The Employee Onboarding Podcast #4: Executive Onboarding, Scaling, & Data with Gianna Driver

Named as one of the top 100 HR influencers of 2022 by HR Executive, Gianna Driver is currently the CHRO at Exabeam and has 15+ of experience scaling global, people, and talent functions.

Gianna loves leading teams and helping them meet ambitious goals, and boasts a wide range of leadership experience (from board management to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, to process creation). Gianna loves the energy that comes from creating structure out of chaos.

In this episode of The Employee Onboarding Podcast from Process Street, Josh speaks to Gianna about:

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Executive onboarding vs. employee onboarding

Key takeaways:

  • Gianna’s preboarding included many in-depth conversations with Exabeam’s CEO about keystone projects.
  • Gianna had a blend of the standard onboarding all employees go through and more in-depth meetings with the leadership team that were more focused on her executive role.
  • The preboarding conversations with Exabeam’s CEO were a continuation of a lot of the interview conversations.
  • Gianna felt her onboarding experience as an executive was more amplified due to the nature of her role.

How was your executive onboarding experience at Exabeam?

For me, the onboarding process actually started before Day 1 of employment. I refer to this as the ‘preboarding‘ or ‘pre-onboarding’ phases. 

During that process, I met with our CEO a number of times and that’s where I got clarity around what the keystone projects are, the big initiatives that would be the top priorities in my first several months, and just getting a lay of the land and understanding from him things that are going well, areas of focus, understanding the people map, understanding business priorities, etc. All of that, I would say, was part of what made the preboarding really useful and helpful. 

Then, once onboarding came in, I did have a blend of onboarding as all our employees go through, which is more of a scheduled and structured programmatic approach; and then, there were additional meetings and conversations with our leadership team that provided a lot more of the in-depth elements that an executive needs when she joins.

– Gianna Driver

Are executive preboarding conversations a natural continuation from the interview process?

Absolutely. What also helped was that after we signed the offer, had a start date, and all that, we were in the midst of our annual planning process; so, budgeting, headcount planning, stuff like that. 

What was nice was that we engaged in a lot of conversations around where we are and where my CEO thinks we should be, and that allowed for just a really nice conversation before I actually joined. So, yes, it was a continuation of a lot of the interview conversations.

– Gianna Driver

Do you think extensive preboarding preparation is always important?

I think the situation helped elevate and amplify what would have happened anyway. You know, there’s that saying, ‘Chance favors the prepared.’ So, I do think there’s a lot of success that comes from just being prepared, and we’re prepared by having early conversations. 

I had done a lot of research on Exabeam myself, so came into it with lots of curiosities and things that I just wasn’t sure about from the outside looking in.

– Gianna Driver

Scaling organizations quickly and effectively

Key takeaways:

  • Gianna recommends coming up with a system and process that is replicable every time you have new hire waves.
  • At Exabeam, the first two to three days of a new hire’s experience at the company is scheduled and standard, then it gets more function-specific.
  • There is a fine balance between what can be automated in onboarding versus times when it’s best to move slowly in order to nurture the human component.
  • Gianna is a fan of incorporating games and fun into the onboarding process.

Basic principles for scaling organizationals quickly?

I think about it through the lens of: ‘What is our objective?’ So, I think a great onboarding program allows us to quickly, efficiently, and consistently get people into the company and up to speed and productively as quickly as possible. So, if that’s our objective that we’re aiming for, then what we say is, ‘Let’s come up with a system and a process that is replicable every time we have new hire waves.’ 

What we do at Exabeam is that the first two to three days of a new hire’s experience at the company is pretty much scheduled and standard. We start off with some of your basics: there’s an IT orientation, a systems component, we go into benefits, then we start getting into some of the business elements (What is the company’s history and origin story? What do we sell? How do we make money?). 

So, what happens is that over the course of several days, everyone goes through and gets the same base level of information and after that, then it’s more function-specific. For example, if you’re an engineer, then after the basic onboarding, you would have a separate program that would be more engineering focused. 

That formulaic, programmatic approach allows for speed, scalability, and also predictability. People know that, every two weeks, we’re going to go through this program and we can all prepare for it and have fun with it.

– Gianna Driver

If you look back at your career, what’s the fastest, from a headcount perspective, that you’ve grown over time? 

