"When a change happens without people going through a transition, it is just a rearrangement of the chairs."
- William Bridges
Change is a part of life. No matter the change, or whether or not we’ve chosen to make it, the experience often requires us to ‘transition’ in some way. While change is situational, such as a new office location or a new house, a transition is psychological. It’s a process we must undergo to come to terms with the details of a new situation. Consider how some changes, whether they’re big or small, simple or complex, can knock you for six, leaving you questioning who you are and what you’re doing, while some will leave you feeling deliriously happy. The experience of internalising these changes is emotional; we may approach them excitedly and confidently, or apprehensive and mournful for what we’re leaving behind.
Although change is inevitable, the success of the consequent transition is not; it may take significant work to aptly navigate a new route. But a lot of the time, we have so many other demands to juggle that we don’t allow ourselves sufficient time to adjust. This is particularly true during career moves in the ever-evolving global business environments that many of us find ourselves in, where we’re confronted with the necessity to react and move forward quickly. As seniority increases, so does this pressure to adapt swiftly; the stakes are high when a new executive takes over. Unfortunately, these high stakes, essential for leadership development and equally as crucial for business success, are met with equally high risks. Despite their experience, many senior executives fail to transition successfully between roles. According to a study by the Institute of Executive Development and Alexcel:
1 in 3 externally hired senior leaders do not successfully meet organisational expectations by the two-year mark.
For internally hired senior leaders, this is the case for 1 in 5 hires. Crucially, the study found that failure to succeed was rarely a result of insufficient technical knowledge, rather relational intelligence and cultural alignment issues. In other words: what got you here, won’t get you there. So, what is derailing leaders as they navigate career moves and seniority levels?
Hope and fail or fail to plan… Common pitfalls in leadership transitions
Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s the direct result of insufficient onboarding processes at the hiring organisations that fail to integrate newly appointed leaders effectively - here’s why.
When an executive begins a new leadership role, it’s a critical juncture in both the life of the executive and the business. Up until this moment, there will likely have been a considerable amount of energy and attention given to the selection of that executive, and now the business must begin the process of onboarding. While most businesses competently complete the key administrative duties involved in signing on new hires, many fall short in the even more crucial efforts to adequately integrate and prepare the executive to succeed in their new role.
As highlighted in HBR’s article, ‘Onboarding Isn’t Enough’:
“Most organisations - even those that set the bar pretty low - believe they are integrating executives effectively… However, when we asked what they did to accelerate the integration of executives into their roles, we found that actual support varied dramatically, from extensive to essentially none”.
However, a sink-or-swim process is leaving too much to chance:
Less than a third of executives believe that they receive any meaningful support during their transitions - a significant issue given that more than 80% of this fortunate minority thought that such support made a major difference in their early impact - HBR.
For the newly appointed leader, their first 90 days are critical as they begin working with new colleagues and adapting to unfamiliar cultural norms and beliefs - difficult challenges for new hires to meet on their own. Unfortunately, a bad start can risk transitions failing and result in significant implications on performance, derailment (through termination or resignation) and talent retention.
So, although leadership transitions are opportunities to make much-needed changes in an organisation, they evidently come with a significant risk of “organ failure”. To mitigate this risk and help executives quickly and effectively establish themselves in their new roles, organisations must step up and offer sufficient support during their first 90 days. In fact:
Executives who receive the right support get up to speed in half the time (IMD).
Not only does this benefit the new executive, but given the speed that a business is often moving at, a 50% reduction in time for executives to become fully effective in a new role would substantially benefit the hiring organisation too. But what does the “right” support look like?
RYLN Transition Coaching
At RYLN coaching, we work closely with transitioning executives through our dedicated Transition Coaching service to help them move between roles successfully. We help newly appointed leaders reach their full potential and make the greatest possible impact from their first day in their new job - leading directly to the bottom-line results that will be seen as a wise investment from hiring companies. By ensuring that executives mitigate the costs of transition failures and helping them reach maximum performance faster, we safeguard against the common complacency that organisations face when hiring top talent - that their high-calibre executive of choice is capable of conquering any problems posed by challenging transitions.
Our work with clients begins before they step through the doors of their new office, working through the psychological phases of their transition while identifying the key success factors, priorities, opportunities and risks involved in their move. We also support hiring companies in communicating with and preparing their leaders for their new role, familiarising the executives with the key stakeholders (their new team and management) they will be working with, their expectations and personalities/backgrounds, as well as helping them understand their new company culture.
In the first 30 days, we work on building momentum with a personalised ‘Relationship Action Plan’ that supports the executive in shaping initial stakeholder impressions and establishing and building trust with their team. We work with the executive well into their third month in their new role, focusing on accelerating impact by matching strategy with reality to ensure that they make the greatest initial traction in their business, course-correcting if necessary. After three months, we collaborate with stakeholders to provide targeted feedback and support proactive conversations with management to master any transition issues.
Although the benefits of sufficient transition and integration support are clearly evident, such assistance is all too rare for many newly appointed executives. For whatever reason, hiring organisations focus too much on securing the perfect leaders for their open roles that they neglect the necessity to help them with their transition, or don’t put aside the required resources to invest in the support. By regarding transition and integration as foundational to their talent strategy, companies can accelerate a leader's potential and reap the rewards much faster while executives benefit from making a positive impact and quickly establishing credibility.
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