New role » Shirley Kavanagh Associates

By: Executive Support  05/12/2011
Keywords: human resource

According to Professor Michael Watkins, Harvard Business School, Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make much needed change in the organisation. They are also periods of acute vulnerability. How many of you have experienced new roles over the past three years and how many of you have had the benefit of systematic training to assist you in your transition?

Remarkably, few resources are available to help leaders make transitions and yet the first three months of a new appointment are critical to the longer term success of the role. A structured approach to Managing Leadership transitions is an organisational asset that can reduce the cost of disruption and accelerate the learning of executives to turn them into net contributors.
Lack of availability of a formal Transition programme can result in:


The Executive becoming a Net Consumer in the organisation rather than a contributor within an acceptable timeframe, a career ending blow to the individual in cases of acute derailment.

  • the lack of realisation of talent
  • damage to the business
  • damage to other staff in the business

But can a common framework be applied when transitions differ? It is not good enough to come up with a one size fits all. The challenges of transition acceleration vary greatly. Practical advice has to be tailored to the situation, the level of the leader, his or her experience within the organisation and the condition of the business. The fundamental goal for HR functions within the organisation is to provide new leaders with practical frameworks for diagnosing their situations and developing their own customised transition acceleration plans.

Diagnosing the business situation

So, an important element then, is to recognise, that Executive Transitions differ depending on the situation of the business and diagnosing this situation is a key activity for leaders in new positions. It enables clarity and an understanding to be developed and creates a context for other key players. New Leaders should be aware of the current situation of their business, they have four possible choices…

Is it possible to formalise the Transition process and if so who should be involved?

Yes it is possible to build a process and all key stakeholders should be involved in the process. This includes the CEO in the case of new executive appointments and the Human Resource people who must play a key role in ensuring assimilation. When a new leader fails, it is a severe blow personally but every leadership failure, whether an outright derailment or a less dramatic underperformance is costly for the organisation as well. Success in accelerating the transitions of all managers – at every level and, whether they are being promoted from within or hired from outside the organisation, could represent a tremendous gain in performance for the organisation.

Successful leadership Transition requires a framework, a roadmap that includes a diagnosis of the situation and a series of activities that assimilate the leader into his/her new environment. Putting together a 90 day plan can be a useful tool for new leaders (see side panel). Usually it is possible to create a 90 day plan after a couple of weeks in the new position. The plan should be written, should specify priorities, goals and milestones. It should serve as a “contract” between the new leader and his/her boss. The 90 days should be split into blocks of three and a formal review meeting held between both parties at the end of each period.

The plan should devote the first block of 30 days to learning and building personal credibility. At the end of this first period new leaders should be in a position to diagnose their business situation and key priorities. In the next 30 days some early wins should be secured and in the final 30 days new leaders should be fleshing out initial assessments of strategy and structure and presenting some early assessments on the performance of the team

New leaders should plan for 5 critical conversations

It is essential that new leaders include plans for five distinct conversations with their new boss about transition related subjects in the 90 day plan. These are not subjects to be dealt with in separate appointments but intertwined threads of dialogue.

    The 5 critical conversations
  • The situational diagnosis conversation
  • The expectations conversations
  • The style conversation
  • The resources conversation
  • The personal development conversation

*Material for this bulletin has been sourced from the work of Professor Michael Watkins Harvard Business School

Copyright Executive Support Limited

Keywords: human resource

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