Executive Onboarding & Integration: The Ultimate Guide

Executive Onboarding & Integration for C-Suite Execs

Hiring an executive coach serves as an investment for insurance.

According to The Corporate Leadership Council, more than 50% of new senior executives fail due to suboptimal integration.

Unfortunately, this often results in a restart, at best, at the 60- to 90-day mark.

In leadership transitions, there are clear milestones that matter. Nothing is more important or complex than an executive’s integration into a company or tackling a demanding new assignment.

When a CHRO brings on new executive talent, they are investing in leadership that can pay dividends. The cost of a failed hire is 2x the annual salary, not including the significant opportunity costs from internal stakeholders.

Between the cost of a search firm, which can often be thirty percent of the first year’s compensation, and a signing bonus, the resources spent onboarding an executive are significant.

When an executive has a slow start, the road to full productivity is delayed, which can ultimately result in failure and a tainted investment and wreak havoc on the organization.

Both the CHRO and the company as a whole suffer if the new executive does not make a positive impact on the culture, their peers, their team, or the business. This creates C-Suite uncertainty and skepticism.

However, when done right, effective early integration can cut a new hire’s time to full productivity by 40%. Early performance issues can often signify a problem in the talent management process.

Just as companies hire consulting firms to help their strategic plans come to life and optimize their investments, CHRO’s and heads of talent hire executive coaching firms to optimize their integration and development strategies to ensure the success of a new executive.

An accomplished executive is rarely excited or motivated to assume a significant new role where they are expected to manage the status quo. However, an organization is never ready to bring on a change agent who is hired to shake up the company without preparation and a clear plan for execution.

This is what Crenshaw’s unique six-month program is intended for. It is constructed to jump-start fit, establish legitimacy and followership among peers and stakeholders, capture early wins, and accelerate the road to full productivity, fast.

What is Executive Onboarding?

Executive onboarding is the process of getting the basics in place, including:

  • Ensuring the executive’s home office is ready
  • The executive has a laptop
  • The right meetings are scheduled

What is Executive Integration?

Executive integration is the process of onboarding a new executive to the company or a new assignment by accelerating the ramp-up to productivity and helping them fully understand the culture of the team and company they have joined.

The talent acquisition process gets questioned if an executive isn’t performing, exhibits a significant performance problem, or has a slow ramp to productivity.

Most onboarding programs focus on short-term tasks or goals to get the executive in place to perform their role, but fail to address long-term ramifications of integrating someone into the organization.

Strategies for Executive Integration

How to set up new Executives for success

Why should you provide onboarding and integration services to a new executive?

The real reason why you should onboard an executive

For internal executives assuming new responsibilities, executing coaching is an investment in their long-term success and performance.

Whether the expectations placed on a senior executive are implied, overt, or self-imposed, there is still a clear mandate for senior executives: assume strategic and executional leadership, drive change, and record wins quickly.

Having a full-time, external, trusted advisor dedicated to a candidate’s success can serve as a competitive advantage. All senior executives have seen new hires at senior levels fail or have a very slow road to full productivity.

In a survey published in Harvard Business Review’s May–June 2017 issue, more than 85% of respondents said they consider their companies’ practices to be sufficient in terms of administrative arrangements, business orientation, and legal/procedural formalities, only 52% thought they had adequate support to align expectations with teams and bosses and just 29% said they had sufficient support to familiarize themselves with the culture.

READ: HBR: Onboarding isn’t enough

What mistakes do executives make that derail their successful integration to a new company?

It is imperative that new executives don’t fail in the first 90 days.

What mistakes do executives make that derail success?

  • Trying to drive wins and make a change in a compressed time frame.
  • Lacking an enterprise purview and then alienating their colleagues.
  • Not understanding the cultural norms and practices of the company, the team, and the organization they are inheriting.
  • Bringing over a playbook from their previous company.

How to mitigate the risks of executive derailment

Having a new executive fail results in a significant loss

If an executive does not quickly become familiar with the norms, practices and culture of the new company, it can result in failure to integrate as part of the team. A lack of planning and strategy on the part of the organization can isolate the new hire early on and delay their success in the role. Senior executives are fairly consistent.

