Executive On-boarding and the Role of the PA

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Anel Martin explains how you can play a critical role in helping your new executive settle in to their new role 

Executive recruitment and placement is big business, and the stakes are high. Many people still underestimate the massive role that Personal Assistants and Executive Secretaries can, and do, play in the successful on-boarding process of new top management recruits.

I have assisted many new hires in my career, and feel that the office professional can provide an additional dimension to the process which is not currently being taken into account or valued.

What is On-boarding?

On-boarding is also sometimes referred to as socialization; it is the process of settling a new employee into a new role so that they can become productive as soon as possible.

The process encompasses acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating the new executive into their role.

Executive On-boarding is highly company specific and there are no hard and fast rules. It can be formal or informal, done in a group setting or individually. How it is done really depends on the corporate culture, the role and the individual involved.

What is the cost of getting it wrong?

A study conducted by Heindrick & Struggles, with a sample size of 20,000 executives, found that 40 per cent of new leaders in high stakes roles are pushed out, failed or quit within 18 months of starting in these positions.

In 2006, a study concluded that internationally, the average CEO can expect a maximum tenure of four years.

Churn on a senior management level causes organizational volatility; it can affect investor confidence and even share prices. It is also very costly to the company, who in most cases have used expensive head hunting or recruitment agencies to fill these positions and now need to start the process all over again, and often need to pay out severance packages.

This instability in teams may also result in lower morale and a less engaged workforce, which ultimately leads to poorer performance.

143 Executives interviewed at IMD (a major business school) in Lausanne, Switzerland, strongly agreed with the statement: ‘Transitions into significant new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers.’ This is an amazing 87 per cent of the focus group!

Furthermore, 70 per cent of them agreed that ‘success or failure during the transition period is a strong predictor of overall success or failure in the job.’

On-boarding, what can I do?

Before the start date:

Office professionals play a critical role in the process of accommodation. Securing an office, making it comfortable and ensuring that it is prepared for the executive before their planned start date.

Preparing an on-boarding pack may be part of your responsibilities (if your HR department does not assist in this regard). The on-boarding pack should contain company information, all the required forms that the new boss may need to complete, as well as any relevant information on benefits that they may be entitled to.

It is also helpful if you can complete as many of the forms and applications that you can prior to their arrival, as this can be very time consuming.

It is also good form to have a program for day one. It is ideal for the new executive to meet with their boss, human resources, as well as their direct reports. This should all be scheduled in advance, and if possible, communicated to the executive before their start date so that they know what to expect on day one.

A useful book which is regularly supplied as part of this pack is called Your First 100 Days in a New Executive Job by Robert Hargrove. This book and other similar books can assist the new executive to avoid common mistakes and make the most of this first 100 days, which are considered a ‘honeymoon phase’ in which quick wins are required to build momentum and credibility in the organization.

Day 1:

Meet your new boss when they arrive, escort them to their new office and all other meetings during the day. If time allows, try to show them around the facilities, make sure they know where the cafeteria and restrooms are. These are small details that they may feel too embarrassed to ask just anyone about, so you as the office professional can assist.

Your role for the day is ambassador, welcome committee and tour guide. From my past experience, I cannot overstate the value of your contact with the new boss on day one and how powerful that first impression can be.

Month 1:

Your new boss will need information to develop context for their new working environment. Information which can tell the new executive what worked and what didn’t, and information that states the company’s long term strategic goals and major challenges.

As a well-connected, intelligent PA you are in a brilliant position to source information as required. Information like annual reports, budgets, business plans, structures and consultant information may be useful in the beginning.You will also be instrumental in setting up strategic meetings with internal and external parties. I personally have on-boarded several high level executives and I can attest to the importance of these meetings and how often it is your relationship with the other party’s PA that makes booking these meetings so much easier.

So, you have provided your new boss with information and now they have questions. If you have been with a division or a company for a while, you know who the subject matter experts are, and can assist in putting them in touch with your boss to answer the questions that may come up.

Generally the PA in the office has a great impact on morale and the emotional well-being of the team. In this role you can leverage on your people skills to help your new boss engage with the team, and provide them with honest feedback on how they are coming across to the team and what concerns are surfacing.

In the start of a new role, your executive will need time to define a plan of action, so it is critical that you assist your boss with time management during this period so that they have the time and space to be creative and apply their strategic ability.

Going forward:

The goal for you and the new executive should be to create a great working relationship built on trust and respect. You may be with the new boss long term or be responsible for them during the first few months, whatever the case may be; you can have a major impact on the new hire’s success, happiness, comfort and even possibly have an impact on their tenure with your company.”

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About Author

Anel Martin

Anel Martin is a multi-award winning ex-Personal Assistant who now works as a full time trainer. She has extensive experience in the profession and is widely considered an industry expert. Anel is also one of the Directors of the Isipho Admin Bursary (www.isiphoadmin.org.za). She is the author of The Executive Secretary Guide to Building a Powerful Personal Brand, available now on Amazon.

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