Leadership Transitions

Organizations today must contend with an environment of continuous and accelerating change, and leaders, either promoted from within or hired externally, are constantly being moved into new roles. Stakeholders expect new leaders to deliver results very quickly. It is imperative that transitions be accomplished efficiently and effectively: The cost of doing them poorly is unacceptably high, both in terms of money and organizational disruption (see sidebar, “The Business Case for Effective Transitions”). However, boards of directors and senior executives routinely let people sink or swim. One survey found that half of companies had no formal transition process for new leaders.

The need for leaders to transition well has prompted much conceptual and practical work over the years. This effort, however, has been fragmented, making it difficult to understand and apply in an integrated way. What has been needed was a unified perspective—one that could organize the valuable thinking that has been done and identify a set of best practices. Overfield Leadership Group (OLG) has developed a practical framework that can be used to help transitioning leaders integrate seamlessly, be mutually assimilated with their new colleagues (superiors, peers, and direct reports), and add value quickly in their new positions. This framework provides for an evidence-based and systematic application of best practices, helping organizations make their transitioning of leaders a competitive advantage.

Typically, when companies formally address transitions, they focus on only one piece of the puzzle—for instance, onboarding, a new-leader assimilation process, executive coaching, or 90- to 100-day plans. Each of these components is valuable, but this piecemeal approach frequently leaves gaps new leaders can fall into. The OLG Leadership Transition Framework (LTF) is holistic, guided by research and refined through our extensive experience in helping executives master new leadership roles.

Leadership Transitions

The first phase is a Leadership Integration Process that lasts four to six months and is iterative in nature. It is designed to provide the executive with the information and resources necessary to succeed in his or her new position. During this time, we help identify needs and develop and refine an integration plan, and then we continuously support implementation of the plan.

The second phase, beginning at about six months, is Progress Assessment. This involves a customized and comprehensive evaluation, during which we conduct one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders combined with quantitative ratings to help the executive measure and calibrate what has been achieved to that point and make adjustments where necessary. The Progress Assessment is particularly important for senior executives stepping into a role from outside the company. For these externally hired leaders, it is essential to provide nuanced feedback about how they are striking the balance between fitting into the culture while simultaneously attempting to change it, building relationships with external directors and other key stakeholders, and communicating across the enterprise. Such feedback is commonly absent from their day-to-day interactions.  

In the third phase we guide the executive in a shift of emphasis from concentrating on the specifics of a given transition to focusing on continuous learning and growth as a leader. Data from the Progress Assessment informs goals and activities that will assure that the executive not only sustains effective leadership but constantly improves it, consistently delivering expected results. In general, the activities that can accelerate an executive’s ongoing development require three types of assistance—executive coaching (which fosters the development of behaviors, mindsets, and practices necessary for an individual to effectively influence others and guide groups to accomplish important objectives), executive advising (which provides an external sounding board to help the executive keep perspective and create an approach for ongoing decision-making), and leadership-team development (which helps the executive and his or her team systematically work together to address the fundamental elements of high performance).

Thus, a continuous focus on leadership transitions empowers the interdependent initiatives of leader development and team development, and it acts as an insurance policy to protect the irretrievable cost of recruiting a new person to the organization.