Successful On-Boarding in the C-suite

In celebrating the end of another successful year here at Arnold Partners, I gave thought to what happens once we shake off the satisfaction of completing a search, and the real work begins for our clients and placed candidates. As a general rule, I’m not personally involved in the details of on-boarding the new hire. I have an important regimen of follow-up with the executives involved, but certainly I’m not on-site to see how the new CFO is brought into the fold to maximize success. So, I reached out to some of my clients to educate me (and maybe you too?) about successful methods of on-boarding for success.

My client Shari Simpson, Head of Global Human Resources at Shockwave Medical, points out that while on-boarding a c-suite executive is different than an entry-level employee, “It’s very important that everyone deserves attention and respect from day one.” She says much more information is shared at the executive level about the business plan, company goals and objectives, and the timelines to achieve them, but the contribution of every employee is critical. Shari also states, “If the employer’s expectations of the new hire aren’t met in the first 60 days, the new hire is likely to leave. You don’t want any surprises in the new hire’s experience. You want their expectations of what it’s like to work there to be right in line with reality.” She goes on to say, “On-boarding is more than a check-list, it needs to be real and based on empathy for all employees and focused on mutual success — no surprises!”

John Owens, Chief People Officer at Sentient (and long-time client of Arnold Partners), chimed in as well on some important factors at the CXO level. He emphasizes the culture of the company during the interview process, specifically how the executive staff interacts with one another. How are meetings conducted? What are the key behaviors? Is communication tight and crisp, or is it long-winded and heavy on details? John says, “What you really don’t want is a new executive to fall on their face in their first executive meeting!” He also takes a lot of time in the interview process to explain the culture of the company, because, he says,“If you don’t get the cultural fit right from the start, it’s highly unlikely it will ever be right.”

Ms. Andy Danforth, former client of Arnold Partners, has some even stronger thoughts on the importance of on-boarding: “All new employees really want to have a formal orientation process, especially executives. The complexities of the executive role require that they learn the lay of the land before they dive into any form of execution. They need to know the who, the what, the where, and understand the expectations from all parties.” She added, “The on-boarding process builds momentum and is absolutely critical for retention. It’s really not an option — it’s mission critical to have a formal and well-systemized process for all employees.”

Finally, I had the pleasure to speak with Jennifer McKay, VPHR at Hercules Capital, placed there by yours truly. She had a couple of unique ideas to add: “The big thing is to communicate with new hires before they even start, and to set their schedule for them so they know what meetings they will be in, and with whom. Then, the critical part is getting feedback on their initial impressions. They bring a fresh set of eyes and ears to the company at a high level — they can offer some truly novel and unique ideas about what seems to be working well and what’s not. It’s like having a free consultant!” Jennifer also likes to meet with the new exec during the first week to talk about the star employees from their previous job. She keeps a list for future hires.

So, while I may hand the baton off to my clients after we have sign-off on an offer, I do believe our process is in lock step with the advice from above. It’s about respecting all the parties involved in the search process, it’s about getting the cultural fit right, it’s about being as clear as we can about the current situation in our client company and sharing the vision of where the company wants to go. Most importantly is long-term success. My speculation is that the long-term success of any hire may begin with the first recruiting call, and how the opportunity is presented to a potential candidate. For a refresher on this point see my video, There are many steps from there.

I’d like to hear your perspectives on on-boarding. Or if you would like to learn more about our process and how it supports on-boarding, email me at