Onboarding best practices
While there’s no universal formula for CEO onboarding, some practices have proven effective, such as:
► Mentoring. When a CEO announces plans to retire, some credit unions create a succession plan that involves having the incoming CEO shadow or be mentored by the outgoing leader.
For Amey Sgrignoli, the onboarding process at $450 million asset Belco Community Credit Union was a multiyear process. The board at the Harrisburg, Pa., credit union decided to pursue an internal candidate for the top spot two years before its CEO and executive vice president retired.
The board formed a committee to identify potential prospects for the positions and created a selection process that included interviews, performance reviews, feedback, internal and external training, and job shadowing.
Sgrignoli held the “interim CEO” tag before being named CEO in January 2014. She then moved into a more formal transition process, which involved job shadowing with the outgoing CEO to cover everything from operational tasks to strategic planning.
“Within the first six months, I was responsible for full oversight of the credit union, and the retiring CEO was in an adviser/consultant role,” Sgrignoli says. “He was very much behind the scenes after the first few months. So when he did retire, I was already up and running.”
► Consulting. At some credit unions it’s not possible for outgoing CEOs to provide guidance to their replacements. If these credit unions use an executive search firm to find a replacement, the company will often provide guidance for a few months once the new individual begins the role.
At $330 million asset Infinity Federal Credit Union in Portland, Maine, the board worked with an executive recruiting firm to define what a “star CEO” would be, and developed a list of expectations and goals for its new leader. When Elizabeth Hayes took over as the credit union’s CEO in 2014, she worked with the search firm for a few months as part of the onboarding process.
► Self-directing. When no formal onboarding program exists, new CEOs must create their own plans.
Scott Wilson, president/CEO of $518 million asset SeaComm Federal Credit Union in Massena, N.Y., didn’t have the option of shadowing the outgoing CEO when he took on the role in 2007. Instead, Wilson tailored his onboarding process by focusing on a set of self-created goals, including meeting with senior level managers, understanding each area of the credit union, and learning from the board what it wanted him to accomplish.
“The benefit to immersing yourself in the first 100 days is that it will enable you as a new CEO to really have a true picture and understanding of what needs to be done,” Wilson says.
Mike Lee also didn’t have a formal onboarding program when he became CEO of $220 million asset KCT Credit Union, Elgin, Ill., in 2013.
For the first two weeks, Lee’s goal was to find out as much information about the credit union as he could. He set out to examine the credit union’s history, determine what worked and what didn’t, gauge employees’ morale, and review the credit union’s accomplishments and shortcomings.
“That became my whole onboarding process,” Lee says.