Woman on Video Conference

Finally. You have the signed offer from the finalist candidate in hand. It may seem like the hard work is over. In fact, the most important work is just ahead – for both your organization and your new leader.

Effective orientation and onboarding are critical for the short- and long-term success of leaders. Supporting new leaders during their transition can expedite the path to optimal performance. Yet, many organizations struggle to do this well.

As organizations continue with remote working arrangements out of necessity, many are perplexed by the challenge of effectively orienting and onboarding a leader who has never even visited their buildings and, in some cases, who has never visited their community.

How will the new leader form meaningful, authentic relationships with their team, their direct supervisor, and stakeholders? How will they be assisted in ‘getting to’ virtual meetings and obtaining ongoing technical and strategic support during their transition? How can the new leader become familiarized with the organization’s physical layout, infrastructure and, potentially, even the community? How will they effectively gain insight into organizational culture, traditions and norms without the benefit of the informal conversations that occur between formal meetings?

In reality, whether virtual or in-person, the fundamentals of effective orientation and onboarding remain the same. A strong orientation process is characterized by the effective sharing of information to help the new leader understand ‘what’ is done in the role, while onboarding focuses on the ‘how’.

For the new leader to truly understand the ‘how’ of their new role, onboarding needs to:

  • clarify the most essential strategic objectives, priorities and deliverables for their first year;
  • provide support in establishing key relationships early and well;
  • clearly communicate the leadership behaviours that will be essential to success in the role;
  • provide regular and constructive feedback; and
  • establish a strong internal and external professional support system for the new leader.

To ensure your virtual orientation and onboarding plan is effective, consider the following five tips:

Build a Strong Virtual Support Team.

Establish an Orientation and Onboarding Support Team to provide administrative, technical and strategic support. To effectively help your new leader navigate technologies, systems, documents and relationships in the first months, the support team should include your leader’s direct supervisor, a peer support, a technical and systems support, an HR representative and an administrative support contact. Support team members should be encouraged to ‘check-in’ regularly, both formally and informally, with your new leader in the first few weeks to ensure they feel well supported in their transition.

Create an Online Orientation and Onboarding Portal.

Providing an online resource for orientation and onboarding doesn’t need to be overly sophisticated. A central online location that is accessible by the new leader, their supervisor and the support team will suffice. Your portal should include a clear agenda of your leader’s orientation meetings and training sessions, links to virtual meetings, key contact information, electronic ‘Welcome Binder’ materials, an organization staff directory and any other relevant training documents.

Get the Technology Right.

Providing the right equipment, technology, systems training and technical support is essential. For a new leader already facing the challenge and anxiety inherent in starting in a new role, the added stress of technology failure can be incredibly frustrating. Making technology a priority is even more important in a virtual context. Ensure your new leader’s equipment and technology needs are identified early. A fully configured laptop and other relevant office equipment should be shipped to your new leader at least a week in advance of their official start date to allow time for set-up, testing and general familiarization.

Encourage Video Meetings.

Research shows that 87% of remote workers feel more connected to their teams when using video meetings to communicate. Through video technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx or Skype, ensure your new leader is set up to have one-on-one meet and greets with key internal and external contacts to lay the foundation for an effective relationship. Early conversations with key advisors, partners and support team members will ensure your new leader has the opportunity to obtain helpful advice and insights about the organization and community, and to ‘put a face to an email’ with each key contact before diving into the work.

Enable Authentic, Human Connections.

The social interaction that happens between formal meetings is critical to gaining real, meaningful insight into what makes people and organizations tick. Be intentional about facilitating opportunities for your new leader to get to know their team members and peers beyond their jobs. Consider ‘agendaless’ group video meetings such as virtual lunchrooms and socials to foster open dialogue and social interaction. Incorporate ‘icebreakers’ at the start of each introductory video meeting. Connect the new leader to the team’s professional online chat groups to allow them to become part of the conversation and gain direct insight into the team dynamics and individual communication styles. 

Despite the potential challenges, virtual orientation and onboarding can also present organizations with the opportunity to be much more deliberate and thoughtful in laying out an effective plan. In a socially distanced world, organizations cannot rely on the assumption that much will be learned organically and informally through physical immersion in the work environment. Today, organizations must carefully reflect on the information, relationships, behaviours, feedback and support that will be important to enabling a new leader’s success in the role and ensure this forms the foundation of orientation and onboarding.


Challenged in your search for a leader during the COVID-19 crisis? 

Reach out to one of our Executive Search Partners below for a confidential, exploratory discussion. 

Contact a Consultant

Anna Stuart
Anna Stuart , MBA, FCPA, FCMA, FCMC
Senior Associate
Jeff Forbes
Jeff Forbes
Managing Partner
Kevin Stoddart , MBA, CMC
Managing Partner
Andrea Forbes-Hurley
Andrea Forbes-Hurley , MBA, CPHR
Managing Partner
Amorell Saunders N'Daw
Amorell Saunders N'Daw , BAA, MEd
Partner and EDI Lead
Katherine Frank
Katherine Frank , BA, CPHR
Partner, KBRS