People leave companies for the same reason they always left.

They want their leader to have a vested interest in their development and performance and support the work they were hired to do.

But most importantly, they want to be respected for their contribution to the organization.

While executive onboarding includes basics such as providing an executive with a laptop, connecting executives to key individuals, and ensuring that they are invited to the right meetings, executive integration is far more nuanced than is often recognized.

This is why it is critical to quickly align on the following:

  • What the expectations are of the role
  • Team inheritance history
  • Key business issues across the enterprise

Through hundreds of integration and onboarding engagements, Crenshaw has found that executives often bring over playbooks from their previous companies or roles and fail to recognize the culture in their new companies.

They drive and mandate change without clear communication of their reasoning, which should be supported by changed buying patterns, non-traditional competitive threats, a rigorous growth algorithm, and an enterprise-wide lens.

The path to corporate success requires executives to navigate unfamiliar corporate cultures and work with new colleagues.

Through our onboarding and integration work, we have identified four common mistakes companies and new executives make during onboarding including:

  1. Lack an understanding of the culture, norms and practices. Every team and company has a unique culture with experiences that vary at different levels in the organization. Assuming that a new executive will be able to identify and adapt to that culture is the quickest way towards failure. Using a structured integration plan that recognizes the gaps and alignment of the executive’s experience and the norms of their new company is a way to ensure they can avoid any potential landmines and quickly integrate with their group.
  2. Bring in a playbook from a previous company or assignment. Assuming that the same game plan that has achieved success in a previous role will often produce the same results that inevitably lead to underperformance. Giving a new executive proper context and access to key stakeholders with institutional knowledge allows them to tailor their approach to new situations.
  3. Attempt to drive change and achieve big wins in a compressed time frame. Pace can be everything during integration. Often, new executives will feel an inner pressure to come out of the gates as quickly as possible to make as big an impact as they can, but that impact isn’t always positive. When a new hire or assignee rushes to drive change, it’s often uninformed of whether this fits the team’s cultural norms or practices. These decisions are motivated more by ego and gut feeling rather than insight and strategy.
  4. Lack a complete enterprise purview or understanding of colleagues’ objectives. Change and implementation does not happen independently from one person or team in a corporation. It often requires organizations to work together in lockstep towards a larger achievement. A successful onboarding plan requires an overview of the business’ needs and priorities assessed during the pre-hire stage, and how the new executive can meet those needs through measuring milestones and deliverables.


Effective early integration can cut a new hire’s time to full productivity by 40%.

FORBES: Why Most New Executives Fail

The 5 key pillars of successful executive onboarding include:

  • Navigating and adapting to an unfamiliar corporate culture
  • Establishing legitimacy with new team and peers
  • Gaining key stakeholder alignment early on
  • Driving change required by the business
  • Recording early wins

How do you build a killer 90-day executive onboarding & integration plan?

Integration onboarding is our fastest-growing practice. The fundamental problem today is that companies need help integrating and onboarding new executives to accelerate how they achieve maximum productivity.

A 90-day executive onboarding plan should be fact-based and data-driven, with critical milestones and strong stakeholder alignment.

The four phases of an effective onboarding and integration plan:

  1. Pre-hire: Get HR alignment. A robust onboarding plan begins even before a candidate is hired. This focuses on HR alignment on role requirements and competencies using tools such as behavioral assessment instruments and Executive Leadership Assessments. Once HR has identified the competencies of their ideal candidate, the coach can use those to set goals for an onboarding plan once the executive has been hired.
  2. Create the plan. In the initial 30 days, once the executive is in the role, it’s critical for their plan to begin to take shape based on the expected deliverables they will be measured on. This requires key stakeholder input, alignment, and participation, typically done through interviews to solicit valuable insights. Often times, we discover who holds the soft power, i.e. those employees who know how to get things done.  In many cases, a team diagnostic such as CultureMapping is helpful to inform the executive on what their experience will be like.
  3. Coaching & development. Over the next 60 to 90 days, it’s important that the new executive and their coach work as thought partners in helping the leader acclimate to the role. Together, they develop a coaching plan that helps address development needs addressed during the early assessment process and integrate feedback from their stakeholders for improvement. The coach will often run a new leader assimilation program on site with the leader and their team to gain insight into the working relationship of the group and help build a collaborative effort.
  4. Fine-tune the plan. As the executive gets closer to the 90-day mark, they should take the time to reassess and fine-tune their plan as needed to adjust to new business issues and priorities that arise. Meeting the critical milestones and deliverables established in the initial phase of the plan helps build the new executive’s legitimacy within the organization and a foundation to ramp up productivity. 

