Onboarding New Leaders: The Critical First 100 Days


by Kevin Watson



Organisations spend vast amounts of time and money recruiting talented leaders, yet most are still failing to make the best of their investment through an effective onboarding programme.

Studies have show that around 50% of newly recruited executives either resign or are fired within three years and only 20% of existing teams will be working for their new leader at the end of two years.

Take a moment to take that in.

That’s a huge cost for any organisation, in many more ways than simply the financial cost of recruitment.

So, what is getting in the way?

Among the potential pitfalls to any leader’s success will be:

  • a set of unclear expectations
  • a pressure to perform early on
  • a focus on the immediate needs, rather than playing the long game
  • a lack of resources to help the new leader orientate

To address these issues, some organisations focus on a clear onboarding programme to get the new recruits up to speed, help them forge effective relationships and provide resources to accomplish what is expected – by both the new leader and the organisation.

Prior to engagement, new recruits are set up for success by agreeing his or her initial objectives with their line manager or HR sponsor. Increasingly more often, these new leaders are given access to an external coach who helps them work through these objectives.

Within the first 20 days of onboarding, the new leader drafts a strategic plan to cover his or her first 100 days, identifying opportunities for early wins, specifying accountabilities and performance standards. This includes any personal development the new leader considers critical for success during this period.

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.Lawrence Bossidy

Alongside this, the leader assesses the strength of his or her new team to deliver the plan, engaging with team development to ensure capability is aligned to objectives and roles.

Within the first 35 days, the leader then develops a comprehensive stakeholder strategy, by first identifying those people in the organisation who will be influential to the strategic plan. A series of meetings are held with these key stakeholders, to identify important issues the new leader can impact and to establish expectations.

Either one or two full days are spent with the new team over the initial 60 days, to set purpose and develop standards for team working. These sessions are often facilitated by an external coach facilitator using team models such as 5 Dysfunctions of a Team to set team behaviours and create a 100 day team plan.

Throughout the onboarding programme, an experienced external coach offers a unique and objective perspective to the new leader’s first 100 days, adding value by identifying patterns of behaviour not readily recognised by those inside the organisation and providing a ‘safe haven’, giving the new leader someone to speak to openly and honestly.


At last, organisations are waking up to the benefits of supporting the new leader, exploring what works well during the critical first 100 days in role and their personal context, e.g. the new leader’s personal style, strengths and development needs, emotional reactions, stress of cultural adjustment, role pressures, family impact, etc.

Ensuring that the right leaders are recruited, stay with you and succeed is an investment not just in their future but in the organisation’s as well.

To find out how My Own Coach can help your organisation with onboarding leadership, including our tailored coaching programmes, drop us a line, today.

*This post has been updated from an article originally published on 13 Feb 2014

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About the Author

Kevin Watson

Kevin is a highly experienced Leadership Coach and acts as Consultant to several boards of global organisations, as well as local business owners. He is passionate about making a difference by enabling and encouraging leaders who want to create and sustain meaningful change in themselves and the organisation.



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