Hiring a Leader? Accelerate Their Success with Virtual Onboarding

April 1, 2020

Becoming the leader of a team is an exciting but also stressful time, especially when compounded with navigating a new role during the COVID-19 pandemic. How can companies best prepare newly hired or newly promoted leaders to be successful in their roles when offices are closed, and in-person connections aren’t possible?

According to Harvard Business Review, 32% of global executives rate the onboarding they experienced as poor and replacing each failed executive can cost a business up to 213% of his or her salary. Studies show that many of the reasons new leaders fail can be prevented with proper onboarding. And given our current and uncertain situation, it’s imperative to help new leaders balance the expectations of the organization and their new team while working remotely.

The good news is that organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new-hire productivity, according to the Society For Human Resources Management (SHRM). When virtual onboarding is done right, it accelerates the success of the new leader by giving them the tools to be effective, including:

  • Setting the leader on a solid path to developing productive relationships with stakeholders
  • Tuning the leader in to power dynamics and team effectiveness
  • Providing the leader with an understanding of how culture influences strategy and the changes necessary to support any strategic shifts

Here are tips to ensure your new leaders have what they need to hit the ground running:

TIP ONE: Immerse the new leader into the company culture

Many new leaders fail not because of lack of financial or operational abilities, but because their style or political skills make them unprepared to manage cultural changes. Help the leader begin to understand company culture by acquainting them with the group’s basic work processes and explain how culture influences strategy and decision making. To help the new leader’s team gel with their new manager, the use of assessment tools will provide information about the leader’s work style and preferences of their team and vice versa. To bring out the unique style of your culture and individual personalities, hold video calls with time set aside for socializing so people can share information about their families, hobbies and their travel plans once that becomes possible again.

REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE: A global information services company was promoting a new leader while also acquiring a new company. The executive team decided to seek an outside resource to help onboard the new leader. The new leader’s effectiveness in growing the business was significantly increased through leadership assimilation sessions, team development processes and individual coaching. The process, all executed virtually, helped the leader to understand his new team and quickly gain support for moving forward.

TIP TWO: Clarify expectations and proactively follow up

According to The Conference Board, one of the top two reasons executives fail is due to unclear expectations. Make sure to set objectives with the new leader and reach a shared understanding of the major short- and long-term priorities. To accelerate the process, enlist the assistance of your Organization Development team, or an outside consultant, to conduct one-on-one interviews with the new leader’s direct manager or Board of Directors, peers and direct reports. Use this time to clarify expectations, gain an understanding of communication preferences, challenges and how the new leader can best impact performance. Then, facilitate video conference debrief sessions with the new leader and team to discuss feedback. It’s important to assess progress during the first 30, 60 and 90 days. Once expectations are clear, follow up with the leader at these designated checkpoints to see where there are questions, challenges or other roadblocks.

Ask These Questions To Accelerate the Success of a New Leader:

 Direct Manager or Board

  • How do you want the new leader to communicate with you (and how often)?
  • What types of issues and decisions require consultation with you in advance?
  • What are the key challenges the new leader will face in the first 90 days?


  • What does the new leader need to do to ensure your own continued effectiveness?
  • From your perspective, what should the new leader focus on in the first 30, 60 and 90 days?
  • How do you view the new leader’s team?

Direct Reports

  • How do your clients (internal and external) view your team?
  • From your perspective, what should the new leader start doing that is different than the previous leader (stop, continue)?
  • What do you want the new leader to know about you?

TIP THREE: Facilitate virtual communication for relationship building

The other top reason that executives fail is lack of effective working relationships. Making early connections becomes even more critical to a new leader’s success when joining a new company while working virtually. Help them build these relationships by providing a list of the people they should connect with and making the introductions. As a leader, they should be able to start to build relationships from there, especially if you’ve helped them to understand company culture. Open communication, empathy and transparency will be key to building trust and developing these relationships while working remotely.

These key aspects of the virtual onboarding process will allow the new leader to advance rapidly through the “learning curve,” become more productive and meet their objectives early on. Plus, 54% of companies with onboarding programs reported higher employee engagement, and 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding, according to SHRM. At the end of the process, the new leader will understand the culture, have clarified expectations and foundations for building effective relationships. They will be able to get started with confidence and create a game plan for moving ahead.

Elevate Partners (a DHR company) advises clients on their most important leadership and talent management challenges. We focus exclusively on leadership advisory and assessment services, with a mission to help your business succeed through leadership. Selecting and developing the right talent is the single best way to help organizations, of all shapes and sizes, achieve maximum impact and economic value. Whether your organization is identifying future CEO candidates, creating more effective teams, or coaching high potential talent, our team of experienced professionals help you make fast and accurate decisions. For more information, visit dhrelevate.com or call 312.775.1900.

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