Internal orientation is a must

Congratulations, you’ve completed a thorough executive search and made the decision to promote an internal candidate! The individual has been groomed for years and was seen as the best candidate overall. The individual had all the qualifications you are looking for and you’re therefore confident they can take the assigned business unit to the next level.

However, six months later, the promotion isn’t working! You’re shocked to understand the situation. The new leader is struggling to grasp the breadth of responsibility, they are challenged by personality differences, individuals vying for power and the collision of existing relationships. As well, at the executive table, the new leader’s behavior has become more aggressive as if trying too hard to influence decisions and make his/her mark. As a result, first impressions are not good and departmental productivity is declining. 

So what’s the problem? The problem is more than likely the fact that an orientation program for the successful internal candidate was not put in place. As senior leaders, you probably took it for granted that because the candidate was successful at one level of the organization, he/she would automatically be successful at a higher level. In other words, you’ve left the individual in the position of “sink or swim”.

With this in mind, what should an orientation program for a promoted candidate include? The following should be given consideration in your planning.

People dynamics – while the new incumbent may understand all of the technical aspect of the new job, it’s the people dynamics that’ll make it work. Be sure to include a discussion of the interpersonal relationships within the business unit including individuals who may also have applied for the job. Discuss any potential conflicts that might arise and agree on how they should be managed.

Reporting relationships – if the individual was promoted from within their own business unit, one of the key challenges they’ll face is the change in relationship from being a “peer” to being the boss. No longer can the individual share personal confidences or share confidential executive information. Yet at the same time, former relationships are still valuable and need to be maintained…the key is how to do it. Help the individual recognize and deal with these challenges.

Change management – discuss the issue of change management from a personal, professional and technical perspective. Discuss how the leadership style is different from the former incumbent and determine how this might impact the new team. Help the new incumbent strategize tactics that will help the team move ahead. Be sure to alert the individual against changing too many things too quickly.

Operational philosophy – being a business unit leader means the individual must understand the broader perspective and the overall goals of the organization. Be sure to share the overall strategic plan with the incumbent and help them understand how their unit fits into the global plan. The same strategy applies when helping the newly promoted person understand how the executive meetings work, how to present ideas for support, how to discuss and debate and how decisions are made.

Mentorship – work with the new incumbent to establish specific goals and objectives for the first year. Schedule frequent meetings to coach and mentor the individual as they navigate their new role. Be available for on the spot advice as needed. Encourage the individual to spend more time listening than talking as he/she learns the nuances of their new role.

No matter whether your successful candidate is external or internal, implementing an effective new employee orientation is critical to their success. Taking this for granted will lead to unexpected and unnecessary challenges including your new incumbent becoming frustrated and leaving your organization.

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