• Estimated read time: 7 mins
  • Date posted:30/03/2020
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Onboarding new hires is critical, especially for senior management and executive roles. The goal of onboarding is to help your new hire acclimatise to the inner workings of your company and get up to speed quickly, so they can have an impact sooner.

Few organisations do it well. According to Gallup, only 12% of employees strongly agree their organisation does a good job of onboarding new employees. That’s despite the fact that excellent employee onboarding can increase retention by up to 82%. And before billions transferred their workstations from their workplace to their home office, lounge, kitchen or spare room in an effort to help combat the spread of coronavirus.

The three most common executive onboarding challenges in the life sciences are:

1) Excelling at admin
Organisations are competent at onboarding admin, but little is done to assist new leaders in navigating cultural and political hurdles that they encounter.

2) Forgetting culture
It’s mission-critical to quickly immerse an executive in the organisation’s culture so they can conduct themselves in a manner befitting of the organisation.

3) Assuming they’ll survive
Taking a minimal approach to executive onboarding leaves everything to chance and can make for a slow transition, increasing the time it takes them to reach potential.

We recently discussed how hiring managers can pandemic-proof their hiring strategy by taking their interview process online. But with working from home the new normal, onboarding remote employees into remote teams is a very real prospect.

In this article, we discuss best practices for onboarding remote employees, borrowing tips from businesses and teams that operate remotely as a matter of course.

Streamline processes

Employee onboarding has become a box-ticking exercise. According to Sapling, new hires have over 50 activities that need to be executed during their onboarding period. But how many of these activities serve a purpose, and how many serve to distract from the core goal of onboarding; to get your new executive hire up to speed quickly.

Don’t continue with onboarding processes that offer little long term value, especially in a remote setting. Prioritise onboarding activities that enable participation, namely:

  • Set up hardware and access to team collaborations tools.
  • Host virtual meetings with peers, direct reports and key stakeholders.
  • Clarify expectations of the role, organisational protocols and procedures.

For any new hire, IT hardware and software is critical to access company systems and perform their duties. With remote workers, it is their umbilical cord between the individual, company and their coworkers. Ensure laptops and hardware are delivered ahead of their start date. Bundle all necessary manuals and provide instructions on whom to contact in case of IT issues. And ensure they understand how to use:

Look to digitise and automate procedures such as HR paperwork. Consider tools like HelloSign or DocuSign so that employees can sign employment contracts and other legal documentation remotely without having to print, sign and scan them.

On the subject of documentation, be sure to send out or grant access to materials that your new hire will need to access over the course of their induction. Examples include your employee handbook, training manuals and content surrounding company culture.

Finally, spread these onboarding activities over the course of several weeks. An executive onboarding 30-day action plan could look something like:

0-3 days

During your new executives first few days, you should emphasise:

  • Understanding of protocols and processes.
  • Clarifying expectations of the role.
  • Meeting peers, superiors and other stakeholders.
03-30 days

This period is when you should help your executive:

  • Get to grips with the role and responsibilities.
  • Access their team, its composition and goals.
  • Identify quick wins which can be auctioned in the coming weeks.
  • Discover possible risks and problem areas in their function.
  • Establish learning priorities.
  • Refine expectations and resource requirements.
  • Creating a 90-day action plan.

RELATED: Increase quality-of-hire by partnering with a reputable boutique executive search firm

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Clarify expectations

According to Egon Zender, 70% of executives who failed in their first year did so because of a lack of understanding of norms and practices. It is therefore critical to communicate and clarify expectations within the first three days of their onboarding. Topics to explore include:

