Executive Coaching ‘Onboarding’: Transition Programmes for Newly Hired (or Promoted) Executives

Coaching and mentoring, Talent Management | 2 comments

Having done executive coaching for over twenty years, it is interesting to see how little the challenges facing newly hired executives coming from other companies, or indeed those promoted internally, appear to have changed.

It is just as fascinating is to realise how little structural support many of these people in many organisations actually get, to help them with these challenges.

And when some fail a year or two later, which both research and anecdotal evidence suggest many do (although obviously not the ones that I coach!), it is easy to dismiss as the executive not fitting in with the company culture or not being that good after all.

As I’ve pointed out to Board members of large companies, if you’ve gone to the trouble of hiring senior people in, or have developed and promoted from within, what a tremendous potential waste of talent not assist them with their new executive role and to leave them to sink or swim.

Especially as many challenges do remain the same. For example: increased span of control (especially in areas of their new organisation where they have little experience); conflicting priorities/dilemma reconciliation/decision making/priority setting; comfort with ambiguity; moving between hierarchical and functional roles; influencing across organisational boundaries; persuasion, building & maintaining networks; building & managing remote teams; managing in the matrix; stakeholder management; developing additional leadership styles to the up-to-now successful preferred style (situational leadership); being expected to develop subordinates (‘leaders develop leaders’); broader & strategic thinking; driving change; increased interactions with the very top management; being a leader of the company as a whole as well as leading their own part of the organisation.

I have actually been a recipient of one of the best practices. When I joined New Zealand’s biggest company in a senior position, I received their 90-day ‘Executive Plan’ to help lay the foundation for a successful transition. This was a programme with an external executive coach who knew the company well. The idea being that everyone in the company wanted and needed me to be successful and to be fully effective as soon as possible. And however great one’s track record, joining a new company with a different culture in an executive position, or being promoted from within to a much more senior leadership position, will always bring new challenges. Sometimes the strengths that have served so well up to now might not be enough because other skills are required. Maybe the challenges are indeed different. However good your ‘due diligence’ you cannot always anticipate correctly what the new job may entail.

Although many companies now find executive coaching more normal, decisions are often taken on a case-by-case basis and after a specific need has been identified.

I would argue that it would be better value-for-money to offer a limited executive transition or onboarding executive coaching programme to all people coming into senior positions from both outside and promoted internally.

Without taking the time to proactively manage the transition, even the most agile of high-performing leaders runs the risks of failing to analyse the new situation sufficiently and perhaps falling back into preferred leadership behaviours that might not now be appropriate, neglecting to refresh or build relationships or misunderstanding the hidden company culture, which might require different leadership behaviours.

The best programmes would be anywhere between four and six sessions of at least ninety minutes spread over the first 90 days, with some thinking time outside of the formal sessions. They would be available, indeed expected to be followed, for all those moving into a defined senior leadership cadre, either internally promoted or recruited from outside. And preferably the programme would be facilitated by an external coach, but one who knew the company really well.


As an example of such a programme the various steps can include:

1. Learning the business/company and getting to know the people
Gathering perspectives and avoiding assumptions

  • Transition challenges of the new role: what is new & different?
  • Internal & external stakeholder mapping and contact plans

2. Identifying strengths you bring to the role and clarify any challenges

  • Competence self-assessment now and compared to the new role
  • Experience & skill inventory prior to this role & defining the new role

3. Place the role in context and understand what is expected: Role clarity. Build alliances & support needed to be successful

  • Bringing the new role into context
  • Highlighting the challenges of the role
  • Clarifying the role
  • Understanding & identifying with the organisation’s leadership model

4. Fast-track development in areas key to your success: Planning development

  • Planning your development & determining the competences needed for success
  • Learning from experience
  • Development plan (including remedies, compensators & work arounds)

5. Review and keep momentum after the first 90 days

  • Revisiting understanding of role
  • Reviewing progress (checklist of all the important elements from stakeholders, understating the role, expectations, alignment with your manager, building your team, building your credibility, development and early-wins)
  • Protecting against derailment
  • Team alignment & Identifying early successes
  • Managing your career


Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss how to set up a programme for your own company grhays@valshebnik.com


Four earlier articles may also be relevant and of interest





  1. Amy Suhl

    There is the saying and book “What got you here won’t get you there” and lots of truth. As I’ve coached people especially in career transition and helping them land their next position, once they’ve landed, I’ve discussed many of the concepts you’ve highlighted to help them be successful in the new position.

  2. Marian Crone

    I agree Gary!


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