How to Help Leaders Make Critical Transitions

Eight in 10 organizations say it is important to provide services to help leaders adjust to new roles, according to Brandon Hall Group research. However, 31% of organizations offer no onboarding for new leaders or experienced leaders transitioning to a new situation. 

While most organizations (about 70%) offer some sort of onboarding for both new and experienced leaders transitioning into new situations, it is usually concentrated into a few days. 

Duration of Leader Onboarding 

Think about this from the new leaders’ perspective: Even if they had some training to prepare for leadership prior to promotion, new leaders must: 

  • Manage employee performance
  • Demonstrate organizational values
  • Enforce policies
  • Handle performance reviews
  • Understand organizational strategy
  • Be competent in soft, technical and hard skills
  • Perform talent management and succession planning

Organizations spend more time and effort training end-users on new software applications than preparing leaders for new, pivotal roles. To rush leaders through onboarding in the name of getting them to work is setting them up for failure. 

How Do You Measure if Leader Onboarding Was Successful? 

  • How can we provide more support for leaders transitioning into new roles?
  •  How should onboarding for transitioning leaders be structured for the best results? 
  • What are the critical competencies every leader moving into a new role should have? 

Extend Onboarding for Transitioning Leaders 

Any leader moving into a new role — whether a rookie or a veteran — has a tremendous responsibility and often a steep learning curve. Even if onboarding extends for a few weeks, the learning will need to be reinforced. Onboarding — whether you call it that or label it as continuous learning — should continue as long as necessary for leaders to get the support they need. 

In our research, 90% of respondents said that they would want reinforcement or “nudges” after receiving training. And 72% of those respondents said that the nudges/reinforcement should last at least one month. 

How Long Should Learning Be Reinforced Through Nudges after Leader Training? 

Here are examples of two extremes. Which side would you rather be on? 

1 At a top-10 U.S. healthcare provider, business-function leaders are not considered to be proficient for one year after assuming a new role, whether they come from outside the organization or transfer from within. They have ongoing training for at least nine months and are assigned a performance coach and a career mentor. The new-leader two-year retention rate is 87%. 

2 We interviewed a new leader who was promoted from team lead to department head at a large county social service agency in the U.S. Midwest. Before accepting the role, the leader was promised a coach and a mentor plus three weeks of onboarding. When the leader started the new role after a short vacation, she was told there was too much going on to conduct onboarding and was thrown into the role without any formal preparation. After three harrowing weeks in which, among other things, she was publicly chastised for not being fully prepared for a budget meeting, the rookie leader resigned. 

Provide Ongoing Support 

However long your new leader onboarding program lasts, provide transitioning leaders with a coach, mentor, peer “buddy” or all three. If you want leaders to develop and retain talent, uphold the values of the organization, and help the business succeed, give them ongoing support at various levels. 

Leverage a Multi-Rater Evaluations at Regular Intervals 

Leaders interact with many people — bosses, peers, direct reports, customers, contractors, vendors and more. The only way they will understand how their actions are received is to ask those who work with them. Create a system, ideally supported by technology, where colleagues of transitioning leaders can provide anonymous and candid feedback so leaders can learn and adjust as they go. 

Get Candid Feedback from Leaders on the Transition Process 

If new leaders are going to receive feedback, it is only fair they have an opportunity to provide a critique of the transition/ onboarding process. The organization must continue to evolve leader onboarding over time to continually develop better support for leaders.

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