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Manager orientations: How to get new leaders up to speed quickly

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in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Put in HR Weekly and on site -- july 9, 2007

How would you rate your orientation process for new managers and executives? Not good, if you're like most organizations.

Just 30 percent of company leaders say they're happy about their "on-boarding" or orientation process, according to a new Korn/Ferry survey. And weak orientations can cause more of those new hires to jump ship early.

Direct costs of managerial turnover (recruitment, relocation, compensation, training and severance) can total two or three times the executive's salary. But factoring in indirect costs, such as lost opportunities, business delays and damage to relationships with staff and customers, can push the total to nearly 24 times base salary, says Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels.

For onboarding to be successful, it should focus on reducing the time to "real performance." Watkins estimates that it takes a mid-senior manager an average of 6.2 months to reach a break-even point at which his or her contribution begins to surpass the company's costs. Anything you can do to shave the transition time is critical.

Draft a managerial ‘road map'

To help them assimilate, HR can provide the road map to help new execs slow down and avoid typical newcomer mistakes. Here are three strategies to strengthen your process and improve your chances of retaining new hires:

1. Help establish key connections right away. HR can set up meetings between the new executive and key people (such as leaders of other departments), and serve as internal counselor and facilitator. Make sure right away that new hires align themselves with the right people.

2. Don't call it orientation. Companies may be reluctant to offer transition programs to high-level management for fear of insulting them. It's hard for leaders to accept such apparent "remedial" help—they're experienced folks and don't want to show any vulnerability.

Work around this mentality by pitching this as a "transition" program—not an orientation—that helps improve performance. And make it mandatory.

3. Don't make it a one-size-fits-all program. If possible, gear your onboarding assistance to the type of professional transition involved, plus the person's personality.

Example: Johnson & Johnson sets three approaches, each geared both toward execs making internal moves and those coming in from outside the company. One program focuses on execs who take on more complex assignments; another centers on managers who take on completely new jobs; and a third pairs HR coaches with execs for one-on-one orientation.  

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