Onboarding the Top Management

Bibi Boas Bondesen

By Pia Torreck, Partner at Ingvardsen ll Partners, and Jacob Vikkelsøe, Research Assistant at Ingvardsen II Partners

Hit the ground running – off to a Good Start

The former CEO is out the door and the search for the successor has begun. It will take some time before the replacement is ready. Unfortunately, there can still be a very long way to go regarding the new CEO adding value to the company. The clock is ticking, and the company is waiting. This is exactly why the onboarding process is extremely vital. From day 1 – the new executive must create value for the business.

Many Stumble-wires

In a Harvard Business Review article from 2017, the authors point out that far too many of the new c-level leaders do not make it. The onboarding process should take this in to account. Some of the most common challenges the new executives face are the poor grasp of how the organization works and that the leader does not truly understand the existing culture in the company.

Maybe the new c-level leader will encounter problems creating alliances with peers. That the executive does not understand the business model. That the c-level leader does not make effective decisions. That the executive does not agree with the business strategy – or maybe there is a mismatch between the competencies needed and the competencies possessed by the new leader.

“The new executive has to signal that building relationships is a priority.”

Excellent Onboarding

How can excellent onboarding increase the probability of good relations to peers and promote results immediately?

Board of directors, executive committee and the search partner together create the foundation of a successfully completed onboarding. What does the company need to focus on? Innovation? Growth? Change? Customers?

The new executive needs to understand what is not working and why. But part of an onboarding process is even more to inquiry in to and investigate all that is well. What is working in the company – and why is it working? The new Executive is implementing while investigating. So ask the right questions, the moment you open the door. Make sure that the new Executive immediately drives the implementation, just by asking the right questions to the organization.

Science tells us that we tend to focus on what is wrong and that what we focus on, have a tendency to expand. Chance your bias. Be conscious. Focus on all that is well and working fine. That will expand.

“Change begins the moment we ask questions”

The questions should be prepared in advance. Does the company have a strong history and DNA? Does the new executive need to change the culture or should he or she fit directly into the existing culture?

The new executive should also meet the customers and ask why they want this company as a supplier? When we did well? And what was important to the customer? How we can improve? What do we need to learn to become even better? But the executive should also ask the successes and learnings in the organization of our customer? What is working well? What visions and dreams do they have for the future? What do they hope for and how may we assist?

”Hit the ground running” is probably the best approach. Start the onboarding the minute you sign the contract with the new executive. Let the new executive understand what is working well – and let the new Executive expand it.

¨Questioning is undoubtedly a valuable leadership tool. Asking the right questions can help business leaders to anticipate changes,
seize opportunities, and move their organizations in new directions¨



Onboarding Isn’t Enough, HBR, May-June 2017
5 common questions leaders should never ask, HBR, July 2014 (Appreciative Inquiry)

About the author

Bibi Boas Bondesen


Director Executive Search, Head of International


  • Executive Search Consultant
  • Head of Business Development
  • Trade Support
  • Client Services Manager

Bibi has delivered Executive Search to a wide range of industries.
Bibi has most recently worked with Executive Search at Spencer Stuart and The Ashton Partnership in London, and she was previously employed by Morgan Stanley.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Mathematics and Statistics from the London School of Economics and an MBA from Copenhagen Business School.

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