How to Leverage the Fuzzy Front End of the Onboarding Process

Do you remember your first day at your current job?

Was it a pleasant and memorable experience?

Or did it make you question your decision by the end of the first day?

Even well-meaning organizations often miss on new employee onboarding and orientation. Common mistakes include:

  • Inundating the new employee with facts, figures, names and faces packed into one eight-hour (or longer) day
  • Required viewing of tedious orientation videos
  • Endless “talking-head” lectures
  • Providing inadequate or outdated technology
  • Inadequate assignments so the new team member feels as if they are treading water rather than jumping right into the work of the new job.
  • Not having any process of enfolding new people in the life of the organization.

Your organization’s positive first impressions can cement the deal for a new employee. Those positive actions can also speed integration, productivity, and contribute to a sense of camaraderie. Various research findings show that good orientation programs can improve employee retention by at least 25 percent.


Your first 100 days in a new leadership position are critical, as they set the foundation for your team’s success going forward. The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan helps you start gaining traction even before your first day in a new job. The playbook gives you a concrete strategy for getting a fast start—engaging the culture, setting direction, aligning the team, avoiding common missteps, and delivering results. This new fourth edition has been updated with new graphics and downloadable tools, and expanded with new information learned from real-world clients over the past twelve years.

Many organizations, regardless of size, industry, or geography, realize that it is strategically imperative to effectively onboard leaders into new roles and combine teams during M&A and reorganization. New thinking for new teams provides ways to get quick results with key business initiatives, and new discussions on cultural fit and evolution to help you better contribute to your organization’s success. Updated stories and case studies provide real-life glimpses at how successful leaders navigate tricky situations, and extensive online tools point you toward additional resources as the need arises.

40 percent of new leaders fail within the first eighteen months on the job. When a new leader drops the ball, it’s at the expense of the team, the organization, and the leader’s track record. Successful leaders start leading and delivering immediately. This book shows you how to start getting results right away and dramatically increase your chances for success—by systematically shaping your leadership with intent.


Imagine the following scenarios…

You’re a new employee in a fast-growing organization. It may be your first job right out of school, or it could be the next step in your career. You show up on the first day bright and eager to begin, but you really have no clue about the details surrounding your new job, other than the basic description. Apparently, neither has the organization that hired you! Your first greeting is something like, “Oh – you’re here? I guess we’d better find an office for you…”

Or maybe the organization that hired you has some sort of human relations department in place. There is a person in charge of new hires, and they welcome you on your first day, showing you to your office, complete with a fresh technology setup, passwords, files, important information, and a thorough weeklong orientation schedule.

Maybe your new organization has already set up everything for you, and you step into your new job ready to go. That’s good – but still falls short of great.

If you have waited until your first day on the job to begin, you are already behind.

Your new leadership role begins the moment you accept the offer, the deal is done, or the re-organization is announced. Wouldn’t you like concrete framework for successful leadership and a clear roadmap to the critical first 100 days?

Many leaders fall into the trap of thinking that leadership begins on Day One of a new job. Like it or not, a new leader’s role begins a soon as that person is an acknowledged candidate for the job.

Everything new leaders do and say and don’t do and don’t say will send powerful signals, starting well before they even walk in the door on Day One.

If you embrace this concept and do something about it, you increase your chances of success. This one idea can make or break a new leader’s transition.

The bonus time between acceptance and start is the Fuzzy Front End. It often comes at the worst possible time, interfering with the last days of an old job, time earmarked for taking a vacation, catching up with personal errands postponed for too lone, or just unwinding a little before the big day.

The good news is that, more often than not, the key elements of the Fuzzy Front End can be addressed in relatively short order.

Make your Fuzzy Front End even more powerful with these six steps:

Determine your leadership approach given the context and culture you face.

Step one is to identify the need for change and the readiness for change. The context you’re facing determines how fast you should move. The current culture determines how fast and effectively you can move.

Identify key stakeholders.

Step two of the Fuzzy Front End is to identify your key stakeholders, the people who can have the most impact on your success in your new role. Be sure to look in all directions to find key stakeholders.

Craft your entry message using current best thinking.

Step three of the Fuzzy Front End is clarifying your initial message. Everything you do communicates to everyone in the organization observing you and everyone in the organization who is in communication with those who observe you.

Jump-start key relationships and accelerate your learning.

The two actions of Step four of the Fuzzy Front End work hand in hand. You achieve this by conducting pre-start meetings and phone calls now, before you start. The impact you can make by reaching out to critical stakeholders before you start is incalculable.

Manage your personal and office setup.

No matter how much you try, you cannot give a new job your best efforts until Step five of the Fuzzy Front End is underway. Taking the time to figure out housing, schools, transportation, and the like is not a luxury. If you wait, these things will distract you at a time when everyone is making those first and lasting impressions of your performance.

Plan Your Day One, early days, and first 100 days.

The knowledge gathered from Step six of the Fuzzy Front End should enable you to begin to put things in context and help you figure out what you want to do on that first day, during that first week, and during those first 100 days.

George Bradt, Jayme Check, and John Lawler, The New Leader’s 100 Day Action Plan


Create your own strategy for dealing with the Fuzzy Front End by taking the following actions, as suggested by the authors.

Write the six steps listed above on each of six chart tablets, and answer the following questions for each.

Determine your leadership approach given the context and culture you face

  • How significantly and how fast does the organization need to change given its environment, history, and recent performance?
  • Are there any trends in the environment in each of these 5Cs: Customers, Collaborators, Capabilities, Competitors, and Conditions?
  • Review the organization’s history as far back as you can for founder’s intent, heroes along the way, and the stories and myths people carry around with them.
  • Look beyond the obvious – what is working well, and less well?

Identify key stakeholders

  • Write the following words down the left side of the chart tablet: Up, Across, and Down.
  • Answer each of the following questions with each of three “audiences” listed above in mind.
  • With whom are you communicating? Be as specific as you can.
  • What are they currently thinking and doing? What is most important to them?
  • What do they need to stop doing, keep doing, or change how they are doing?
  • What do they need to know to move them from their current state to the desired state?

Craft your entry message using current best thinking

  • Your communication points will flow from your message, the platform for change, the vision, and the call to action.
  • Platform for change – What are the things that will make your audience realize they need to do something different from what they have been doing?
  • Vision – What is the picture of a brighter future that your audience can picture themselves in?
  • Call to action – What are the actions the audience can take to get there so they can be a part of the solution?

Jump-start key relationships and accelerate your learning

  • Using the list of stakeholders created above, determine which ones you should speak to before Day One.
  • Realize the answers you get to questions before you actually start will be different from the answers you get after you start.
  • Even when a pre-meeting may not be possible, just asking will make a favorable impact.
  • Remember that pre-start conversations will often have a cascading impact.

Manage your personal and office setup

  • Create a personal, time-based set-up relocation list.
  • Create an office setup checklist to address office setup issues before Day One.
  • Make sure the human relations office/staff is accommodating your needs by helping you assimilate culturally so you can have an impactful Day One.

Plan Your Day One, early days, and first 100 days

  • Using steps listed above, create a 100-Day plan worksheet with broad categories and actions to capture the foundational elements of your plan.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 116-1, released April 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<



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