What are the benefits of an executive integration program?

Benefits of a structured executive integration program include:

  • Accelerating the ramp-up to productivity. By removing the ambiguity of what is expected and prioritized, an integration program helps the executive set clear goals during their first 90 days and set an expectation of accountability and communication with their leaders, colleagues, and team.
  • Assisting the executive in navigating an unfamiliar corporate culture and working with new colleagues. An organization’s culture can be hard to define and measure for anyone, but especially so for someone new. An outlined program offers multiple opportunities for check-ins and reflection of how the executive is experiencing the culture and for feedback on how they can better acclimate.
  • Allowing the executive to quickly establish legitimacy by understanding enterprise-wide goals and the impact their strategies and change initiatives will have on their organization and enterprise as a whole.
  • Creating followership from the executive’s team and respect from peers. An executive coach will help a new leader focus not just on executing strategy, but on developing relationships with colleagues and leadership development for their team by encouraging the right dialogue at the right time.
  • Helping the executive meet their goals and deliver early wins for their organization and for the enterprise.

Who should participate in an executive onboarding, integration program?

Along with the new executive and their executive coach leading the onboarding, the program requires all key stakeholders to participate to different extents to ensure a successful integration.

  • The executive leader plays an integral role in setting the tone for the new executive’s start. The leader sets the expectations for performance, strategy, long-term goals, and is the driver of the company’s culture. By having the leader participate in the onboarding process, you remove assumptions and conjecture from the equation and give the new hire a clearer path towards success, while also giving the executive face time with their leader to build a rapport they can lean on in the future.
  • The human resources leader is not only tasked with finding and landing the best talent, but retaining them. There are several factors in play that the HR leader is managing here. First, the candidate has to be a right fit for the role. This information is uncovered in the interviewing and hiring phase, but adjusting for fit does not end there. The HR leader needs to continue to monitor the integration of a new executive through the early part of their tenure to ensure that they have the resources and information needed at their disposal. They also need to monitor whether the organization is the right fit for the executive, which means the company is delivering on the culture, experience and expectations set for their employees. The HR leader has a purview over ensuring the company delivers in these areas, especially during the feeling-out period with a new hire, at the risk of losing talent and having to restart the process. This is where partnering closely with a dedicated, full time executive coach is beneficial.
  • Direct peers and direct reports can provide a great support system early on for a new executive hire. Making a concerted effort to include the executive’s team in their integration creates an inclusive process where the new hire’s success is contingent on everyone’s involvement. Excluding the team can create a perception of favoritism or ostracism and put the executive in a position of every person for themselves. By promoting involvement, it creates a channel for information to be shared, relationships to be forged and an easier path for the executive to prove themselves and gain credibility.

Why is an external coach recommended for executive onboarding and integration?

Every executive wants to make strong impact on the business, but even those with a high emotional quotient(EQ) need guidance and executive coaching from a dedicated thought partner and trusted advisor to help them succeed.

At the most senior level, it is critical to determine who has the time and can make the commitment to lead this work with full confidentiality from the executives and key stakeholders for candid conversations.

The ideal executive coach is someone who has ‘sat in the seat’ and brings similar senior line or functional experience.

A trusted advisor or coach will have a proven methodology that is customized to the individual situation. This is where stakeholder alignment and the behavioral and Executive Leadership Assessments (ELAs) become most critical.

A coach who is experienced with analyzing this data will provide invaluable insights on how to successfully onboard and integrate the executive.

