Onboarding programs are everywhere. You could be excused for thinking that this somewhat obvious idea has always been a part of the landscape. Employee onboarding, and more specifically, executive onboarding, is a relatively recent invention.

I had a good laugh today in a conversation with an old friend. “Imagine”, I said, “that you got to your new job and, on day 1, your desk was in place, your name was on your door. Your first 15 meetings were arranged, you had clear goals and a 100 day plan.” My friend, who is 30 days into his new job, laughed hysterically. “I still can’t remember where the bathroom is and my job description feels like jello.”

This is the world of George Bradt.

Bradt has worked for a number of big companies (Coke, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, JD Powers) in sales and marketing executive roles. He is not your standard issue HR leader.

He tells the story of his epiphany this way:

“In the ’90s in Japan, I was responsible for hiring this one particular Vice President. On his first day in the office, he walked in and nothing, absolutely nothing was ready for him. We spent the day sorting out the logistics of office space, bathroom locations and so on. We’d spent a fortune to get the guy on the job and were simply unprepared for him. I know it was a real waste and a real opportunity. I swore it would never happen again.”

Onboarding was born.

“The next new executive hire was a different story. When she arrived, her name was on the door; her computer was ready; there were flowers in the office; she had meetings scheduled. In other words, we got her off to a running start.”

Bradt believes that success or failure of a new executive is determined in a very short and early window. (At least 40% of all executive placements fail in the first 18 months.) In the following years, his recipe for improving the odds grew richer and more detailed. He forced his organizations to work to make new executives successful. Today, Bradt refers to a Heidrik and Struggles study that suggests onboarding reduces the failure rate to 10%.

When he launched his own company, PrimeGenesis, the idea was to follow the onboarding thread exclusively. What makes a guy like Bradt so influential is that he knows how to stay focused and on message. In the early days, no one wanted to talk about onboarding. Today, it’s nearly a household word. Meanwhile, the company has stuck to its knitting. The company blog is a cornucopia of onboarding insight.

The New Leaders 100 Day Action Plan, George’s first book, got its name because the publisher didn’t think the word ‘onboarding’ would sell. It continues to move at an interesting rate and for sale was the foundation for Bradt’s second, “Onboarding“. The third, “Total Onboarding” is due out next spring.

PrimeGenesis also offers NewJobPrep.com, a structured nine step workstream for people who want to make their next job a success.

The combination of laser focus and a clear story are the underlying elements of George Bradt’s influence. Nearly single handedly (with the help of the PrimeGenesis team, of course), George has brought a new aspect of the hiring process into focus. This google timeline gives you a sense of the explosion in the use of the term ‘onboarding‘.

Bradt focuses on three aspects of the new engagement.

  1. Preparation for a Head start.
    The onboarding processes focuses on researching the new job and the new team in advance of Day 1. The name of the game is to have a clear agenda and a clear message. The process includes making sure that the workplace is prepped from a logistics perspective with offices arranged and meetings set.
  2. Push.
    George and his team are relentless about their focus on having a message and sticking to it. One message, one clear set of objectives.
  3. Inspiring and Enabling The Team.
    After initial introductions, success is really all about the team. Bradt urges an approach based on the new executive being grateful for the opportunity to serve his team (rather than charging in on a shiny white horse).

Bradt likens his work to being a harbor pilot. “We get put on the boat with the new captain. We help them map out their plan. We facilitate meetings. In rare cases, we take the helm. Onboarding helps the transition process gain traction and momentum.”

George Bradt is changing the way that companies treat new employees. There is an emerging partnership that focuses on getting the right start for both sides of the equation. It’s an important part of the proactive hiring process.

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