Do you really want your senior new hire to hit the ground running?

Being given the brief to find talent that could ‘hit the ground running’ was common when I used to recruit senior hires. I never gave it much thought, comfortable with the assumption that truly talented people could process information quickly, potentially need less support and can get on with things with little drama.

“We don’t mind supporting”, I would tell Head Hunters, “But the business would prefer someone who can just get on with things. We need grown-ups who can quickly get to grips with how things work.”

Determined to show that they can assimilate into new environments quickly, senior hires will be keen to impress. And they will also remember what they were briefed during the interview process.

“They need someone who can hit the ground running.”

But what are the implications for onboarding when there is an assumption that good people will breeze through their induction with minimal ‘handholding’ and they will do so quickly, with very little in the way of demands of their new employer.

Support is not an ugly word. And speed doesn’t necessarily mean better. Without careful thought and being cognizant of the employee experience, your new hire could be on their way out the door before you know it.

With a hit the ground running mentality that underpins your onboarding programmes, you end up emphasising speed, not quality. Doing, not thinking. Acting not listening.

If you don’t make the time to teach, your new hire doesn’t take the time to learn.

In the lead up to starting their role, your new hire will have been thinking all sorts of things. Some rational, some not. From deciding how to announce their joining on LinkedIn, to being concerned about where they sit in the office. From worrying about how much freedom they actually have to whether or not they’ve inherited a semi decent team.

When they join they not only need to grapple with being in a new environment, around new people and making sure they create a good impression, they also remember what you said. That they must hit the ground running and seek to make an impact as quickly as possible.

So I’d like to introduce a new phrase instead – Hit the Ground Learning©.

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Based on my experience, any new hire, regardless of seniority will go through these stages when they first join your business.

Stage 1: See – Here your new hire will be take it all in. Probably forgetting all the names of people they’ve been introduced to yet trying to make a good impression, reducing the noise in their mind and avoid forming opinions too early.

During this stage they are seeing but not really absorbing. They can’t. There’s just too much information.

Stage 2: Observe – They’ve gotten used to the commute. New faces are slowly starting to become familiar. They’ve read through a pile of strategy documents. Probably made a few notes but now they’re paying close attention. Watching carefully how people interact with other and the language used in emails for example.

They are observing with an intent to learn. So they too know how to navigate your organisation.

Stage 3: Learn – What is your culture? Explicit and implicit? What are your expectations about the job and how you like to work? How are the team dynamics with the Board? Both in public and in private, behind closed doors? Who is aligned with who? Is there a disconnect between what is said and what’s done?

Stage 4: Apply – Now they are ready to take action. They have some recommendations about their team, what the immediate priorities are and how they are going to make it happen. Applying what they’ve seen, observed and learnt, they can justify their plan and begin to execute. With your permission of course.

Once your new hire has settled in, they will bounce between each stage as they embed themselves within your business. That is completely normal. But for them to be successful, all these stages need one component.


But not just time for the sake of it. Time underpinned with a thoughtful approach to onboarding and integration.

Contrast this with a hit the ground running approach.

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Here they never really become very productive, instead spending a lot of time trying to see, learn, observe and apply. Because there isn’t the time to allow their thoughts to settle and their observations to crystalised they are running off ‘half cocked’ as the saying goes. Their recommendations are off, they are gaps in their knowledge and all of a sudden this new hire doesn’t look so great after all.

Then when it doesn’t work out, you chalk it down to ‘cultural fit’. They just weren’t right for our organisation will be the narrative that’s used.

“Well, they didn’t last long.”

Moving from onboarding to integration

Most organisations do very well at the transactional side of onboarding – form filling, IT setup etc but miss the cultural aspects that can be the make or break of a new hire staying the course.

It’s these cultural variables that affect how your new hire acclimatises to your business.

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From understanding and navigate team dynamics, getting to grips with your business model to having their soft skills evaluated so you identify if there are any leadership skills that could do with a tune up. And more importantly, finding ways to identify their work style so they can be aware of any behaviours that don’t fit within your culture, but worked well in a previous business.

How many organisations provide support in this way?

Do you provide support for this?

Harvard Business Review in a global survey of 588 senior executives found that almost 70% of respondents cited lack of understanding about norms and practices as a reason for executive failure, not competence.

Your integration programmes, coupled with giving your new hire the time, space and support, can make a big difference to their success. And their productivity.

Set the expectation for cultural integration

It’s up to you to set the expectations about how new hires should be onboarded and integrated within your organisation. And it’s the integration piece that’s often missing. Onboarding implies a process that has a start, middle and an end – possibly four weeks after their start date.

Integration is about how your new hire get’s used to your business and understands your culture and the way you do things – the political landscape. This knowledge is important not so they can fall in line and conform, but so they can be thoughtful about the norms they observe and comply with versus the ones they feel should be challenged and questioned. It also helps them navigate challenges with their teams and your customers.

Your new hire is learning from you in the same way you should be learning from them.

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself, your senior leadership and HR teams:

  • How do we evaluate the soft skills of our new hires before, during and after they’ve joined?
  • How do we support them to understand their work styles and identify blind spots that could trip them up later on?
  • What proportion of our onboarding programme is filled with transactional activities?
  • How far can we personalise the onboarding experience so new hires don’t feel like a cog in a wheel?
  • What changes should we make to encourage a mindset of ‘hit the ground learning’?
  • What changes do I need to make to role model a new approach to onboarding?

Don’t make onboarding your senior hires the sole responsibility of your HR Director. Lead the charge, check in regularly and demand the creation of a thoughtful onboarding and integration template that sets the tone for all new hires joining your business.

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This article is based on a presentation made at Nucco Brain’s breakfast event 26th September, titled: Keeping your employees committed beyond Day 1.

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