New executives and leaders often struggle with the transition to a new role, especially ones that are hired externally.  In many organisations HR is responsible for recruitment, on-boarding and induction of new staff.  Whilst there can be a blurred line between HR and line management’s responsibility, it is interesting to look at the role HR plays in the success of new leaders.

Typically with new leadership appointments the bulk of HR’s energy and resources are spent on the recruitment process; defining the business need, attracting a pool of suitable candidates, interviewing and assessing.  Once the selected candidate has been wooed and appointed, HR’s role is generally completed. Apart from varying levels of on-boarding and the occasional leadership or mentoring program, the new leader is generally left to sink or swim.

For most new leaders one of two scenarios will play out:

  • They have a successful start in their role, through a combination of personal ability, determination and some luck; or
  • They have a slow start, fails to establish themselves in the business quickly, struggles to build effective relationships with key stakeholders, and fails to deliver the early results expected by the organisation.

Even if the executive in the second scenario can turn things around and make an impact (often moving on under some doubt), the business costs are significant.  Ideally someone in the organisation should take ownership of the executive’s success during their transition or risk failed leadership appointments, reduced morale and higher attrition rates.

There are often some inherent limitations with what can be set in place internally.  If the organisation or HR has expertise in managing the transition period and are able to coach or mentor the leader through their transition, they might still find that the new leader does not feel comfortable in being completely open to someone inside the organisation.

At probably the hardest time for a new executive and when the need for support is the greatest, there is commonly a lack of willingness to invest further resources and support to help. One reason for this is that many organisations and HR professionals feel that if they have selected the right candidate, there should not be any need to invest in their development at the start of their role. Another reason, probably more common, is that most organisations do not have the redundancy or spare capacity to have people allocated to assisting new leaders.  Everyone is generally too busy with their own roles to truly devote the time to helping the new leader.

The key point for HR to recognise is that, after all the work is completed in attracting, securing and starting the right candidate, that to this point they have only invested in the process. They are yet to invest anything in the person.

The sooner you start to invest in the person the greater their success will be, or the lower the likelihood that that they will fail.  Remember that even the most ideal candidate may not be skilled at the transition and any slip or damage here takes a long time to correct.  HR need to maintain ownership of the new leaders success by devoting resources to the first 3 – 6 months of the new leaders instead of just before they join and after they start to falter. Otherwise the new leader may have a tough transition and the business may be forced back to the recruiters 12 – 18 months later.

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