CEO On-boarding Question #2

  • How do you differentiate between a bad hire and an on-boarding problem?
  • When is it too late to fix an on-boarding problem and you know you have to try again?


Even those with good judgment and a good track record sometimes make bad hiring decisions. In our experience the best solution to bad hires and poor onboarding is problem prevention, not problem solving. The goal should be to manage the end to end hiring process well so well that you have fewer bad hires. The conclusion of our previous article (CEO On-boarding question #1) states:

Do a better job with recruitment, selection and onboarding and make certain that all three pieces are integrated into one well defined and well managed business process. In this way you will enhance productivity and minimize bad hires.

Still, problems occur due to bad hires and poorly executed onboarding. As you know, we are strong advocates of the Profile XT instrument for supporting effective hires. This tool is the most accurate we have found for predicting success and high performance in a specific role. The Profile XT tool has been used for about 20 years with nearly a million people and it accurately predicts success and future performance about 80% of the time. Use the tool effectively and you minimize bad hires. The reality is that even good recruiting and effective selection, facilitated through the use of the PXT, cannot guarantee that all new hires will succeed.

This article will examine the other 20% who do not succeed or prosper in their new positions, namely those who were bad hires or were not properly integrated into their new culture through an effective onboarding process. Our purpose is to examine how CEO’s can improve both their hiring and on boarding processes for increased organizational effectiveness.

Want to improve your hiring and onboarding success? Follow the four steps illustrated in the following chart:

Effective Onboarding Process


An effective onboarding process is fairly simple to design yet often difficult to execute. The process has three main components: focus on the right, high priority tasks, proper sequencing and connection with the right people. The connections with the right people include:

• Your new boss
• Your new team of peers
• Your own team, and
• Those who have significant informal power and influence in the organization. Some people refer this as the “shadow board.”

    Connecting with the Right People

    Creating covenants or agreements with each of these individuals or groups as to how you will work together is the key to success in this area. The art of “covenant making” comes is the result on honest negotiations between all interested parties. The outcome is a quality set of agreements that people will honor and live by.

    Given the immense number of tasks a new executive needs to pay attention to during the first 90 days, it is essential that the executive receive active support from a trusted advisor such as: a new boss, an assigned mentor, a team of peers who are navigating similar challenges or an executive coach. Active support means providing adequate time for interactive conversation where the trusted advisor can provide feedback and direction. He/she can also ask questions about various pursuits that broaden, deepen and question the new leader’s point of view and perspective.

    Focus on the Right Tasks and Proper Sequencing

    We have also found that focusing on critical tasks is the key to success during the first few months on the job. Proper sequencing of these tasks produces higher quality results.
    During the first few days the focus needs to be on:
    • Learning specifics of the business
    • Obtaining clarification of expectations
    • Timely and accurate communication with key stakeholders
    During the first 30 days the key tasks need to be:
    • Understanding cultural Issues
    • Identifying key job fit issues at this level
    • Identifying learning priorities
    • Devising 90 day strategies
    • Attaining clarity of relations with the boss and determining your risk profile in the new environment
    • Investigating team restructuring issues

    During the next 30 days the key tasks typically include:
    • Identifying early wins to help develop a successful job pattern
    • Attaining consensus on “A” item priorities
    • Finalizing 90 day job strategy
    • Refining specific job expectations and resource requirements with your boss

    From days 60 to 90 the focus needs to be on:
    • Clarifying post 90 day strategy
    • Articulating a shared vision and engaging the team with the vision
    • Implementing action plans to support execution of early wins
    • Assuring alliances are in place that support early wins
    • Completing a team restructuring plan that has formulated and agreed upon with HR and Corporate
    • Devising regular and effective communication with peers and superiors. This process starts on the first day and continues and improves on an on going basis.

    Key point

    Excellent results come from effective execution and proper support from the boss, a mentor, an executive coach or team of peers. This is not a task that can be accomplished alone. The new executive is moving too quickly and has too much new information to process to proceed successfully without active support. A trusted advisor who can provide feedback, perspective and insight is instrumental to ensuring early productivity and facilitating organizational fit.

    Important Hiring Issues

    It takes courage to recognize a bad hire yet it is ultimately less expensive to recognize the error and to move on. Even very successful business people make mistakes and lose some battles. The objective is to win the war and cut your losses by recognizing the signs and symptoms of a bad hiring decision.

    The easiest way to recognize that you have made a bad hire is by the absence of good results, although early positive business results are not enough to ensure that you have made a good hire. A typical scenario: Soon after the hire you met with your new executive and clarified expectations and set targets. Now, you find that your new executive is not getting the required results. Possible cause: Your new hire is in the wrong position, or you have not provided adequate support. If you have provided adequate support and this appears to be a good job for the individual, you probably have a new executive who is not able to achieve good results in your environment. This is the easiest way to recognize a bad hire.

    The other symptoms that indicate a bad hire are harder to discern because they show up in “soft ways”- in people’s behaviors, the ways they interact with others or perhaps manifest as an uncomfortable feeling that things are not right. We don’t have a prescription for the ‘soft components’ of a bad hire, but we do have a checklist of typical signals or indicators developed from interviews conducted by Mary Kay Blake, SVP of the Freedom Forum. Some of the signals that indicate you may have made a bad hire include:

    • Warning vibes were ignored
    • Talked — but did not deliver — a great game
    • Wouldn’t learn what was needed to succeed
    • Poor communicator
    • Inflexible
    • Displays poor judgment
    • Doesn’t know that he doesn’t know
    • Doesn’t listen
    • Is selfish and condescending
    • Demonstrates non-collaborative behavior
    • Is uncooperative
    • Doesn’t understand the importance of planning
    • Watches the clock

    When you get frequent reports and observations of bad judgment, poor listening and inflexibility, it is time to consider that you may have made a bad hire.


    The best antidote to bad hires and poorly executed on-boarding is designing a good solution and plan from the inception. This includes a comprehensive on-boarding process starting with good recruiting, quality and thoughtful execution and adequate support from others to ease the on-boarding process. Like all initiation processes, adequate support is required to provide focus and momentum to aid the individual through the transition.

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