After two years in your job with your new company, you’ve finally got the lay of the land. You know what it takes to get ahead and you understand all the key requirements of your position. You’ve ramped up. You are fully onboarded. You’re cookin’!

Then the world changes. Your boss leaves the organization and senior management goes outside to recruit her replacement. The announcement is out…the boss starts in two weeks and he hasn’t even worked in your industry before!

Guess what…you’re almost back at square one. As the new boss gears up…YOU are also onboardng all over again.

In recent years, there’s been plenty written about the onboarding process as this term has become more of a part of our business vernacular. Yet, I find that many organizations are still thinking of the onboarding experience as one that applies only in a very narrow circumstance– when a new employee joins an organization.

Yes, joining a new organization is perhaps one of the most dramatic transition times for an employee at any level, particularly for new leaders. But, when you gain a new boss, many of the principles that apply to traditional onboarding, apply to this transition experience as well.

One of the critical first steps of successful onboarding is CLARIFYING EXPECTATIONS. This post deals with the various ways that you will need to re-clarify expectations, now that there is a new boss at the helm.

1. Clarifying/Redefining Your Role

Think your current role and job description still hold just because your title hasn’t changed? Think again. Over time, as your new boss finds his way forward, you should expect to renegotiate the scope and focus of your role. In fact, being proactive by signaling in your early one-on-one that you appreciate that there may be shifts in your current role that your new boss would like to see will demonstrate your maturtity and insight. So, have that initial meeting to review your current role, but in your discussions demonstrate your flexibility and openness to the new boss’ ideas. Also offer suggestions as to areas that might need to be tweaked once you hear the new boss’ mandate and points of passion about his new department.

2. Redefining Success

Sure, the new boss will have to pay attention to the rules of the game in the new organization, but he will also arrive with his own set of rules around what types of behaviour he respects and rewards.

What does success mean to him?
What are his hot bottons?
What has he promoted people for in the past?
Specifically, in your role, what does he most want to see from you over the next 90 days?

3. Identifying Best Communication Practices

Your old boss loved email and weekly half-page updates on your project goals. To continue providing this means of communication to your new boss without checking in with him could be the kiss of death for a boss that rarely reads his email, prefers informal face-to-face discussion and expects frequent phone calls when you are on the road. You could still be communicating the same content that was on the mark for the old boss, but suddenly the new boss feels “left out of the loop” and has little sense of connection with you relative to your peers who also prefer in-person updates. It is important to have deliberate conversations about what style of communication you both prefer and to negotiate an approach that meets both your needs. Never assume.

Bottom line? Don’t under-estimate the importance of this transition timeframe both for you and your new boss. Thinking about it as akin to gaining a new job or joining a new company will help you to give the change the attention it deserves. It is critical to spend time upfront Clarifying Expectations– both your expectations of your new boss and the new boss’ expectations of you.

NO…I’m not referring to your attire…that’s a topic for another posting.

When organizations are asked to list the most important behaviors for people who successfully transition into a new organization, the number one answer is “listen, observe and ask questions”. In spite of what you might expect, a new employer is looking for you to primarily learn from THEM in the early weeks, rather than to PROVE your worth.

In the first month of onboarding with a new organization, you will be judged more by the insightfulness of your questions than your recommendations.

It’s ironic that during much of the interview process, potential employers spend much of their time convincing you that they can’t wait to hear all of your new ideas to foster change. Yet, after you are hired, spouting one too many of these ideas too quickly in the onboarding timeframe is a sure way to derail your early success.

It may seem simple, but the challenge is to show your genuine curiosity, arrange opportunities to listen to as many people as possible, and to observe how the various parts of the organization fit together. It is particularly important to ask others about their priorities and how their role fits into the broader strategies of the organization. This is the time to be a sponge!

It is human nature that people love to be listened to, so you need to not only ask questions and listen with interest, but also to give indication that you have heard others fully. When you have one-on-one meeting, take the opportunity to sum up what you’ve heard. When you meet with your boss, give a top-line on what you’ve been observing and the themes that you’ve been picking up through your conversations with others. You needn’t have figured out all the answers in these first few weeks, you simply need to demonstrate that you’ve been listening closely and are using your insight to make observations.

For more information on leadership onboarding success visit

You’ve heard the stats from me before– 40 to 50% of all new leaders fail to meet the expectations of the role for which they were recruited. Leaders of Colour face particular challenges in integrating into the organization, demonstrating their worth, and finding internal role models and mentors. Progressive organizations go to great lengths to acquire the best and brightest talent possible. Then they are often disappointed to find that many of their talented visible minority recruits end up leaving within the first year.

In the first 90 days after joining a new organization or being promoted, it is critical that a new leader gain support of key stakeholders, listen and show appreciation for the organization’s own culture and create early wins. During a time of intensive performance pressure, these leaders also often experience considerable dissonance about joining the new organization and have fears about whether they are right for the new role. Leaders of Colour deal with further obstacles at both the conscious and unconscious level.

My colleague, Gina Columna of G-force International, and I are currently conducting research into effective transitions for Leaders of Colour. Gina is an Asian American coach and consultant based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our research will be shared at the upcoming North Carolina SHRM Annual Conference on September 19th, 2006.

We are passionate about supporting individual minority leaders, their managers and the organizations who are committed to their success.

Gina and I invite contact from Leaders of Colour at the executive level as well as emerging leaders to arrange for an interview with us. We are interested in looking at generational patterns between Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. We are curious about success strategies for both new hires and internal promotions. We are eager to have rich conversations about what works well and what doesn’t.

If you, or someone else you know would be interested in a conversation to support this research, please send an email to