Top 10 List for Mid-Career Onboarding


By: Louise Korver

We have a new lens for mid-career leaders as they onboard. Many executives that endured boredom and less-than-attractive circumstances during the last seven years are eager for change and looking to make a move. Some hold back due to fear of change—but for those who are finally ready to move on, the opportunities are not without excitement and challenge. Let’s face it – onboarding for mid-career senior leaders is a make-it-or-break-it proposition. Most executives have not moved around enough to have a playbook, but we have talked with several executives who have climbed the corporate ladder to the top during this decade. From my own experience and those who have learned from significant moves in the last few years, I complied the following Top 10 list as part of my book to help leaders navigate through the often-treacherous process of mid-career onboarding. The goal of my book is to turn a mid-career move into a springboard of successful experiences.

Here are the top ten things to keep in mind as you make your next move:

  1. Onboarding in a new role at a new company is not about your technical skills or even the specific job you were hired to fill. It is about your transition into the new culture. Taken in chunks, your Onboarding Plan should be 3, 6, 10, 12 (this stands for the months on the job in your first year). See #9 below.
  2. Keep a journal. Write your notes during meetings as you normally would in your notebook. Then, starting from the back of that same notebook, turn the book over and start writing from back to front about your observations about the culture and people you meet. Save these journals for your entire first year. (See #10 for what to do with these notes.)
  3. Focus months one and two on “meet and greets.” These are meetings with stakeholders for 15-30 minutes, or may include lunch or dinner. This is your primary first three-month goal: Get to know the people. Talk very little about business and make sure you know them as people before you need them. Ask them about their career, their family, and hobbies. Always ask their advice about what you should do during your onboarding. Ask them how often they think you two should meet and set up recurring meeting invitations for the entire first year with them. (It’s amazing how quickly you lose touch with people that you started off on the right foot with if you don’t have these pre-scheduled.)
  4. Get a peer coach. The coach could be someone appointed for you, but better still is to select someone that you have a connection with that can help you navigate the culture for this first year. If you are going through a major promotional move, consider getting an external coach for at least the first six months in addition to an internal peer coach.
  5. Meet 1:1 with your boss and your staff every week for the first few months. It will become obvious to you and everyone else when you do not need these anymore. It is harder to explain why you need these later on, so it is easier to start out weekly and move to bi-weekly or monthly as needed.
  6. Start identifying “oddities,” things that surprise you, and be sure not to sweep them under the rug. Put these in your journal in the back pages (see #2 above).
  7. Identify blockers and concerns about projects, tasks, and people. Develop your “watch out for” list of people.
  8. Schedule your regular management routines for your weekly 1:1’s with your stakeholders, boss, and your staff on a regularly scheduled day of the week and time. Book it for a full six months, or better still, the full first year.
  9. Follow the following formula for achieving success: 3, 6, 10, 12. Months 1-3 are “Getting Acquainted.” Months 4-6 are about “Assessing Changes” you will need to make. Months 6-10 are being patient and not making any sudden moves (changes) until you have hit the tenth. Start cautiously at month 10 to implement change. At 12 months, make your bigger changes (reorganization, new talent, new initiatives, etc.).
  10. When you hit your first year anniversary, answer these questions as you take stock by reflectively reading your journals from the back to the front: What is your job vs. what you were told it would be? What surprises you about the people and culture at your new company? How happy are you? Make your plans for year two.

About the author:

Louise Korver is a Sr. Consultant, Executive Development Expert and C-Suite Coach with EDA. She has an extensive background in executive education academically, as well as practical experience working for large organizations such as Ingersoll-Rand, Bank of America, EMC Corporation, H. J. Heinz, and AT&T. She currently provides executive assessment and coaching, working primarily with global general managers and senior women leaders. Her book on mid-career onboarding offers fresh ideas, tools, and a troubleshooting guide to help mid-career leaders make a successful move.