Summary of Successfully Transitioning To New Leadership Roles (McKinsey)

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McKinsey senior partners and authors Scott Keller and Mary Meaney offer valuable tips about leadership transitions, how organizations can support new executives, and what new leaders can do to flourish in their role. Executive transitions are risky. They can determine the direction and success of the entire organization.

New leaders receive limited support
New leaders often face incredible difficulty and limited help from their organizations. According to McKinsey, only “32% of…global leaders…feel that their organizations appropriately support new leaders.”

The most frequent attempts at assisting new executives – appointing mentors or informal networks for the leader and employing standard orientation programs – are consistently reported as ineffective by these leaders. Unfortunately, studies reveal that after only two years, between 27% and 46% of these executive transitions are regarded as “failures or disappointments.”

There’s good news, though: there are adaptive skills that new leaders can employ throughout the initial period of transition.

New leaders should prepare and take action in five areas
McKinsey provides a useful chart which shows how leaders should approach a transition.

American researcher and business management expert, Jim Collins, states that “great companies create ‘stop-doing’ lists [as well as] ‘to-do’ lists.” McKinsey agrees and recommends that senior leaders in new positions should clearly share what they will do and what they will not do. Leaders in transition “should ask what they can delay or terminate – for example, initiatives, meetings, process steps, reports, and rituals.” This can be an important step in shifting organizational culture.

Impact takes more than 100 days
McKinsey cites evidence that it takes new hires, whether from the same organization or another company, “far more than 90 days to reach full productivity [and many] admit that it took them at least six months.” With a new CEO, many organizations don’t expect her/him to propose a strategic vision for eight months. In addition, “they give the CEO 14 months to get a new team in place and 19 months for an increase in share prices.”

Steps for leaders in transition

  1. Aspire – Take the time necessary to learn the perspective of the outgoing leader and the current staff team. Create meeting time and space to hear advice, hopes, and concerns from high-performing employees. This will help to build trust and momentum among employees for an organizational aspiration.
  1. Assess – Develop a strategy team to help you determine priorities for achieving your organizational aspirations. Then, help direct reports set performance goals around “the necessary shifts in mindsets and behavior.”
  1. Architect – With an organizational aspiration in place and employees aligned around it, new executives should launch initiative teams. These initiative teams should “determine how to implement all the priorities…focused on defining a customer-segmentation strategy, optimizing technology, standardizing office models and compensation structures, and creating more integrated partnerships.” Here, the executive team, led by the new leader, develops the “to-do” and the “stop-doing” lists.
  1. Act – In conjunction with change management and communications plans, the leader in transition should formally launch the new direction of the company. This means finance, HR, and other relevant departments should have processes in place to implement the new direction.
  1. Advance – When new executives are able to successfully establish “operating rhythms” and processes, large-scale change in direction can take place.

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