The Key to Executive Success: Optimizing Integration and Early Engagement

Best practices for optimizing executive integration in today’s virtual workplace.

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

The challenges are further complicated by the current virtual workplace and the added disruption, uncertainty and tragic events of the pandemic, racial discrimination, and general national unrest, all of which impact business models and corporate culture.

Observing best practices during video calls is even more essential in a virtual onboarding engagement, since first impressions are critical, and the client is still unsure of their new employers’ cultural norms, practices, and yes, politics.

Executives should assume there will be more intense scrutiny on how they present themselves.

There are no simple meet-and-greets, especially as a new executive in a virtual setting like Zoom, where time allocation is even more critical.

Updating our integration program to accommodate a virtual setting

Executive coaches at Crenshaw Associates help new executives focus on the following:

  • Prepare a narrative. Executives must be able to describe who they are, what attracted them to this role, and how they recognize the need to work collaboratively with
  • Flex to international schedules. Be willing to engage with company executives during their prime work hours regardless of where they are located. But make sure the calendar is not stacked with 6 AM calls to accommodate Europe on the same day that there is not an 8 PM meeting to sync up with Asia.
  • Be aware of Zoom fatigue. Allow some cushion between meetings. It’s important for new executives to build relationships with their peers, so they should allow extra time for these initial conversations.
  • Minimize personal distractions. Colleagues, direct reports, and the organization make judgments based on limited interactions.

In our experience working with executives during this period of virtual transitioning, we have found the following:

  • Stress manifests differently in everyone. We analyze stress indicators and intrinsic motivators/demotivators to understand how stress shows up in each client and to proactively put processes in place to mitigate any issues.
  • Extreme introverts may benefit from structured stakeholder introductory meetings. It may be useful to start with an agenda. Extroverts, in comparison, may enjoy a more social/unstructured first introduction video call.
  • Community is critical. We help clients seek out other opportunities to connect with their coworkers beyond formal transition meetings and project meetings, such as company employee resource groups (ERGs), task forces, and volunteer opportunities.

We help executives tailor the transition experience to best suit their personality preferences, which we uncover as part of our proprietary assessment battery delivered by our PhDs with the coach and executive.

This data is then integrated into the engagement with the senior executive and accelerates the time to full productivity while building key relationships, gaining legitimacy and driving the business performance. This is a best practice for virtual work.

Regardless of the medium you use, whether it is in person or virtual, here is how to optimize onboarding work.

Accommodations and issues need to be addressed in a virtual setting, but the program itself is similar to accelerating an executives road to full productivity.

In career transitions, there are clear milestones that matter, and none of them are more important or complex than an executive’s integration into a new company or tackling a demanding new assignment.

Opinions are formed quickly, even in seemingly casual sessions.

Yet, whether the expectations placed on this person 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.

I have neither experienced nor witnessed an executive who is excited about assuming a significant new role where they are expected to manage the status quo.

Every executive wants to make an immediate impact, but even those with a high emotional quotient (EQ) need guidance and coaching as well as a dedicated partner to help them succeed.

Through hundreds of engagements, we have found that executives often bring the playbooks from their previous companies or roles, and they 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.

Although more than 85% of respondents to a survey published in Harvard Business Review’s May–June 2017 issue 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 sufficient support to align expectations with teams and bosses, and just 29% said they had sufficient support to familiarize themselves with the culture.

We partner with chief human resource officers before the executive’s first day to identify key stakeholders related to the role the executive is assuming.

Our relationships with these stakeholders allow us to gain key insights into the expectations placed on the new executive and capture early feedback that will be useful going forward.

We are able to gain insights into the organization that often cannot be captured from engagement surveys, skip-level meetings and round tables.

An invaluable output of these engagements is helping the executive gain an understanding of the culture – which is particularly important since cultures are evolving as companies adjust business models and practices due to the events of 2020.

CultureMapping™, a critical component of our integration program, is our unique and proprietary asset that identifies potential areas of cultural disconnect between new leaders and their teams. As mentioned above, not recognizing the culture is a major factor in failed or sub-optimized integration.

But that’s not enough to ensure success.

It’s important that the new executive establishes legitimacy by fully understanding enterprise-wide goals, other functions’ objectives and how their strategies and change initiatives will impact other businesses.

This broad understanding and appreciation for the enterprise results in followership from the executive’s team and respect from peers that will lead to early wins for their organization and the enterprise.

Additionally, engaging with colleagues often identifies those employees throughout the company who hold soft power.

Put another way, they are the people with institutional knowledge who “know where the bodies are buried” and how to get things done. An impartial, dependable, and experienced coach is uniquely positioned to capture this information.

Our full-time job is to be an objective thought partner, steadfast coach, trusted advisor and confidential sounding board. We help executives meet their goals, deliver wins and make changes while establishing legitimacy with and support for their colleagues who have functional and enterprise-wide lenses.


Our engagements over three decades of changing environments have enabled us to develop a clear, effective and transparent process for new executives that streamlines the integration process.

The result is a consistent, yet customized engagement methodology designed to help you manage today’s business complexity and related challenges posed by many issues, including the future of work.

Our full Integration and Early Engagement Framework, with Virtual Transition Best Practices, is available in the myCAreer Library, or by emailing To learn more about our corporate talent development programs, including Integration, CultureMapping, Coaching and Development, contact us today.

*Date last updated December 19, 2022