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What Companies Can Do Right Now to Improve Executive Onboarding

Twitter once found itself to be an unintentionally popular subject on its own platform. The media buzzed wildly about the company’s ousting of chief executive Dick Costolo, the interim handoff of leadership to the company’s co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, and just who was going to be tapped to take the reins of the company long term (Snoop Dogg, anyone?).

Twitter’s leadership transition was made all the more difficult by a number of factors. The company had already experienced rocky transitions at the chief executive level previously. And more than a year after IPO, Twitter once again was feeling the tension among its investors as stock prices for competitor Facebook soar while its own shares stagnated.

But of course, Twitter is far from alone when it comes to facing the challenge of bringing on new senior executives.

Today it’s commonplace for businesses to bring in senior leadership from outside the company. More than 1 in 5 CEO positions are given to external candidates, and in some industries, as many as 60% of all C-suite executive positions go to outsiders. While most senior leadership transitions are given more than the perfunctory two week’s notice, rarely are new executives given sufficient time to truly learn the ins and outs of a business before fully stepping into the role.

Even planned changes in senior leadership are significant moments in a company’s operations — and are essential to get right to ensure smooth continued operations. Which is why, for virtually every business today, facilitating an executive onboarding program that works has become a critical job for the learning and development team.1


What Makes Executive Onboarding Different

Most companies have already discovered that formal employee onboarding programs are a sound investment. According to a report by the Aberdeen Group, companies that offer an onboarding program have an average employee retention rate fully 30 points better than those without. Well-executed onboarding techniques lead to positive outcomes such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, and greater organizational commitment.

However, not all onboarding needs are the same.

For most businesses, front lines and team-level management positions are often hired for specific skills or capabilities that can be taught. Onboarding for these positions is often a relatively routine task of training to ensure each new hire’s skills are fit to the company’s preferred processes.

Executive leaders, however, are typically hired not for a single professional skill but for their ability to synthesize information and use that knowledge to inform action. Onboarding these leaders, then, is not about teaching someone how to do something — it’s teaching someone what there is to know.

When opportunity knocks or crisis looms, businesses expect their executives to understand the landscape and take action. They need to know how legacy IT systems are most likely to fail and what the failsafes are. They must understand the global status of legal and competitive challenges and recognize what impacts those may have on communications plans. When the supply chain threatens to break down, they have to be able to find the right Plan B.

All this knowledge and more already exists inside every business, and it’s the job of executive onboarding to make it accessible to new leadership. While it’s information that is nearly impossible to document — it may be possible to capture.


Corporate policy and procedure are ideal subjects for video training — especially for busy executives who don’t always have time for classroom sessions


What A Comprehensive Executive Onboarding Program Should Include

As learning and development teams look to provide valuable new executive onboarding materials, the first focus should always be on capturing information. Any number of details may prove essential as new leaders work through their first 90 days, so L&D teams will want to ensure they make as much available as possible. Where that information will come from will differ for every business. For most, the following resources will help build a strong foundation of knowledge.

Interviews with departing executives

The single best resource for most new executives will be their predecessor. Fortunate new leaders may have the luxury of spending several weeks or months working side by side with the person already in the role while the transition is made. Most, however, never meet the person they’ve replaced and are forced to learn the finer points of the role on their own.

Learning and development teams can smooth abrupt transitions by working with departing executives to capture and preserve as much of their institutional knowledge as possible before they walk out the door. As the New York Times notes, companies have increasingly begun recording their subject matter experts’ knowledge, ensuring that those insights can be passed along to successive waves of employees.

Anytime a senior leader leaves the company, L&D teams should plan to schedule time with the departing executive to record as much as possible of the following:

  • The details of their daily work, including any information about how systems/programs work and who key team members and stakeholder are
  • The status of existing and proposed projects
  • Common hurdles and challenges to expect

Departing executives generally want to ensure they’ve left the organization in good hands and without burning any bridges, and thus are usually more than willing to share their insights.

Insights from colleagues-to-be

While a predecessor can help a new executive better understand their role, the other executives in your organization will help shape how your new leader works within your business.

Most new leaders will plan to take time to meet with their colleagues as part of their first 90 days on a job. However, the waiting often required for two executives’ calendars to align can be substantial. This waiting time only increases if the two don’t work from the same office.

Moreover, waiting for the face-to-face meeting is often a waste of time regardless of how long it takes to schedule. Veteran executives typically already know what information they want to share with a new colleague. Capturing that information ahead of time and sharing it right away will help the new leader get up to speed faster, and have a more informed discussion once everyone’s schedules are open.

Anytime a new leader comes on board, L&D teams should plan to meet with other senior leaders and record the following:

  • The details of how each executive’s teams work, and what projects and programs they are a stakeholder on
  • How each executive’s team generally interacts with the new leader’s team
  • Executive-level insights on current company strategies or initiatives

As organizations flatten and lean operations drive more cross-team dependencies, senior leaders in most organizations will welcome the opportunity to forge well-informed relationships with new executive colleagues.

