Managing an Effective Leadership Transition

Managing an Effective Leadership Transition

04 Nov by OnTalent


Research from the Corporate Executive Board has shown that 50-70% of executives fail within the first 18 months, regardless of whether they have been promoted from within the organisation or are an outside hire. Many of the reasons attributed to this C-suite struggle include a lack of support in preparing for their roles, confusion over their mandate and underestimating the importance of building solid and trusted relationships.

While onboarding is generally managed well by organisations up to middle management level, it is often overlooked when it comes to executives. Given the time and energy invested in hiring executives, it’s surprising that senior people are regularly left to their own devices once the offer has been accepted.

A planned-out leadership transition process can help executives integrate into your organisation more effectively.


Newly-appointed executives should be participating in business-critical meetings and workshops from the outset. This can include during the preboarding stage if time permits, but certainly from their very first day. This process allows them to see how the company functions and contribute to discussions and decisions that will impact their first 90 days.

They should also be provided with copies of the organisation’s operational plan and invited to meetings in their first week to meet key people in each of the business areas. Not just their own, but also parts of the organisation which have a peripheral impact on their team.

At the C-suite level, new starters should also be invited to visit key business locations and spend time seeing how the company functions on a daily basis. A further step could be setting up immersive experiences with areas of the business your executive might not be familiar with. This is particularly important for executives who have been promoted from within the organisation and might have a more siloed view of the company.


Some executives may want to meet people with no prior information and base their views on first impressions and their own intuition. However, it can be helpful to arm leaders with information about people in terms of team dynamics and performance history. For example, have there been any conflicts between different players or important stakeholders that the executive should know about?

Performance is another key area where background information can help. You could supply career histories and performance data for key people in the team and set up individual meetings during the leader’s first week in the role. Some companies also choose to organise facilitated workshops when important hires start, to support assimilation and alignment by discussing topics such as goal setting, communication and leadership style.


Effective leadership transition can be accelerated by determining which stakeholders are critical early on. Fellow members of the C-suite, for example, CEOs and CFOs, as well as board members, can significantly influence any new hire’s ability to succeed.

Before your executive starts, send through relevant organisational charts and provide lists of key internal and external stakeholders. Set up introductory meetings during your new starter’s first week, and provide briefings so they can be forewarned on the history of the relationship as well as the stakeholder’s priorities and agenda. This will provide the new leader with the ability to adapt their communication style to suit the stakeholder, and fast-track their understanding of the most important relationships.


As part of the hiring process, executives would have had the opportunity to discuss achievements in previous roles and demonstrate their capabilities. Senior stakeholders such as the board, CEO and Chairman will have a solid understanding of their approach to delivery, for example, if they are known for their innovative style or aggressive sales approach. But this doesn’t always translate seamlessly for the newly-hired executive.

Structured briefings on culture can help leaders integrate their style with the existing organisation. Unless they have been given a mandate by the board to bring substantial change to the business, the executive needs to understand the existing company culture. Is the business resistant to change or does it thrive being agile? Is it hierarchical or are employees at all levels encouraged to put forward new ideas?


Devising and implementing a strong leadership transition model can help executives successfully integrate into new organisations, avoiding long-term negative outcomes such as performance issues or failure to fulfil objectives.

At OnTalent, we deliver executive recruitment and leadership development services to support both organisations and C-suite professionals. Get in touch with us today to discuss your executive recruitment needs.