An outside coach can serve as a neutral sounding board and trusted advisor to offer confidential and experienced advice. This person will help identify areas for development and provide guidance on how to improve.

The right coach has a proven methodology that works that provides guidance to the executive and the company on how to onboard someone, rather than making it up as they go.

Pro tip: It helps to have a partner outside of the business who can serve as a neutral sounding board and offer practical advice. This person will help identify areas for development and provide guidance on how to improve.

Strategies for New Executive Integration

How does executive coaching support onboarding and integration?

A new executive can quickly establish legitimacy by understanding enterprise-wide goals and the impact of their strategies and change initiatives in other businesses. This broad appreciation for the enterprise results in followership from the executive’s team and respect from peers, leading to early wins for their organization and for the enterprise.

With this view of the organization, an executive can begin to establish legitimacy within the organization. Executive coaching during the onboarding process is a way to gain stakeholder input and identify subject matter experts that, among other things, only a confidential, experienced advisor can gain.

Once an executive is hired, the expectation should not be that they are a finished product and built to succeed immediately. It is important to see the potential of that executive and nurture it by putting them in positions to thrive based on existing strengths while also developing them in areas where they could use improvement.

Thinking about coaching at the end of onboarding tends to bring about a sink or swim mentality, when it is often too late.

By making coaching an element of onboarding, it shows the new hire that the company is invested in their long-term success and that there is time to grow into the role.

Executive Onboarding Best Practices

In the competition for talent, companies can use integration plans to lure in new hires.

Having a full-time trusted advisor dedicated to the success of a candidate can serve as a competitive advantage.

What is one of the biggest mistakes/ key issues that derail Senior Executive success in the first 90 days of a new assignment or role?

Listen First

“It’s tempting to take action quickly to prove your value. But instead, take the time to learn the lay of the land and find out– not just how things are, but why and how they got that way. That way you avoid running afoul of an important strategic heuristic called “Chesterton’s Fence”, which states: “Do not remove a fence until you know why it was put up in the first place.” By taking the time to learn and to think of not just the immediate result, but the second order consequences of your decisions, you can anticipate unintended outcomes. Even things that are sub-optimal, broken or bad likely have an origin story. Maybe there wasn’t time to fix it, or a particular client needed it done that way. Whatever the story is, it’s important to know what it is before changing it. It makes for better decisions, better outcomes and a better reception from your new team. Listen a lot, ask questions, then act.”

– Amie Devero, President, Beyond Better Strategy and Coaching

Lack of Curiosity and Openness

“There is a great deal of vulnerability and humility in staying curious. Curiosity in leadership promotes the belief that you don’t have it all figured out, and that you want to learn from others around you. When joining a new organization, it’s crucial to check preconceived notions at the door and be open and curious so as not to lose the ability to see problems and challenges with fresh eyes to create the space for others to share with you.”

– Nicole Roberts, Vice President of People & Culture, MVAH Partners 

What Is Required to Onboard A New Corporate Executive?

How to support executive leaders during their transition into a new executive role

  • An Onboarding Plan. A well-thought-out onboarding plan should not be minimized. Ensuring that the executive has access to the technology, systems, and policies they need should be outlined and executed well, but this is the minimum requirement. If used strategically, an onboarding plan can be a method to integrate the executive into the new corporate culture such as letting them know what team meetings are the most critical vs. ones that are more social or as needed or how people prefer to communicate (email vs. Slack, video or phone). Many onboarding plans are cut and dry, but there is room to add nuance that is specific to the organization.
  • An Integration Plan. The integration plan will delve deeper into setting up the executive for success with others in the organization. This will include how their hire is communicated with others, setting goals and expectations, scheduling important meetings with people in the organization, planning touchpoints throughout the first one hundred days to check on progress. The integration plan should be specific, deliberate, measurable and open knowledge among stakeholders.
  • A Coaching and Development Plan. During the hiring process, a deep dive should have been made into the candidate’s personality, motivators, stressors and competencies using assessments. Hiring that candidate doesn’t mean that this information should now be forgotten and that this person is a perfect match. Instead, this information should be used to create a coaching and development plan that the executive and their coach work on. The plan should focus on key strengths that can be leveraged for early wins as well as areas for development and growth.
  • A Business and Strategy Plan. Ultimately, the new executive was hired to do a job. Whether they were brought on to modify and execute an existing plan, or to develop a new strategy from scratch, the organization and executive should be clear on their objectives. While this is standard practice, most companies don’t leverage the information from the onboarding, integration, or development plans. The goal is for these to work in unison by establishing a manageable timetable towards full productivity within the administrative, social and strategic aspects of the role.

