Successful Leadership Transitions

Successful Leadership Transitions

[Applause] hi I'm Terence Donahue the corporate director of learning at Emerson with me today is dr. Michael Watkins co-founder of Genesis advisors and author of the international bestseller the first 90 days Michael thank you for joining us today and welcome to Emerson glad to be here turns now Michael we've partnered with you to create an Emerson specific version of your workshop that's based on the first 90 days we call it successful leadership transitions taking charge in you new leadership role Michael I'd also like to congratulate you on the recent recognition that Amazon's given to your book the first 90 days I understand that they've recognized it as one of the top 100 business books of all time that's no small accomplishment congratulations thanks very much I was actually very surprised but very gratified Michael let's start by discussing why was this workshop created I was working with ideas around accelerating leaders taking new roles and I began working with a healthcare company that wanted to experiment with the ideas and so I created a first version of the workshop and it was really from that workshop that a lot of the key ideas and concepts like the Stars framework emerged and of course then I wrote the book but the workshop still really does something that the book doesn't you know getting into the classroom with participants having them apply the concepts work through some exercises talk to peers really I think deepens their understanding of what they need to do to be successful in the transition what opportunities are companies trying to create or problems are they trying to solve through the first 90 days approach if you look at what's going on in a typical company we did some research on this you find that about a quarter of the leaders in a large you know fortune 500 company are taking new roles every year that's a tremendous amount of normal transition right and it has a very large impact on the organization I sometimes ask questions of participants in workshops I'm teaching about you know are you in transition personally well for many of them the course are they wouldn't be there but also they have a Boston transition or a peer in transition or you know a direct report position and so if you take people in organizations almost everybody is being impacted at some point in time at any given point of time by somebody's transition and if you think about the overall sort of systemic impact of transition on organizations it's very large and if you can just speed those transitions up by a little bit it can have a tremendous impact on performance nimbleness responsiveness in the marketplace and that's really why organizations you know and focused on using these ideas our successful leadership transitions workshop is now a component in several of our world area leadership development programs but we're also offering it as a nomination based open enrollment type of session how do you see other companies using your workshop our experience has really been that once people experience the first 90 days and the workshop it sort of sells itself right because people come out of it energized with a plan transitions are challenging right transitions are difficult transitions are very stressful times and if you can help people put together you know a consolidated sense of what they're up against right and a plan for moving forward it can really reduce anxiety levels it can spur innovation it gets people very excited about going forward so our experience has really been that organizations may decide to start to implemented in one way or another but it very quickly takes hold and kind of takes on a life of its own obviously there are differences right I mean in terms of who is supporting it does it come from more of a center of excellence corporate core is it supported more by a business unit around a particular set of needs we sometimes have organizations that have particularly intense transitions going on in parts of their organization they've acquired something or there's a major restructuring going on and in those situations they may pick up this basic set of ideas and use it to speed up those transitions and in other cases they do it as you do right which is part of the normal flow of you know leadership capital through the organization and as a core part of the overall development process and frankly it's really wonderful to see the combination of development and transition it's not as common as you might think right lots of organizations do a decent job on the development piece that is getting someone ready to go to the level next level but they don't necessarily do a great job with helping them actually make the transition and it's really the combination of those two things that is so powerful so successful leadership transitions focuses on what you call the seven drivers of successful transitions could you briefly describe each one for us sure so first of all it's important to have a framework right on the language and a set of tools to help people understand the different elements of transition so creating the transition roadmap was really an effort to try and do that to parse it into chunks that people could understand and apply that collectively would have a the right impact and speaking up the transitions the first you know component is really accelerate your learning I see learning is really foundational in the end you've got a lot to learn you've got to learn about the technical dimensions of your job the cultural dimensions the political dimensions you can't just learn by immersing yourself and hoping that it's all going to you know sort of seep through your pores and you'll figure it out you've got to be systematic you know there's so much going on you there's so much you need to do you need to create a learning plan you need to think about how you can speed up that learning process so accelerate your learning is is the first big element match your strategy situation it became very obvious to me early on that the way you transition into a new role really depends a lot on the type of situation you've inherited or the mix it's a very different thing to come into a turnaround environment where you need to act quickly right it's very action-oriented its immediate analysis and on with the show as opposed to more of a realignment or sustaining success kind of environment where you need to immerse yourself more deeply understand what's really going on build alliances and coalition's to support you know the change efforts that you need to be pursuing so that and then the third element is really around gaining alignment if learning is the Alpha of transitions then connection and alignment is the Omega right you've got lots of directions around what you need to get alignment right with your boss obviously but also often with your peers other key stakeholders you've got a drive alignment with your team so how do you make sure that everything lines up so that success is well defined so that you know what it looks like you know how you're going to achieve it that's the third big element I sort of think about those elements the you know the accelerate your learning match strategy situation gain alignment as in part at least diagnostic about figuring out the lay of the land and what you need to do as you begin to do that you can begin to establish direction an establishing direction is about what you're going to do but also critically what's your team and your organization going to do right and that's the what it's the goals right it's the how which is the strategy but critically it's also the why right why should people get excited about going down this road with you and then there's the elements of the transition roadmap that are more about implementation and acceleration and beginning to gain momentum there's build your team right typically you know