New Leader Onboarding – Best Practices


You have just been hired or promoted to a new role with increased leadership responsibilities. Or, you’re an HR leader tasked with onboarding a new leader quickly and successfully. What is your first step? Do you have a plan for success?

Onboarding is commonly referred to as the process of integrating leaders into the culture, organization, team, function, and position in order to build effectiveness, create impact, and accelerate success as quickly as possible. And with studies revealing about half of all new leaders quit or fail within the first 18 months, onboarding is critical to creating a path to success for leaders, their new team, and the company.

Successfully onboarding a new leader begins with understanding the three phases and what should be accomplished in each one:

  • Discovery
  • Diagnosis
  • Direction

Each phase can last anywhere from 15 to 60 days with overlapping tasks and responsibilities. To better understand how to successfully onboard a new leader, follow these best practices.


#1 – Create a 90 Day Plan

Establish your objectives. What do you want to accomplish during the first 90 days in terms of your role, team, stakeholders, operations, etc.? Focus on learning about your role, team, stakeholders, company culture, etc. and establish relationships with key stakeholders

#2 – Assessments

Identify the leaders’ strengths, areas for improvement, values, and leadership style by using a variety of assessments. Once you have the results, create a plan for leveraging strengths and improving weaknesses.

#3 – Team Assimilation

One of the most critical elements for new leaders is to build trust with their team members and gain their support. The team assimilation process is an excellent way for the leader to set expectations, address key issues and respond to questions.

#4 – Boss Assimilation

It is also important for new leaders to accelerate the development of a strong working relationship with their boss. Open communication and setting expectations are essential aspects of this relationship and working with a leadership coach is an excellent way to facilitate the discussion.

#5 – Stakeholder Analysis

By identifying key stakeholders, new leaders can focus their time and attention on those who matter the most. With limited time, new leaders should develop relationships and align stakeholders to their plans.

#6 – SWOT Analysis

One of the core areas during the onboarding process is to identify the direction the new leader should take moving forward. Use a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to help determine their strategy and direction.

#7 – Develop a Vision

During the first 90 days, leaders are compelled to examine the direction of their organization, department, team, and function by developing a vision, mission and values statement. This drives alignment among the team and provides the organization the needed direction, priorities, and guiding principles for actions going forward.

By following these best practices, a new leader can create success, build effectiveness and create impact in the organization. Otherwise, the alternative of a leadership failure costs the organization, time, money, lost productivity, and lower employee morale.


New Leader 90 Day Plan

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Statistics show that almost 50% of new leaders will fail in their role within the first 18 months. In order to avoid the high cost of these failures, it’s critically important to onboard new leaders with the best action plan for success.

There is a list of best practices for onboarding new leaders and the first one is creating a 90 day action plan for new leaders. But how do you create a successful plan and what key components should be included? Create a new leader 90 day plan with the following elements, adapted from Michael Watkins book “The First 90 Days”,  to put your new leaders on the path to achieving their goals and assimilating into the company culture effectively.


The purpose of creating a new leader onboarding plan is to clarify your highest impact areas, focus your efforts, establish goals to help drive results and plan accordingly. It’s also helpful to understand the 3 phases of the 90 day outline and what should be accomplished during each stage.

Phase 1 – Discovery: Focuses on accelerated learning and establishing relationships with key stakeholders and your team (days 1-14).

Phase 2 – Diagnosis: Centers on the analysis and review of all information required to build the revised strategy, plan, structure, culture, operations, etc. (days 15-65).

Phase 3 – Direction: Concentrates on communication and implementation of the plans (days 66-90).


Now identify your objectives and what you want to accomplish in terms of your role, team members, stakeholders, operations, etc. during the 3 phases over the first 90 days. For example, some of your objectives may include: clarifying roles and expectations with key team members and stakeholders, understanding and influencing the budget, participating in the company’s realignment, developing process improvements in key areas, etc.

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Once your objectives have been established, you can identify the information and key milestones for each phase of the plan to monitor your progress toward your objectives. This will include meeting with key stakeholders, direct reports and team members to listen to their perspective and gain insight on problems and possible solutions; and researching past successes, failures, budgets, plans, processes, etc. to learn what is working and what isn’t.


An essential part of any new leader onboarding plan is sitting down with your CEO or boss for these 5 conversations: Situation (how the boss sees the business situation), Expectations (negotiate what is expected of you), Style (how you both can best interact), Resources (negotiate what resources are available to you), and Development (how your tenure in this job contributes to personal development). It helps to use an Executive Coach to help prepare you for the conversations with your boss as well as other aspects of the New Leader Onboarding Plan.


Once you have gathered your research and information, you can complete your analysis of who needs what, what steps need to be taken and what you will need from other people. This step will focus on what actions you can take to build your team, create alignment to goals, and form coalitions with allies. Then you can turn your attention to communicating and implementing your plan of action once your direction has been established.

The first 90 days are critical to the success of a new leader. While there are many steps to accomplish during this time, onboarding a new leader with a strategic 90 day plan in place will propel him/her towards achieving goals and positive assimilation. Download a sample 90 day plan for new leaders here to help you get started.