Well, I’ve been in organizations where, when I joined, we were three people and grew to hundreds over two or three years. I’ve also been in other organizations where, when I joined, we were around 250-300 people and over the course of two or three years, we scaled to 500+.

– Gianna Driver

How have you balanced keeping things personal, while keeping up with the demands of growth?

There is a fine balance between what we can automate and do quickly versus times when we actually want to go slow because we want to nurture the human component. 

So, I’ll answer and say that I don’t think there’s a silver bullet, singular way of doing things. I think there are different versions of right, depending on different companies, different company cultures, and different stages in company growth. 

That said, what I think works really well is to first, get a baseline of things in onboarding set and done (system access, benefits, etc.). 

After that, I’m a big fan of games; weaving fun into the onboarding experience. So, at Exabeam, we play a game called Capture the Flag. We’re a cybersecurity company and through this process of Capture the Flag, it’s a gamified environment where new hires then understand the product and how it works through a series of games we do. In other organizations, we’ve done scavenger hunts, or things like that, to introduce this element of fun and play in the onboarding experience, but there’s also information that’s being shared as well. 

These things take time; it’s not as quick as just watching an onboarding video and being done with it. But there’s value in the connective tissue in the relationships that are built that are off-the-charts beneficial to the organization.

– Gianna Driver

Using data to continuously improve your onboarding program

Key takeaways:

  • Making sure everyone goes through onboarding is incredibly important.
  • Gianna recommends surveying employees over time in order to capture and understand what works and what doesn’t work in the onboarding process.
  • A good onboarding program should be continuously improved upon.
  • Gianna is a fan of incorporating games and fun into the onboarding process.
  • When it comes to integrating new hires into the company culture, it begins at recruitment. Gianna recommends seeking candidates that will add to the company’s culture.
  • New hires should know that their workplace is a place where they can be themselves and that is valued and wanted.

What data are you tracking to measure onboarding success?

With onboarding specifically, I love data. I feel data helps tell a story and helps us make better decisions. 

So, as a baseline, making sure everyone goes through onboarding is super important. A lot of companies, especially when they’re high-growth, feel as though they can skip over that and just throw someone into the job. Well, a lot of data indicates that when you have comprehensive, intensive onboarding, what ends up happening is that those employees end up staying longer, are more productive, and are typically happier at the organization, as opposed to those who are thrown in from Day 1. 

Now, post–onboarding. As they’ve gone through the program, doing surveys to capture and understand, in a detailed way, what worked and what didn’t work is really useful. So, asking questions about the specific modules, and getting suggestions on how to do better, has been really helpful.

I also like to look at onboarding data through a diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging lens. In other words, when we look at the experiences and feedback of people who have gone through onboarding, do we have a similar Net Promoter Score for minorities, for women, for all sorts of diverse and underrepresented groups, because we want to make sure that our onboarding experience is a fruitful, fun, and productive experience for everyone. 

We’re constantly looking at this data and making improvements. I think good onboarding isn’t set-it-and-forget-it, it’s a living, breathing, ever-evolving program.

– Gianna Driver

Have you set a timeline on onboarding? (e.g. first 90 days, or beyond?)

Right now, we survey post-onboarding. Then, we do it again in 90 days. We’re looking at adding some additional touchpoints to that, but we’re not quite there yet at Exabeam.

At other places, we have surveyed employees to understand their thoughts over time because thoughts on onboarding and its usefulness also evolve and change over time as the organization grows and gets more complex.

– Gianna Driver

How have you tackled onboarding someone into the culture or value system of a company?

When it comes to culture, for us, it begins in the recruitment phase. We’re very intentionally looking at candidates through the lens of ‘culture add’ and not just ‘culture fit’, because we want people that will add to our wonderful culture and help us be more diverse, innovative, and fun. So, that mentality begins at the very beginning of the employee lifecycle.

Then, once an employee is here, we do activities that help to immerse new hires into our culture in really fun ways. After that, we have our Employee Resource Groups start to reach out and spend time with new hires just to let them know that aside from the functional parts of work, there’s this really robust and thriving employee base that does a lot of different initiatives and things. This helps our new hires start to dive into culture and feel like this is a place where yes, they’ve got their work stuff, but they also have this environment where they can contribute and be themselves.

– Gianna Driver

“We want our new hires to know that this is a workplace where you can be yourself and that’s valued and wanted.”

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.

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