Setting New Leaders up for Success

Written By Randy Hall  |  Leadership, Success 


I was working with a company recently that was looking for a way to improve the success of the leaders they bring into the organization. They had hired several senior executives only to watch them struggle and ultimately leave or be forced out within the first 18 months.

What’s interesting is that the amount of resources that are typically spent on supporting a new leader in his or her new organization are a fraction of those spent to find and hire them. It’s as if the company lets out a collective exhale as the position is finally filled, and now everyone can get back to work. As a business, you just made a significant investment. It’s critical that the company now does what’s needed to make the investment pay off.

It’s estimated that it costs between 10 and 25 times an executive’s salary to replace them. And those figures don’t take into account the damage that can be done to an organization in terms of culture, morale, or lost traction for a function while the boss’s job is vacant.

Most organizations do at least something to prepare the new leader. They provide org charts and financial documents, suggestions on key relationships that need to be built and stakeholders that need to be engaged. They usually have some sort of onboarding or orientation program and provide some help in getting the new computer and security badge operating properly. But many companies woefully underestimate the culture clash that happens when a new leader shows up in the strange and different land that a new organization represents.

Suppose any of us were dropped into a whole new family. All of a sudden we have a new spouse, new kids, new in-laws, new parents and even a new uncle Bob. Most of us would struggle greatly with the transition, no matter how many documents or orientation programs came our way. It may seem like an extreme analogy until you take into consideration that many people, and especially those moving into a new senior role, spend far more waking time in the work environment than they do in the family one. The climb to comfort, much less effectiveness, is far steeper than most organizations prepare for.

If you bring a new leader into your business, make certain that you do three things that help your investment in new talent to pay off.

Set the right expectations

I have been in many situations where the new leader’s boss fully expects to see their talent investment begin to pay off in the first 90 days. Most new leaders are still trying to figure out who does what and who knows what in the first 90 days. They are far from applying that information to improve results. And if there’s a relocation taking place, the new leader’s family is often the most dominant thought during that time period. If the new leader is in a different industry or market segment than they are used to, the time to real effectiveness is even longer.

Hire a coach

During the first several months, the new leader will be very cautious about who they talk to about their challenges. New leaders are anxious to put their best foot forward and appear as if they are integrating at warp speed. The last thing they will dare expose to those around them in the organization is the fact that they are struggling to adapt to this new world. It takes time for them to understand who they can trust. Bringing in a coach from the outside, with complete confidentiality assured, gives the new leader a sounding board and someone who can offer a perspective on how to navigate the new waters. An effective coach can also work with the new leader’s boss to manage expectations and help suggest improvements that will make the transition easier for other new hires as well.

Make adaptation a two way street

Many organizations expect a new leader, unless it’s the CEO, to adapt to the culture that already exists in the company. And while it’s much easier for an individual to adjust than an organization, there are sometimes cultural issues that make it extremely difficult for new leaders to be successful. There has to be careful consideration of the challenges that new leaders will face in the company and real thought given to ways to make that climb less steep.

I have known organizations, for instance that were slow, methodical, and risk averse and yet they went looking for fast moving change agents to help them grow and prosper. Needless to say over several years, none of those change-minded executives survived. It was akin to putting a hot coal in the freezer. But the company kept insisting it wanted fast paced free thinkers to help it adapt and capture market opportunities. No one goes out to hire risk averse, slow paced executives and yet that’s exactly the kind of leader who would fit in their culture.

Organizations have to be honest about their culture and while they should expect new leaders to adapt to it, they need to be realistic about the amount of change an individual can, or will, make.

Investing in talent in your business can make a huge difference. Talent is often the biggest competitive advantage you have. Make certain that you hire someone who can fit with your current culture and do everything needed to make your investment pay off. Don’t lose the impact from your big investment, by failing to make the little ones.

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