  • Role & Remit: Armed with your performance job description, run through the duties and expectations, giving tangible examples and anecdotes to help bring it to life. Explore it’s fit within the wider organisation and how it contributes to achieving the companies’ mission.
  • Goals & Objectives: Goals and objectives should have been agreed as part of the business case for the new hire. These should be communicated, along with immediate short-term goals for the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Arrange weekly meetings to evaluate progress.
  • Mission & Values: It’s imperative that your new leader understands your companies’ mission, values and workplace etiquette so they may conduct themselves in a manner befitting an executive and one which will win the respect of stakeholders and coworkers.
  • Key stakeholders: Your new leader’s success depends on their ability to influence stakeholders over which they have no direct authority. Set up one-to-one virtual inductions with business leaders and other prominent individuals to start cementing these relationships.
  • Meet the team: These are the people who will help your new executive transform ambition into action. Allow your new leader to gell with their team, but provide insight about individual team members’ performance and development so that they can arrive at a team structure.
  • Current & Upcoming projects: Get your executive up to speed on current projects and activities within their function, teams and the wider organisation. Update them on outcomes from high profile, recent projects and inform them of important projects in the pipeline.
  • Training, reviews & milestones: Inform them of what to expect over the coming weeks and months, including key activities in their onboarding programme, upcoming training activities, and important milestones, for example, their probation review or performance review.

Use online tools, including scheduling software, internal communications platforms and video conferencing tools to make these virtual meetings happen. Educate all participants on the importance of keeping these meetings as focussed, engaged and productive as possible.

On that subject, it’s important to educate all employees, but especially management, of the importance of carving out time in their schedules for one-to-one virtual meetings with your new executive hires. Managers, in particular, are often reluctant to set aside appropriate time. According to Enboarder, one-to-one time with their direct manager is the most important aspect of their onboarding, but as we discussed earlier, meeting with other key stakeholders is also vital.

Make them feel welcome

When onboarding employees, it’s essential to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. With remote employees, you must go above and beyond to ensure they feel part of the team.

Working from home means that the only way your new starter can develop recognition of coworkers is through virtual meetings, whether one-to-one or team, facilitated through team messaging or video conferencing tools. Prioritise these meetings in your onboarding activities. At the same time, ensure invites are extended to all team meetings, as well as any project, board or working panel meetings in which they are likely to contribute. Doing so allows your new executive hire to start cementing relationships from the outset and get a better feel for your organisation’s culture.

Assign them a mentor. According to HCI, 87% of new starters believe mentors boost their proficiency and help them adjust to life at your organisation. Find an executive that is willing to lend assistance and give advice to your new hire. It shouldn’t be the hiring manager, but someone with a limited role in their onboarding programme. They should be introduced early in the onboarding programme, and be readily contactable via your standard communication channels.

If your new starter is working remotely, but some core staff still work on-site, for example, at a manufacturing facility, then have these staff give a virtual site tour. These can be pre-recorded or performed live using video calling software on a mobile phone or tablet. Apps include Google Due, Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom. If you will be onboarding many remote workers in the weeks ahead as a result of the coronavirus, consider having core-staff who remain on-site pre-record a site tour and deliver it as part of your onboarding programme for all new starters.

Finally, just because your teams are dispersed doesn’t mean team building activities should go on hold. On the contrary, virtual team activities are to be encouraged, and your new hire should be front and centre. Virtual coffee breaks should be encouraged, where teams down tools for 15-minutes every day and discuss non-work related topics. Fun competitions, for example, sharing photographs from childhood or even virtual bingo can help break the monotony, while at the same time helping to break the ice for your new executive hire while showcasing the team’s personalities.

Measuring Impact

The effective onboarding of executives requires careful forethought and execution. Onboarding hires in a remote capacity, when you, the team, and stakeholders might also be working remotely, throws up extra challenges. The success of your new hire hinges on how you onboard them.

Be realistic. You shouldn’t expect your executive hire to understand the inner workings of the organisation by the end of their first week, let alone the first quarter, but they should be having full impact within 6 months. Ensure you have a structured onboarding programme in place for their initial weeks, and short term goals for their first 30, 60 and 90 days.

As with any new process you implement, you should measure its success. The COVID-19 pandemic means that, for many, the remote onboarding process will have to be implemented quickly. By following the guidance in this article, you should be able to transition your traditional onboarding process to a remote one with relative ease and even identify areas for refinement.

To help you measure the success of your remote onboarding programme, aim to identify specific metrics tied to organisational outcomes. Long term goals could include improvements in talent retainment, employee satisfaction and employee engagement. In the short term, however, this will likely be limited to observations and direct feedback from your new hires. Listen to their feedback, remedy red flags, and make refinements and adjustments with each new remote hire you onboard.


For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.