Tips for Executive Integration 


  1. Begin onboarding before the start date. Onboarding shouldn’t start on Day 1. Ideally the HR leader would start at least 30 days out, taking the time to build a plan, have the executive complete assessments, and align with the business leaders on goals. By starting on Day 1, it puts extra pressure on everyone to sync up quickly on all of the components of the plan.
  2. Understand the culture. New hires want to avoid making a company faux pau. Helping them realize the do’s and don’ts of a company allows them to get off on the right foot and avoid bad first impressions.
  3. Use the onboarding time to go over the enterprise purview. The larger an organization gets, the higher the criticality of cross functional work becomes to make the enterprise successful. By informing the new executive of the full enterprise purview it reduces the chance of redundancy, competing strategies, and provides access to all competitive advantages.
  4. Establish relationships with key stakeholders. Creating facetime with the business leader and HR leader allows the new executive to establish relationships where they can get comfortable seeking guidance and feedback.
  5. Stick to a rigorous calendar. Sticking to the established integration plan, including stakeholder meetings and coaching sessions, is the only way to ensure the plan can have its intended impact. When new executives start to feel the pressure of work and timelines, they tend to ditch their onboarding meetings first. This will eventually devalue the plan and have negative consequences on their onboarding.
  6. Get to know the people with “soft power.” A new executive will get time with their business and HR leader. But who else should they know? There are often people in the company who have “soft power” which may not be reflected in their title or place in the org chart. This can include a peer with seniority, an influential office manager who can answer every question, or even a long-time and trusted customer.
  7. Use data to your advantage. Data has its place in every facet of business, even in onboarding. Assessment data can be used to highlight strengths and potential derailers for the new executive. A culture diagnostic survey can help the executive identify the dysfunction and alignment within their team’s culture. Score-carding can help business and HR leaders benchmark and track the progress of their new hire in developmental areas.
  8. Do not use the same plan for everyone. Certain processes can be cloned and repeated for everyone; integration planning is not one of them. To a certain extent, the plan should be customized to the executive based on their needs. Some will excel at the business aspects, others on social and culture assimilation, others on the technical aspects. Tailor the plan to where the executive will require more support.
  9. Adapting the plan mid-way is not cause for panic. The goals and needs of the business will change, and an onboarding and integration plan may change with it. It’s better to adapt the plan rather than to force it for the sake of structure, or worse, abandoning it entirely. The executive’s role may change because of the departure of another employee. Business goals may become accelerated because of a competing entity or market conditions. Make sure to adapt the onboarding plan by changing the frequency or agenda of meetings, updating relevant milestones and objectives, or even bringing in new subject matter experts to participate in training.
  10. Hire an onboarding and integration coach. Internal onboarding and integration programs tend to fall short in certain key areas to help towards accelerated contribution. An integration and onboarding coach will have previous line experience, frameworks for integration, coaching and development, and act as a guide throughout the onboarding in keeping the executive and stakeholders accountable to their commitments.

The Role of Human Resources in Executive Onboarding

HR leaders are critical to successful onboarding and should be on the integration team.

During the search and onboarding process, HR leaders are tasked with identifying top talent, verifying they can deliver on the business objectives, ensuring that the exec meshes well within the company culture, and making sure the new hire can make it through their onboarding period successfully. This isn’t possible without the HR leader being heavily involved in the onboarding and integration plan.

However, managing every facet of the plan directly or in-house can quickly become an unruly burden on top of the everyday responsibilities an HR role brings. By investing in the management of the integration and onboarding plan with a fully dedicated coach, an HR leader can avoid several of the common mistakes often made.

