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Team Effectiveness

To Increase New Leader Impact, Move from Onboarding to Assimilation [Checklist]

New Leader Assimilation versus Onboarding

Photo by Hamish Weir on Unsplash

Top Priorities for New Leader Assimilation Programs

In a 2017 research study*, HR executives reported that new leader onboarding programs did a good job with basic facets:

  • 88 percent thought administrative arrangements were covered appropriately
  • 86 percent thought that orientation to the business received adequate attention
  • 85 percent thought that legal and procedural aspects were effectively communicated

But these same executives saw a disconnect in how new leader onboarding dealt with equipping that same leader for work with his or her new team.

Just 52 percent of HR executives surveyed thought that aligning expectations with teams and bosses was properly facilitated in the onboarding process. And even fewer—29 percent—said that the leader was adequately exposed to the culture.

Onboarding is generally defined as a process–not just an event–that’s focused on integrating new leaders into the company. The ultimate goal of onboarding is speed to productivity so that leaders succeed in their role as quickly as possible.


Is Onboarding Enough?

Too often, orientation or onboarding programs stop short and fail to provide leaders with assistance on fully assimilating with their team so that employee engagement and retention doesn’t falter during the transition.

We’ve been encouraging our clients to think beyond just productivity and protocols to include deeper relationship elements in their programs that focus on truly assimilating or embedding the leader with their team and with the organization. If we don’t have a broader and deeper focus on team relationship-building, there is a substantial risk for missed opportunities, failed relationships, and dysfunctional habits to form.

More mature programs that get better leader outcomes focus on including team assessments, working sessions, and individual and team coaching spread across the onboarding period to really impact relationships and team processes. (We've written more here on components to include and steps for an assimilation program.)

In addition to expanding what is provided to new leaders, we also recommend expanding the length of time for new leader onboarding and assimilation programs. Instead of the first week or even the first 100 days, we encourage clients to put time and attention on the process for 6 to 12 months, with intensity waning in the back half of that time period.

Finally, think about ways you can customize or personalize the onboarding experience. Every new leader’s journey is unique, but there are additional complications added when:

  • The new leader comes from outside the organization and is not only learning about and assessing his or her team(s) but is also learning the dynamics of being a new boss and how to navigate in the new organizational culture.
  • The new leader is promoted from within the team and though they are steep in the roles and responsibilities that exist today, they are moving from co-worker to boss and analyzing how to set a new shared vision for the team.

No matter how complicated the transition is, a facilitated process that covers the orientation basics AND give the leader resources to assimilate with the team will set the stage and increase the chances of early team success.


Orientation/Onboarding versus team Assimilation/development

  • What is the purpose of orientation or onboarding? Onboarding and orientation processes are designed to provide education and awareness of key management processes, ensure proper training on core systems and processes, and handle administrative paperwork and protocols.
  • How do you measure orientation/onboarding? The success of orientation or onboarding activities is often measured by gauging the new employee's productivity, reduction in the learning curve, and completion of required systems and processes.
  • What is the purpose of team assimilation/development? Team assimilation and development activities expose leaders to team culture and expectations, encourage gaining alignment with team expectations, and create positive connections as early as possible.
  • How do you measure team assimilation/development? Team assimilation and development can be measured with employee engagement metrics, as well as team retention.


Would you like a printable copy of our comparison between orientation/onboarding and assimilation, plus a checklist for your next new leader and team assimilation program? You can download it here.


*HBR’s article “Onboarding Isn’t Enough” can be found here: https://hbr.org/2017/05/onboarding-isnt-enough

Learn more about New Leader + Team Assimilation

Krista Skidmore

Krista Skidmore , CEO and Cofounder of FlashPoint, is passionate about all things leadership. She manages FlashPoint's strategic direction with integrity and insight.