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  • Writer's pictureFred Petito

Executive Transitions Part II - New to Role Transitions


The title of this podcast is Executives Transitions Part II. Can you review what Executive Transitions Part I was about and how that topic is different from what we’re discussing today?

Last week we spoke about executive career transitions, how to approach them, the phases you may go through during a transition, and how executives can work with a coach to get to an actionable transition plan that they can implement

This week we’re talking about transitions where an executive is in 1 of 3 different situations, each of which can be very challenging:

  • One- situations where they have been promoted into a new role with more responsibilities and higher expectations

  • Two - or an even higher stakes situation where an executive is an external hire to a new organization

  • Three – where an executive is in an organization going through some type of disruptive change (a reorganization, a restructuring, pre- or post-merger situation) – this can also be a very high-stakes situation for executives

Why is this important? Why should people be aware of this topic?

Research (I believe it was a McKinsey study) estimates that 40 percent of executives entering new roles fail in the first two years, and more than half of C-level executives leave their positions under pressure.

The sad part about these statistics is that only a small percentage of these executives fail due to a lack of skills. In most instances, it is because they jump into new roles, or approach transitions without fully understanding their new organization, its strategy, its culture, and the key stakeholders they need to engage.

What are some of the biggest challenges for executives transitioning into a new role?

Assimilating into a new organizational culture can be difficult for many reasons. For example, the exec may be coming from a culture that was more about purpose and clan-like (egalitarian), and now they find themselves in a culture that’s very hierarchical and results-driven – that’s a tough cultural transition

Also there are some common onboarding traps that can make new to role transitions a nightmare, such as misleading job descriptions, little or badly designed onboarding programs, or poorly defined goals and expectations

Another big challenge is where a new to role executive takes too long to generate value. This may be a result of a lack of clarity as to what their supervisor deems as value, unclear success metrics for the role, or simply not having any quick wins.

How do you typically work with executives in these situations, do you have an approach or process that you follow?

When working with a client in transition I like to focus on the challenges that are common in transitions and figure out strategies to make them opportunities. We do this through structure programs that typically focus on four critical areas.

One - Diagnosing the Onboarding Challenge

One size does not fit all when transitioning into a new role. The goal here is to help executives succeed by clarifying the onboarding challenges presented and defining the priorities, approach, and leadership style that will set them up for success. We do this by increasing the executive's situational and self-awareness:

  • Increasing Situational Awareness - it's important for new-to-role executives to reduce their learning curve as quickly as possible so they have a solid foundation to quickly achieve success. This involves understanding the values and guiding principles of their organization so you can best adapt to its culture.

  • Increasing Self-Awareness - increasing situational awareness is only one part of the puzzle. Just as important is taking the time for self-reflection. Few things are more critical to the success of a new-to-role executive than identifying, developing, and fully utilizing their strengths. Just as important is developing strategies to manage any blind spots or weaknesses that might derail them.

Two - Setting Ambitious But Achievable Goals

Setting goals guides your focus, triggers new behaviors, and creates and sustains momentum. But to be effective, goals need measurable success criteria to make them tangible and provide a clear destination.

The objective here is to define specific success criteria so the executive has a clear destination for their achievements. It is also important to uncover competing priorities so they can avoid distractions that may sabotage their goals since, as we all know, transitioning into a new role can be very intense and disorienting.

Three - Establishing The Transition Plan

The fact is that career transitions are high-stakes and high-risk moments. Too many executives stumble at these critical times because they fail to prepare and take charge of their situation. Too often the result is costly career errors that can take years to correct

To avoid these types of errors, we work with our clients to develop actionable plans that focus on critical transition issues such as:

o Developing a learning agenda

o Defining their brand

o Planning a successful assimilation

o Effectively engaging key stakeholders

o Defining their communications approach

o Identifying quick wins to establish early credibility

Four - Implementing & Optimizing The Plan

Implementing the plan is all about generating early momentum by ensuring the executive is climbing the learning curve as quickly as possible, identifying opportunities for early wins, and creating positive and productive working relationships.

Optimizing the plan typically comes after the first 100-day mark to assess what is working and what adjustments are needed to take their performance to the next level. Feedback tools are very useful at this point to identify additional growth opportunities and uncover legacy mindsets and behaviors that are holding the executive back.

Other areas for development can also be uncovered at this point such as working with the executive to improve their executive presence, or strengthening their self-management abilities.


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