It’s an interesting phenomena in organizations. When you hire an external candidate there is usually a very thorough and supportive orientation program.
Successful programs will lay out clear expectations and timelines, have regular check-ins and feedback loops, and implement mentor/buddy/coaching systems to support the new leader’s success.
This same process is rarely offered to internal leaders transitioning into more senior positions. These leaders are ‘known entities’. They have already demonstrated their intelligence, commitment, achievements, and drive.
Why would they need an orientation and training program? And yet, studies show that two years after executive transitions, anywhere between 27 and 46 percent of them are regarded as failures or disappointments.
Why is transitioning internal leaders to more senior roles so challenging?
There are two big reasons transitions fail:
- Because internal leadership candidates are considered ‘already proven’, there tends to be both a lack of preparedness to transition into a more senior role and a lack of support once the transition occurs
- Actual or assumed expectations that the new leader shows tangible results in a short period of time causes leaders to make moves without taking time to understand the current state of the culture, people, and business unit goals.
This not only impacts the leader’s contribution, it also impacts their team with studies showing that performance of direct reports is 15% lower and they are 20% more likely to be disengaged or leave the organization.
2 Keys to Increase your Transition Success Rate
Ideally you start as soon as a leader is identified as a high potential candidate for a more senior position with a customized leadership development plan that capitalizes on that leader’s strengths and exposes them to opportunities to gain a more well-rounded knowledge of the business and build their skills.
Our experience has shown that there are 2 keys to increase your transition success rate and studies have concurred.
- Executive coaching and customized leadership development plan early in their leadership career – studies have shown this approach doubles the likelihood of success, but only 32% of organizations use them. Our results in coaching transitioning leaders during their first 12 months has shown an accelerated success rate, keeping them at the top of their game as they work to gain business knowledge, build new relationships and culture, gain credibility with their team and typically drive both change and results.
- A realistic timeline of expectations that clearly identifies a time frame to ‘learn’ and ‘explore current state’. Depending on how senior the role is, 72% of leaders say it takes them more than 90 days to become fully productive at their new role, while 25% say it takes more than 6 months. In our experience it takes at least 1 year for a senior leader to hit their full stride.
Here's a great ‘current state’ assessment of your organization’s leadership development practices that give insight into future success rates of leadership transitions.
Are you growing Great Leaders? (Answer Yes or No)
- Have you crafted a clear policy that encourages employees to develop expertise and vision outside their current business units, functions, and regions?
- Do you seek candidates from other units when trying to fill key openings?
- Have you created formal mechanisms (such as leadership groups or task forces) that bring together high potentials from across your company so managers can discuss the natural tensions and conflicts inherent in leadership?
- Are leaders rewarded for sending talented employees outside their domains and for accepting individuals from other areas of developmental purposes?
- Will strong individual contributors and successful business builders who fail to pay attention to broad enterprise priorities continue to make it to the senior executive team in the company?
- Do you have a strong executive coaching and leadership development program?
We’d love to hear more about your challenges and successes in transitioning leaders to senior positions!
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