Onboarding: An Introduction

In this blog we take the general concepts of onboarding and apply them to the roles of team, country, and area/regional leaders within mission organizations.

1.     What is onboarding?
Onboarding is an intentional process to help new field leaders become quickly effective in the basics in their new roles.  It is a practical process to help a new field leader get “on board” in the new role promptly.  For a general introduction to onboarding in the business world, read Workforce Management Online, April 2011.

2.     Why is it needed?
The need for onboarding of new field leaders is imperative for at least two reasons, as discovered in IMPACT research of 277 field leaders.*  First, only 30% of the field leaders said they had received help or training for their present position. Secondly, the majority of field leaders give only part of their work week to the field leader position, retaining a significant personal ministry focus along with their new leader role. Thus, the stress of new responsibilities, with limited time to accomplish them, requires intentional effort to assist news leader to effectively serve, make decisions and maintain personal, holistic health.

3.       How long is the process?
We are suggesting a dedicated development period from the day of appointment until the end of the first year in the leadership role.  Such a period is particularly important for those assuming organizational leader roles for the first time, as is common for many team or country directors. That year represents a critical time for new leaders to learn the ropes of the job, understand key issues, identify growth resources, and cultivate an empowering relationship with individuals in their group.

In today’s world of instant communication and global travel, a process for intentional development can occur, even for organizations with limited funds.

The onboarding process has stages, each one having a specific function.  Below are suggested stages with time frames.  These will need to be customized by each organization:

  • Stage 1: Post-appointment to the commencement  of the role: Getting Oneself Ready (e.g. self-evaluation and renewing of commitments, refocusing of spiritual gifts, values, and “calling,” and transitions from full time direct ministry to the field leader role, whether part time or full time). This transition also includes issues related to personal ministry and family life.  These issues are combined to create an initial learning plan.
  • Stage 2: Month 1-2 on the job: Getting on One’s Feet (e.g. introductions, administrative transitions, first leadership steps).
  • Stage 3:  Months 2-8:  Developing One’s Posture (e.g. finding balance, identifying and tackling critical issues, and defining first year directions).
  • Stage 4: Months 7-12: Settling into the Role (e.g. reviewing first year and developing longer term directions and perspectives).

New field leaders take responsibility for their own development, and supervisors provide structure, resources and connectivity to meet the desired outcomes.  An array of coaches, training courses and other resources can be incorporated into the onboarding process.  Human resource and training leaders are facilitators of the process and specific events, not owners of an onboarding process for a specific field leader.

4.     What are key foci of onboarding?

  •  Assisting the new leader to effectively transition quickly and avoid the common pitfalls of a new leader.
  • Helping new field leaders to develop balanced lives, particularly for those who are combining personal ministry and marriage and family responsibilities with new leadership roles and/or extensive travel.  These transitions require careful monitoring and support.
  • Focusing on immediate, practical needs rather than on long-term, comprehensive leader development issues. In other words, onboarding concentrates on only that 5-20% of comprehensive development issues that have immediate application. The other 80-95% of development issues should be incorporated into long-term, ongoing development/training processes.
  • Assisting new leaders to identify areas for growth and structure the growth resources so that individualized, “just-in-time” development can occur.  An onboarding process incorporates available orientation events, training programs, coaching and other learning resources. Group training events are vital when they are folded into such an individualized development plan.
  • Tailoring the process to the specific needs of each new leader so that each person becomes effective in his/her own unique context.  Since onboarding is a highly individualized process rather than an “orientation program,” the amount and frequency of input and support will vary for each field leader.

* IMPACT is a partnership effort with seven organizations to research the needs and perspectives of field leaders.   IMPACT had an 84% response rate.

Please use the comment section to give us your ideas, insights and questions for further dialogue. 

2 thoughts on “Onboarding: An Introduction

  1. Pingback: Selection* of Field Leaders, Part I (*Third Stewardship Practice) | Impact Field Leader

  2. Pingback: Onboarding Overview* ( *Third Stewardship Practice) | Impact Field Leader

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