Leaders promoted internally require as much support as external hires

During the onboarding process of integrating external hires, many companies provide new leaders with extensive support, including briefings on the business, help connecting to key stakeholders and transition coaching. Leaders promoted to higher roles from within the organization are often left to fend for themselves.

This is a critical and senseless mistake, Michael Watkins, cofounder of Genesis Advisers and author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Sped Faster and Smarter, wrote in an article in the Harvard Business Review.

The logic may be that leaders promoted from within an organization already know the company and therefore don't need any help adjusting to their new role. This is false.

This lack of support is hugely detrimental to the new leader and the organization, as it results in unnecessary failures and their associated costs. According to Mr. Watkins, failing to provide promoted leaders with adequate support slows their transition and prevents them from creating value as quickly as possible.

The focus on onboarding external hires produces excellent results, according to Mr. Watkins, such as the reduction of new hire failure rates from 40 percent to 10 or 15 percent in many companies. Such gains could be made if the same resources were offered to promoted leaders going through the "inboarding" process, a term Mr. Watkins coined.

During interviews with leaders promoted from within companies, many told Mr. Watkins internal transitions can be just as difficult as onboarding from the outside. Major challenges including moves to different units or cities and adjusting to different cultures and political networks. 

Organizations can better support all new leaders — including both external and internal hires — by taking the following three steps, according to Mr. Watkins.

1. Create an enterprise transition system. This includes adopting a common methodology, framework and tools so that everyone is on the same page regarding the challenges leaders are facing. This will not only accelerate the leader's time to transition into his or her new role, but it will accelerate everyone else's transition time as well.

2. Assess the transition risk. Some transitions are more difficult than others, therefore posing greater risk. For instance, hiring decisions that result in multiple transitions — such as moving to a new city, working on a new business line or switching operational functions — are riskier. Assessing the risk level and providing support accordingly will help mitigate the risk.

3. Tailor support to the types of transitions leaders face. Culture and politics usually pose the biggest challenges to new leaders, whether they come from outside the organization or within it.

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