Subject matter expert rundowns

While departing and remaining peers can help a new hire get up to speed in their role, another critical element of executive onboarding is ensuring that new leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses of business processes, programs, systems, and services. Most executives won’t need to become subject matter experts on the inner workings of these operations, but an end-to-end rundown of the most important aspects of the business may flag any issues or opportunities for a fresh set of eyes.

L&D teams should plan to tap SMEs each time a new executive comes on board to ensure new leaders are shown the ins and outs of how your business and your offerings work. Be sure to include:

  • An overview of your product, including development time, typical sales cycle, and competitive insights
  • An overview of your customers, including target and halo customer types, current service levels and issues, and planned user experience projects
  • An overview of your technology ecosystems, including current highest priority projects and issues for IT, ERP, and SCM
  • An overview of your legal and accounting issues, including regulatory requirements in your state and industry, as well as for-internal-eyes-only market assessments and projections

For new executives, the chance to hear from subject matter experts helps to identify resources and to learn where dependencies may exist. For subject matter experts, the opportunity to provide an overview for a new executive can often be a chance to demonstrate value and offer insights on how existing processes or systems may be improved.

Executive-only training and information

At most organizations, the routine training and information senior leaders receive is different from that most other employees are provided. Senior leaders may be compensated differently, or have access to an expanded list of benefits. Likewise, executive positions carry a greater list of responsibilities, both as a matter of firm policy and legal requirement.

Ensuring all those details are understood is a critical part of executive onboarding. However, all too often, communicating these essentials is left to a quick rundown meeting and a quickly skimmed handbook. As a result, research suggest as much as 90% of this information may be forgotten within six months.

Instead of making these essential details the subject of a quick compliance meeting, L&D teams should work to capture each piece of information and share it in a way that a new executive can review on-demand, ensuring that proper attention is paid and proper procedure will be followed.

The full list of essentials to cover will vary by company and the new executive’s position, but at a minimum, L&D teams should prepare to include the following:

  • Personnel management and development policies, including annual review procedures
  • Hiring policies, including diversity standards and legal requirements
  • Legal and regulatory policies, including if applicable, conflict of interest policies, company PAC information, and Sarbanes Oxley requirements
  • Compensation information, including any additional executive-specific details for payroll, bonuses, and stock options
  • Benefits information, including any details on executive perks or additional feature options

These items are essential for any executive to know. Making them accessible at a moment’s notice will help ensure new executives can more easily understand and follow policy when questions inevitably arise.

Make Executive Onboarding Better for Everyone 

Today, most executive onboarding programs are an informal combination of meetings, handbooks, and hope. Businesses expect senior leaders will be savvy enough to walk into a new position, call a few meetings, read a few email summaries, meet with HR, and get to work.

The fact is that, too often, leaving it to the new leader to manage their own transition is setting them up for failure. According to Harvard Business Review, as many as 40% of new leaders hired from the outside fail within 18 months, often simply due to a rocky entrance. Corporate learning and development teams have the power to change that, applying the same concepts and tools they already rely on for traditional employee onboarding.

Related Reading: 15 Ways to Enhance Employee Onboarding with Video


Video, which is already a staple for training new hires in companies around the globe, can be an especially valuable asset when it comes to bringing on new executives.

Video captures more details more efficiently

Text transcripts from interviews with departing executives and soon-to-be colleagues are often impossibly long. A simple 30-minute conversation may yield 20 pages or more of text. Yet trimming those documents opens the possibility that some important detail will be lost – rendering the whole exercise useless.

Video, however, makes recording all that detail simple – the interviewee can simply turn on a webcam or a smartphone camera and press “record”. Enterprise video platforms (sometimes called a video CMS or “corporate YouTube”) like Panopto can even enable interviewees to share information on slides, on their computer screens, or on additional video streams from other cameras.

A video library is a secure, on-demand resource

Instead of working to fit face-to-face meetings into already-packed schedules, or forcing new executives to find time to get up to speed on the basics, sharing information as a recorded video allows your new hire to learn whenever they have a free moment. As a result, they are able to review their onboarding materials much more quickly than they would have been able to in formal meetings.

An enterprise video CMS can further extend the availability of your video, by ensuring it can be played back easily, anytime and anywhere. With Panopto, every video uploaded to the secure video library is automatically transcoded for optimal playback on any device, meaning your new leader can review their onboarding materials in the office on their laptop, during their commute on a smartphone, or while traveling using a tablet.

Best of all, for Panopto customers, every word spoken or shown on-screen in every video recorded is indexed for search, meaning new executives can instantly find and fast-forward right to the relevant information they may need.

Make Your Executive Onboarding Program Better with Video

Employee training and communications teams have made video a core part of new hire onboarding. Video is versatile and flexible, ready anywhere on-demand to teach new skills and share new information.

The value video provides as a training tool doesn’t stop when the elevator reaches the top floor. This technology-enabled, more flexible approach to training is quickly becoming the norm even with the most senior executives, and is a smart fit for the agile approach to learning many leaders prefer.

Ready to see how your organization can help make sure every new hire — from the front lines to the corner office — has a great first day? See what Panopto’s video platform for sharing knowledge can do for your organization. Contact a member of our team today to request a free trial.