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Senior execs get more help starting off on the right foot

Pilot program tempers the expectation that new SES members should walk in the door knowing everything.

The government has renewed its commitment to supporting incoming senior executives as they grow into their new roles.

The Office of Personnel Management has developed a one-year framework to help new Senior Executive Service members transition to their roles as federal leaders. Successful onboarding makes their experience more positive, boosts retention and builds long-term organizational success, the manual states.

"Executive onboarding should be strategic so that it not only prevents executive derailment, but expedites the executive's contribution to optimize strategic achievement," OPM Director John Berry wrote in a memorandum to chief human capital officers, noting that the one-year program is flexible enough to meet agency-specific needs.

The framework, currently in a pilot phase, outlines considerations for diverse executives, political appointees and outside hires. It also provides checklists for agencies, along with goals and sample questions new SES members should address throughout the transition process. For example, supervisors within the first week should take new executives to lunch, while the first month should include meetings with mentors or coaches.

John Palguta, vice president for policy at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said OPM's onboarding model dispels the myths that senior executives already know everything they need to do their jobs -- and they should demonstrate that knowledge from Day 1. According to OPM's manual, executive onboarding currently is viewed as a "crude extension" of employee orientation.

"We understand this for new hires, but what about new senior executives?" Palguta said. "It can be just as important for a senior executive to have a good onboarding experience."

According to OPM, the Agriculture, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, State and Veterans Affairs departments, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration, are in varying stages of implementing the onboarding framework. OPM at the end of this year will complete a report on lessons learned through the pilot programs.

Obama administration officials in February sent a memo to SES members promising expanded opportunities for professional development, as well as improved recruitment and performance appraisal processes. A one-year onboarding program for new executives was among the key initiatives outlined. According to Palguta, OPM's framework signals increased attention to the need to improve SES leadership capabilities.

"This is another major addition to the government's toolkit on managing senior leadership in very constructive way," he said. "It is part of a continuum of efforts to do what we know is very important."