How To

November 6, 2023

How to onboard a fractional executive

On paper, fractional executives sound great, but how do you onboard one into the team and for how long do you need them?

In the wake of an economic downturn, with her job in jeopardy, Dagmara Aldridge decided to become a fractional executive and join the gig economy — she’s currently fractional COO at Interrodata.

“Onboarding a fractional executive requires a mix of structure and flexibility,” she says. It’s crucial to ensure they have the resources and clarity to make a meaningful impact, fast. In our Startup Life newsletter, Dagmara gave us her top tips.

Identify an onboarding lead

Typically, this is the CEO or a founder. It’s crucial to align them with the company’s core vision and strategy. If their role reports to another C-suiter on the leadership team — other than CEO — that exec might take ownership of the process. They must also communicate the fractional exec’s role to the wider team, to avoid confusion or overlapping responsibilities.


Have all resources readily available.

  • You need to give them access to all relevant company documentation, such as business plans, strategy documents and product roadmaps. Investor decks might be helpful too.
  • Ensure they have access to your communication tools (like Slack or Teams) and company knowledge systems (like Confluence or Notion).
  • They might need access to tools like HubSpot, Google Analytics or other business intelligence platforms that can tell them current company health and performance against KPIs.

Brief them on your way of working. Do you communicate synchronously or asynchronously? What are the company wide or team specific calls or meetings that are relevant to them? How do you run meetings? What is the purpose of specific meetings?

Don’t treat it like a full-time position

The onboarding process might be quicker than a full time C-suite hire as you need to focus on immediate needs over deep relationship building. They may also not need to understand every granular detail of the business, but rather the overarching challenges and objectives that require their attention. Also, a full-time executive might be more involved in building culture. Culture fit is often a key concern for early-stage startups. But hiring a fractional C-suiter is more about creating a trustful relationship with the person, rather than helping them adapt to an already established culture.

Clearly define what the executive is expected to accomplish

If it’s project based, the contract might be shorter. If it is unknown at this stage, you may negotiate the initial term for the contract to accomplish diagnostics and define a plan. Only once that is known can you determine the appropriate length of contract or rolling nature of the engagement.

Budget early

Fractional executives are cost effective in the short term, but can become expensive quickly. Determine how long you can afford their expertise and when it becomes more economically viable to have a permanent C-suite executive — for example, if the volume of work may require a full-time employee.

Ensure they have opportunities to interact with the team

Even as a fractional executive, this person is still representing your company, so make them feel welcomed and included. The biggest challenge with this is aligning their availability with the existing operating cadence of the company.

Regularly set, monitor and evaluate goals

The nature of a fractional exec means there’s often a stronger focus on key deliverables and outcomes rather than day-to-day tasks. Here are some key outcomes:

In the first 30 days, fractional execs should be able to answer:

  • What are the company’s primary objectives, and how does my role align with them?
  • What are the immediate challenges the company faces relevant to my expertise?
  • Who are the key stakeholders I need to collaborate with?

In the first 60 days, fractional execs should be asking:

  • Based on the challenges identified, what strategic initiatives can I introduce to address them?
  • How do these initiatives align with the company’s long-term goals?
  • What resources (time, personnel, capital) are needed for these initiatives?
  • Am I still best placed to solve these problems or should we bring different resources?
  • What metrics and KPIs can be established to measure the effectiveness of the implemented strategies?

In 90 days, fractional execs should be able to answer:

  • What progress has been made on the strategic initiatives introduced?
  • How do the results compare to the set metrics and KPIs?
  • What feedback have I received from team members and stakeholders?
  • Based on the results and feedback, what refinements or changes are needed moving forward?
  • Based on the revised plan, am I still best placed to deliver it or should we bring different resources?

On the subject of... onboarding a fractional executive

👐🏾 Hiring a fractional CFO. Hiring a chief financial officer can take time and a big fat cheque — things early-stage startups don’t have. A part-timer can help in the interim. 

🔥 Fractional CMOs are all the rage — their short tenure does not equal failure.

🥰 5 reasons to embrace fractional roles. The benefits include better work-life balance and higher earning capacity.

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on X and LinkedIn