Insight Blog

Simplifying Transitions For New Executives

Facilitating smooth transitions for new hires is an important component of talent acquisition strategies, and is critical when securing senior executives. This is because these high level hires carry a significant amount of risk with 40% to 50% of leaders failing or leaving within their first 18 months in a new position. The average cost of these unfortunate situations can be up to three times the professional’s first year’s salary, an expense no organization wants to assume. This does not include the indirect negative consequences such as the decreased credibility, productivity, and stability of the entity’s leadership team. While formal onboarding programs are certainly beneficial for supporting a new executive’s transition, there are other simple, common sense techniques that can accomplish the same.

When considering how to onboard a new executive, the key point to remember is that the smoother the transition, the more quickly the executive can be ingrained into the company and his/her role. Tom Helbling, an executive search consultant for more than 35 years and President of Helbling & Associates, says, “When conducting searches, we ensure from the onset that our clients understand the instrumental role they will need to assume in assimilating a new executive. There is no doubt that when a senior leader transitions well, it’s not only better for him or her, but for the organization as a whole because positive changes can begin to happen in a relatively short time frame.”

Helbling goes on to say, “There are many misconceptions about newly hired executives. The most common is that, if we secure a strong, talented professional, he/she will be able to ‘hit the ground running’ upon coming on board with our client organization. It is just a natural tendency for a client to assume that because of the level of an executive’s experience and career achievements. While this is true in part, an organization’s leadership also has responsibility in the executive’s transition process. Unfortunately, in general, organizations typically underestimate the amount of assistance, guidance, and support needed early on to ensure the new executive's short- and long-term success.”

There many ways to appropriately successfully onboard a new executive, but there are certain fundamental considerations that are essential to the process, such as:

  • Avoid the expectation that one person can be an overall answer to issues and challenges.

  • Openly communicate that a new executive hire is planned and the reasons why. An exception would be a confidential replacement.

  • Ensure that there are no ill feelings among colleagues who may have wanted the role themselves, or who believed an internal candidate should have been chosen.

  • During the recruitment process, accurately portray the company's culture and environment, addressing both the positive and negative aspects.

  • Confirm with senior leadership that they are able and willing to support the new executive's initiatives. Consider how each member can play an active role, and outline their responsibilities in helping to facilitate the executive's successful integration.

  • Establish realistic time frames for the executive to achieve certain goals.

  • Provide the necessary level of authority to the new executive to successfully fulfill his/her responsibilities.

  • After a professional is hired, explain to the senior leadership team why the person was chosen for the role, his/her background, skill sets, and experiences.

The above recommendations are relatively easy to execute, and are a necessary part of facilitating smooth executive transitions. Helbling says, “I've placed hundreds of professionals in executive roles and it's apparent that those executives who transition well, in general, outperform those who have longer and more difficult transitions. Potential issues are quickly mitigated, and team performance is enhanced. The new executives have opportunities to make positive impacts early on, and the resulting optimism spreads very quickly to the leadership teams, and throughout the organizations.”