How to Facilitate Accelerated Leadership Transitions

December 27, 2018

How to Facilitate Accelerated Leadership Transitions

For many leaders, the most difficult part about coming into his or her new role is two-fold: quickly getting up to speed on what the new position requires and learning how to positively influence the overall direction of the company. At the same time, they are being tasked with accelerating their career track to assume positions of influence earlier than anticipated. 

One of the key issues many newly installed young leaders today face is that they mistakenly believe what got them this far will also make them successful in their new roles. Not true. In fact, many of these leaders soon discover there is an entire new set of skills required to be successful. Not surprisingly, a survey of 1,350 human resources professionals showed the most difficult times of leaders’ professional lives are said to be during a transition into a new role, according to the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). 

“Today, the speed of business is getting faster everyday with the confluence of technology and that is forcing a younger cohort of managers to assume leadership positions earlier than planned,” explains Bob Ryan, principal from Shields Meneley Partners, a career transition and coaching firm that caters to the C-Suite. “Elevating into a leadership position, even when planned to the last detail, is challenging enough for people, but now there is an added layer of difficulty.”

To facilitate the earlier-than-expected assumption of leadership, companies need to provide significant guidance to its middle management today. Companies can do this with on-the-job training, which typically accounts for about 70 percent of all learning, according to a DuPont article

“Organizations, therefore, have trained new workers through on-the-job training mechanisms facilitated by older, highly experienced workers. As Baby Boomers leave the workforce, however, their knowledge will go with them unless organizations have in place contingency plans to ensure knowledge transfer happens, and happens quickly,” writes Sam Ponzo, DuPont Sustainable Solutions Practice Leader, Learning and Development. “The loss of institutional knowledge threatens to create gaps in safety, sustainability and operations processes.”

Although Baby Boomers today are delaying retirement for a number of reasons, as a cohort, they will eventually exit the workforce and that will put even more added pressure on accelerating a younger group of managers to assume leadership positions. 

“There are a number of critical steps that need to be taken to help a leader be successful who is promoted earlier than expected,” explains Ryan. “To start, he or she should proactively meet with key people in the company to understand individual and siloed agendas, gain acceptance of influencers and quickly start to adapt to the organizational culture from an entirely new vantage point. You must listen and watch for those early quick wins, which could be the act of listening itself!”

As leaders are accelerated into new positions of power, the typically slower HR processes should also speed up, accordingly. For instance, IMD suggests a “mini” 360-degree evaluation after only three months. These assessments are typically executed later in the leadership process. At the same time, while the first 90 days are viewed by many as critical to getting things done and setting the right course for a business, expectations should be adjusted to account for leaders’ earlier-than-expected ascensions. The scope of expected changes needs to be reset. 

Looking toward the future, the reasons for these adjustments are coming into focus. As a younger generation assumes leadership sooner rather than later, companies will need to take critical steps today to help mitigate failure, retain key talent, and ensure a smooth management change. 

The Authors: 

Marc Raybin is president of Cardinal Communications Strategies.