Onboarding for Success starts with a simple question—what does this particular person need to be successful at this specific organization? The answers emerge through an assessment and planning process. Plans will be brought to fruition through a combination of customized trainings and supportive coaching.
Successful onboarding requires careful prioritizing. This prioritizing is informed by the assessment process. Generally, board members, staff and the new leader will all have somewhat different perspectives on what is most urgent. The assessment process is a critical opportunity to define a common set of priorities and expectations. These may relate to growth areas for the new leader, but we will also look at issues that impact organizational fit, such as communication styles and approaches to decision-making and conflict resolution. As a result, in addition to guiding the onboarding process, the value of the assessment extends well beyond in providing a foundation for organizational alignment.
Effective onboarding takes time. Together, we’ll create plans to guide the process, aligning expectations about what’s likely to happen and when. Plans will balance immediate and longer-term needs. They will take into account to your organization’s annual cycle so that the new leader can take best advantage of events as they unfold. The onboarding planning package will typically include
3-month, 6-month and 1styear objectives.
An action plan for achieving those objectives.
A training plan to expand the new leader’s competencies in critical areas.
A 12 month organizational calendar.
Stakeholder introduction plan—for staff, Board, constituents, funders and others.
Training during onboarding have the most value when they focus strategically on addressing aspects that would otherwise be expected to cause problems in the short term. Most frequently, these training will address:
Staff and Board Management. Very few new leaders arrive prepared to manage their new organizations. Learning some basic frameworks and skills (both hard and soft) can make an enormous difference to their early success. The larger and more sophisticated the organization, the more critical this skill set will be.
Financial reporting and planning. Rarely are new nonprofit leaders comfortable with finances and accounting. They came to do the work, not manage the money. But more than half of incoming leaders find that their new organization’s finances are “weak” or “in crisis.”[i] It is critical that they understand what they’re dealing with.
HR and IT infrastructures. The smaller the organization, the more a leader will need to personally focus on ensuring that systems are meeting the needs of staff and constituents, enabling the organization to leverage its other assets and limiting risks. Again, this is rarely a strength in new leaders.
Communications. Clear, purposeful communication is indispensible and yet all too easy to neglect during the first crazy months. Appreciate how to use this essential leadership and management tool efficiently and effectively, both internally and externally.
Development and Fundraising. Whether or not the new leader is the principal development person, they will still need to be deeply engaged in income generation. Understanding how to effectively manage and support Development is absolutely critical.
Coaching during onboarding differs from traditional coaching in that it addresses the most immediate needs of both the new leader and the organization. This coaching will provide:
A safe place for counsel and guidance.
Reinforcement of the trainings as what was learned is applied to actual circumstances.
Another, experienced, set of eyes to assist in prioritization and to help ensure that manageable problems don’t devolve into crises.
Help balancing adherence to plans with adaptation to changing or unexpected circumstances.
Validation that the new leader is on the right track. ↑
[i] Jeanne Bell, Paola Cubías, and Byron Johnson, Will We Get There Hire by Hire?, 2017, https://www.compasspoint.org/sites/default/files/documents/Hire_by_Hire_Report.pdf