The slow pace of onboarding

Jun 02 2008 by Brian Amble Print This Article

It's commonly thought that it takes a few months for an executive to get up to speed in a new job. But a study has found that almost one in three executives who change companies – and one in five who move within the same organization – are not delivering, even after two years on the job.

Just how hard it is to change jobs – and the lost productivity that results from it – is revealed in new research across 18 industries and 11 countries carried out by the Institute of Executive Development and Alexcel Group.

The study, "Executive Transitions," found that ramp-up time for new external hires is worryingly long. Around a third of those questioned said that it takes between six and nine months while a further quarter of respondents said it takes more than nine months.

Ramp–up time for those making transfers within the same organization was less, but not by a huge margin. The most commonly cited period was between three and six months, with a quarter saying it takes longer than six months.

Moreover, one in five (21 percent) of executives who make internal transfers fail to meet expectations in first two years.

"This is important for leaders and organizations to understand," says Patricia Wheeler, Managing Director of Alexcel Group, "because they expect internal transfers to be seamless and require little help; our results show that, in fact, this is not the case. As 20 percent of senior executives are not successful when they change roles internally, companies need to take notice.

Our results suggest that a relatively small amount of time, if invested correctly, will help senior executives assimilate in their new roles and may prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars and work-hours."

For those who join an organization as an external hire, the failure rate is even more pronounced, with three out of 10 not meeting expectations two years after their arrival.

But the real problem may be worse still. Half the executives questioned in a 2006 poll by recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International believed that new recruits did not reach maximum productivity until they had been with a company for between three and five years. And just a third believed executives were at their most productive at one-to-two years.

The same study found that just three out of 10 executives were upbeat about their firm's on-boarding and assimilation processes, an area identified by Scott Saslow, Executive Director at The Institute of Executive Development, as being a critical one for organizations to get right.

"What's evident is the need to help leaders who are transitioning more and more often into new roles and new companies, given the high failure rates," he said.

"There are solutions that work; however, the main hurdle is the lack of a thoughtful approach and consistency on the part of the organization."