor should have ultimate responsibility because he or she is going to manage the new hire directly and be responsible for the new hire’s results. Others should be responsible for their pieces of talent acquisition, accommodation, assimilation, or acceleration – within the direction set by the hiring manager.

Morris: What specifically, must be done in advance to prepare for a new employee’s success pre-recruiting?


  • Clarify how the new role will help the organization deliver what’s important
  • Craft a total onboarding program timeline
  • Write a recruiting brief
  • Articulate messages
  • Get everyone aligned around the first four

Morris: Specifically, how to recruit in a way that clearly explains and then strongly reinforces what you characterize as “messages about the position and the organization”?

Bradt: Everything communicates. In particular, conversations with candidates are important. As are interview days. Hiring managers should:

  • Map out the day
  • Schedule the interviewers
  • Make sure logistics are managed
  • Give pre-reading to candidates and interviewers so everyone is prepared
  • Welcome the candidates
  • Treat them with respect during the day
  • Thank them at the end

Morris: What specifically must then be done to enable and inspire each new employee to deliver more and better results, and do that faster?

Bradt: Co-create a personal onboarding plan and then help the new hire implement it.

Morris: How best to measure a new employee’s performance during (let’s say) the first 100 days on the job?

Bradt: The first 100 days are a myth. All that matters is how the employee delivers against the expected results over a reasonable period of time. But, the first 100 days are filled with milestones that should be hit – by all involved.

Morris: Those who purchase Downloading will appreciate the fact that 22 of the most valuable Forms and Tools that you and Mary Vonnegut provide in the book are downloadable. How best to take full advantage of this material?

Bradt: There’s a website link at the bottom of every tool in the book. It’s relatively straight forward

Morris: Given the importance of establishing and then constantly improving a Total Onboarding Program, you and Mary also provide reader-friendly devices throughout and at the conclusion of Chapters 2-12. They include “Time-Saver,” “Master Class,” “Summary and Indicated Actions,” and Focus” sections. Any tips as to how best to take full advantage of the benefits that this material provides?

Bradt: We did those so people can skim through the book, get the main points and then dig in where they want. The Master Class ideas became the basis of our third book, The Total Onboarding Program, written for organizations to help them implement a systemic approach to onboarding.

Morris: Let’s say that someone has read and then re-read this book, highlighting key passages and intends to establish a Total Onboarding Program for her or his own organization. Now what? Where to Begin? Any do’s and don’ts to keep in mind?

Bradt: Don’t try this at home. Get help from the people who know how to implement systemic programs – perhaps with the help of our third book, The Total Onboarding Program. On the other hand, the book is written so any manager can implement their own onboarding program. Any manager wanting extra help can go to that will walk them through every step with videos and tools.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Bradt: You were very thorough.  You might have asked about our new iPad app – New Leader Smart Tools.  But you didn’t know about it because it launches tomorrow.  (Could be day after tomorrow your time since I’m in Singapore as I write this.)   That could be another interview.  (I included a link to its website below.)

*   *   *

George Bradt cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

[1] Bradt, George, and Vonnegut, Mary, 2009. Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

[2] Attributed to Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521, when asked to recant his earlier writings.

[3] Neilson, Martin, and Powers, “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” Harvard Business Review (June 2008): 60.


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  1. George Bradt on October 14, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Wow! Thorough! Thank you.

  2. HR Crest on January 5, 2012 at 9:16 am


    It was such an engaging read! I believe in the power of on-boarding and its direct impact on success of the individual in an organization. Your book, Total On boarding Program, should be every manager’s handbook to groom new employees apart from being the HR Manager’s companion.

    I am for sure going to visit your resources sites and learn more about on boarding and other related services.



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