manager shaking hands with female applicant
Watkins explains that taking an active role in the hiring and training of new leadership team members reduces failure rates and increases retention and engagement. — Getty Images/AndreyPopov

When you bring a new leader into the top team, either by hiring from the outside or promoting from within, there is the risk that lack of fit will destabilize a previously high-performing team, leading to substantial costs. Hiring and promoting the right people is essential. Beyond that, business owners have a big stake in integrating new team members effectively.

Research has shown that being systematic in supporting transitions brings new leadership team members up to speed 50% faster, which means they’re more quickly and effectively able to contribute to achieving desired goals in the business. It also dramatically reduces failure rates — which research has shown can be up to 40% for external hires — and increases the new hires’ engagement and retention.

Here are seven ways to support new leadership team members as they transition into their new role:

Understand their challenges

Outside hires face very different challenges from those who are promoted from within. Even if they are experienced professionals, new employees are unfamiliar with the business and how things work, lack established relationships and have to adapt to a new culture.

Leaders who are promoted from within understand the company’s culture and have established relationships, but typically have to alter their approach to leadership in substantial ways. This is especially the case when they become members of the top leadership team.

Accelerate their learning

Unless the business is in crisis, it’s important to reassure new hires that learning is more important than doing in the early days. The faster they learn about their role and the organization, the more they will be able to accomplish in the critical first months. To accelerate the learning process, think about what they most need to learn in these areas.

Integrate them into the team

The sooner new team members build effective working relationships with their peers, the better. First, the team needs to understand why that person has been hired or promoted and what role they will play, so formally introduce them to everyone as soon as possible after their arrival. Make it clear that the team is expected to help their new colleague move up the learning curve. A small initial investment of time and effort in connecting the new hire with the team will pay long-term productivity and performance dividends.

New team members shouldn’t act until they are clear on expectations.

Michael Watkins, co-founder, Genesis

Connect them with key stakeholders

Outside of the new leader’s immediate team, there are likely to be many other stakeholders who will be critical to their success on the job. It may not be obvious who those people are, why they’re important, or how best to connect with them. Make a list of names, including brief notes on each, and then make introductions explaining why it’s important that they connect. Then schedule a date, perhaps in 30 to 45 days, to check in with the stakeholders to make sure that the new leader’s network is taking shape.

Give them direction

New team members shouldn’t act until they are clear on expectations. Help them answer three key questions:

  • What do I need to do? Define their goals and the timeframes for accomplishing them, as well as the measures that will be used to evaluate their progress.
  • How should I go about doing it? Be specific about what strategies they should use to accomplish goals, including what activities they should and should not prioritize.
  • Why should I feel motivated to accomplish it? Communicate a vision for what the organization is striving to accomplish and help new hires see the part they play in realizing it.

Help them get early wins

Early wins are a powerful way for new leadership team members to build confidence and credibility. People new to a job or to the organization often want to prove they can do it all. They may fall into the trap of trying to take on too much too soon, thereby spreading themselves too thin. Keep new leaders focused on the essential work they should prioritize and point them to ways they can make rapid progress on these goals. You want them to get their early wins in the right way.

Coach them for success

Don’t just provide intensive early support and then leave new team members to sink or swim. It takes time — often six months or more — for new leaders to become fully integrated and productive, so it’s important to continue to connect with and coach them. This can be as simple as scheduling check-ins every couple of weeks. If you see them struggling, don’t hesitate to intervene. It’s a common mistake to treat new team members too gently, thinking it’s best to give them time to adjust and that early issues will resolve themselves. The longer a negative dynamic persists, the more difficult it is to reverse.

By focusing on these seven elements, and by encouraging new leaders to use the same approach, business owners can dramatically accelerate the transitions of top team members, and so reduce risk to the business and sustain success.

This is an expert contributed article written exclusively for CO— by Michael Watkins. Michael is a co-founder of Genesis, a leadership development consultancy; a professor of leadership at IMD Business School, where he teaches programs for leaders in transition. He is the author of “The First 90 Days” and “Master Your Next Move (Harvard Business Review Press).

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published July 11, 2019