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Why CUs Need a Program for Supporting Newly Placed Leaders
Tuesday, April 19, 2016 6:25 AM

Karen Houston-Johnson, VP, Credit Union Resources

About 15 years ago (that sounds better than at the turn of the century), U.S. corporations got more serious about supporting their newly placed leaders—those recruited and those promoted. Decades of research had pointed out the high rate of new leader failures and the causes. 

Like most humans, the people in corporations responsible for making decisions to support new leaders (or not) said, “Leadership failures won’t happen to us. Even if the rate of failure is as high as 50 percent (and it often is in large public corporations), we’re in the other 50 percent who succeed.”

They felt secure in that belief, given the improvements they had made to their candidate assessment processes.

But, as leadership jobs got more complex and with more at stake in the competitive environment, those corporations took another look. What they found was they were experiencing failure of newly placed leaders. In addition, many of the new leaders who weren’t totally failing were often stumbling. They were being tripped up by the complexities of new cultures, more diverse work forces (think Gen Xers and Millennials, contract and telecommuting employees), and increased pressures to perform in the short term. New and heightened expectations were at every turn. 

With that reality came the costs of not addressing it. Costs like:

  • The loss of valued employees who preferred to quit rather than work for a boss who didn’t know how to meet their needs; and
  • The new leader’s missteps and mistakes and delayed business results or entirely missed market opportunities. 

These costs were even happening to experienced, previously successful leaders. Many things had changed, but their ad hoc approach to starting a new leadership position had not.

No longer just focusing on the reality that new leaders might fail, corporate human resource and talent management professionals decided to take needed steps to protect their businesses. They recognized that orientation and engagement programs, while important, were not meeting their new leaders’ needs for support and guidance during the critical early months. As a result, onboarding processes were developed to provide extended (four months or longer) support and guidance for new leaders. 

Often, specialized onboarding coaches were provided to help new leaders. However, this comprehensive support was only at the most senior levels of leadership. The rationale being that the senior level was where the investment in leadership was the largest, with the most at stake. 

The enhanced support systems for newly placed leaders worked. Failures were reduced and more got up to speed faster, achieving the expected business impact and contribution. With those results, corporations started providing similar onboarding support to more levels of leadership, including middle managers.

In time, credit unions saw the value in what the big corporations were doing and also starting providing support for their new senior leaders. But, not all credit unions could afford onboarding coaches and for sure not at lower levels of management. 

In 2006 a few credit union CEOs who had experienced the value of an onboarding coach suggested that technology could be used to meet this need at a much lower cost. What’s more, they believed it could have even greater value if it not only provided onboarding guidance, but also best-practice leadership skills and approaches. 

Shortly thereafter, the online PowerStart Onboarding program was born. It was initially used at senior leadership levels, but quickly was expanded to all levels of management. And then expanded again for development of high-potentials and preparation of successors. Over the years, the program has been used by credit unions coast to coast.

Credit Union Resources recently announced a partnership with the developer of PowerStart Onboarding, Mark Elliott, and now have the opportunity to share this dynamic program with credit unions throughout the Cornerstone Credit Union League area.

If you would like additional information on how your credit union can also benefit from the success of PowerStart Onboarding, visit us online, or contact Karen Houston-Johnson at, Howard Bufe at, or Dean Borland at