Consistency is crucial in onboarding.

When a CHRO gets caught up with a business crisis or even personal concerns, the onboarding plan is often the first casualty on the calendar. Those meetings will get postponed or canceled, delaying the onboarding process and setting the new executive behind. By having an external coach manage the plan, the HR leader can take more of a stakeholder role and get involved at important touch points as needed.

In addition, impartiality is important to the integration process, as the main goal is to set up the new executive for long-term success despite what immediate roadblocks appear. An external coach isn’t under the same internal pressures of the business. They don’t ignore those pressures, but they help the new executive prioritize and place things in proper perspective in a way someone on the inside may not be able to.

The key is striking the right balance between the HR leaders’ involvement in the plan, and where the external coach can supplement with managing time commitments, structure, and practical application. For example, the HR leader will serve as the liaison between the business need and key competencies to who the right fit would be within the organization.

They would share this information with a Crenshaw Advisor who would lead the assessment process and 360 interview process and deliver insights about the executive, answer any pertinent questions and suggest a path forward regarding further coaching to the HR leader.

Establishing a partnership with human resources before an executive’s first day is pivotal.

It allows us to best understand the role, identify prioritized imperatives, and also get to know the key stakeholders. Our relationships with these stakeholders then enable us to gain insights into expectations and capture early feedback that will be useful going forward.

This process enables our executive coaches to gain insights into the organization that often cannot be captured from engagement surveys, skip-level meetings, and CEO round tables. All of these are built into our executive coaching engagements.

Additionally, engaging with colleagues often identifies those employees throughout the company who hold“soft power.” Put another way, they are people with institutional knowledge who “know where the bodies are buried” and how to get things done.

An objective, confidential, and experienced outside coach is uniquely positioned to capture this information.

Executive Integration & Onboarding Services | New York, NY

A dedicated, objective, and confidential sounding board.

Over the past three decades, Crenshaw has developed a clear, effective, and transparent process for new executives that streamlines the integration process. Our firm has continually reinvested in new technology to ensure new global challenges are met. Virtual new hire integration is a consistent yet customized methodology and best practice designed to manage today’s business complexity and related challenges. Crenshaw is prepared for constant external forces driving evolving business models. Are you?

Driven by our proven methodology, Crenshaw’s integration and onboarding program assists the senior executive with how to understand their new team, align with key stakeholders and create a 90-day play so that they can prioritize effectively, avoid pitfalls, and get off to a fast and effective start. It provides the executive with a jump start in conquering the cultural, political, strategic, and executional challenges they are sure to face.

Ready to support the success of a new executive? Hire a Crenshaw Associates coach that provides a robust program focusing on all key areas of onboarding.

Contact Crenshaw Associates to learn more about our actionable Integration/Onboarding Services. Our integration services include selection assessment, onboarding, coaching, and CultureMapping™.

Crenshaw Associates advisors and coaches provide access to subject matter experts in resilience, executive presence, DEI, and team effectiveness. Our onboarding and integration coaches also offer executive leadership assessments, including behavioral, competency and culture diagnostics.

New senior hires represent a substantial investment. All eyes and ears are on that executive as well as the ROI of the hire.

Make the most of your investment in senior executive talent.

Contact us today.


Bill Glenn is the Executive Chairman of Crenshaw Associates. Bill is engaged with CEOs, CHROs, and Directors on matters that involve the intersection of talent, corporate strategy, and execution. He guides the firm’s long-term vision for growth and serves as a mentor to the firm’s most senior clients, sharing knowledge gained as a CEO, President, and public Director. Prior to Crenshaw, Bill was the CEO of American Express Global Business Travel, an independent private company. Bill led the development of the investment thesis and the $2B spin-off as a stand-alone, independent company. GBT is the world’s largest corporate travel management company operating in 140 countries around the globe with 14k employees. Bill was President of Amex’s $5B Commercial Services business. He identified operating synergies between the Global Corporate Payments and Global Business Travel divisions, and created a disruptive new business model that capitalized on rapidly evolving technology trends in business travel.