you're not going to get to build your team from scratch you're going to inherit somebody else's team your predecessors that may even be members of the team that were your predecessors predecessors people you inherit those people you've got to assess them you know figure out whether the right people in the right roles you've got to think about how to reshape that team you've got to think about how to align that team powerfully in terms of direction and set of purpose right and you've got to figure out how to accelerate it down the road of you know taking actions that are going to begin to create momentum then there's securing early wins I'm a big believer in the power of early wins to begin to create perception and perception is important that good things are happening right so some early effort to identify what are those opportunities where you can begin to get some progress with modest investment of resource but it's visible it's tangible people notice and they go oh good things are starting to happen here we're making progress and that sort of energy becomes almost you know infectious right it begins to to really mobilize people and they begin to want to get on board with where things are going and then finally in the midst of all this you have to understand how to manage yourself these are highly pressurized times they can be times of great excitement they can be times of great anxiety typically they're both only on different days right you're going to have days when things are going great and it's going to be days when you're going to be banging your head against that wall going why did I take this job so understanding how to manage yourself through that process stay in equilibrium build the right set of advisors and counselors relationships that can help sustain you maintain your energy level through the whole thing that's part of the kind of the care and feeding of you as a leader in transition Michael since you've written the first edition of the first 90 days as anything fundamentally changed in terms of how leaders approach transitions so I sometimes joke that it used to be the first 90 days and now it's the first 90 minutes you know so I think that there's been a real acceleration of the pace of business but also the expectations of people getting up to speed that's made you know the first 90 days idea is even more important than they were before right people are moving through jobs very quickly transitions are happening all the time sometimes it's the normal flow of people but often it's the restructurings or changes that are driving people you know into making more transitions than before so the piece is certainly higher than it used to be the time that you have to have an impact is lower right you're just expectations especially when you get to senior leadership levels or such that you're going to get in and you're going to have an impact very very quickly so that's definitely change things then I think you know as with all things digitalization and you know remote work have profoundly changed the nature of leadership roles and that's really reflected in what you need to do to be successful in a transition all right it's the rare senior executive that is working with a co-located team these days right so what does that mean when you've got to transition into a new role and a good chunk of your team is sitting in multiple other places right how do you accelerate the learning process in a situation like that so let's certainly been a very you know a very big impact overall is there a way to quantify the costs for example the financial costs or the human element of a failed leadership transition so there have been many efforts to try and do this and it's difficult right and it's difficult because it really varies dramatically by level and it's also hard to hard to quantify what a failure looks like right I mean and let me give you examples of ways people have attempted to do it right it's easiest for leaders who are onboarding from the outside right because basically one measure is do they stay or do they go and lots of studies have shown that if you're not using the right approach to integrate people coming in from the outside in your organization you're going to typically see 40 percent failure rates in the first 18 months it's pretty easy to quantify what the cost of that is directly right sorry recruiting cost what's difficult to quantify is the lost opportunity right that that person didn't take that business and take it in the direction that you needed it to go and so the opportunity cost is really hard to get your hands on the benefits of even a modest acceleration the benefits of even a modest reduction in failure rates are so high that the ROI is kind of like a non-issue right so even though it is difficult to measure when people go through the program and see what the impact is I never have anyone say gee that wasn't worth it right it's more like why didn't we do this earlier right and Wow you know why aren't we you know doing this everywhere so it's a difficult question to us and it doesn't have an easy answer but it's a measure from a measurement point of view it's a complex problem but from a practical point of view I've never had an issue with anyone you know mounting any kind of reasonable challenge about this not being a very important thing to do is there a level within an organization that is most at risk when it comes to a leadership transition so this is a great question that really revolves around what are some of the most difficult transitions that people go through during their careers and I did some research on this and it's interesting that the transition that people point to was the most challenging for them was the first time they became a manager right just the process of you know stepping up and no longer being tactics specialist learning to manage through others right it's you know people point to as a really challenging transition have more senior levels it tends to happen when you are either coming into an organization from the outside in which case you don't understand the culture you don't understand the network and the politics and how to get things done or it's a promotion to a level where the skills that made you successful up to that point really don't make you successful going forward when I focused a lot on is the transition from being a functional leader to being a general manager like where suddenly you're kind of going from being a specialist to a generalist you've got to set the agenda for the organization the political dimensions are more complex you've got to integrate the team as a whole so moving from being in more of a functional role to really beginning to run you know a major cross-functional team project initiative that's probably the biggest point of potential risk where I see people challenge you know get challenged and then there's CEOs they're a special case but CEOs it's a it's an extremely difficult challenge right to become a CEO for the first time it's a very challenging thing Emerson is very much a promote from within organization in fact up to 80% of our leadership comes from within the organization so describe for me how the successful leadership transitions could be especially helpful for an organization like ours so on one hand it's a great story because Emerson's a successful organization and you've built a great leadership pipeline and that's what all of us who are interested in talent management say companies should be doing so there's an element of this that's absolutely success story you know 20% coming in from the outside strikes me as a healthy level of outside blood coming in right at different levels often in companies like yours those people come in at a level such that they can kind of get get stood in the culture for a while before they're taking on the really senior leadership positions and that's a good thing in general and that's again a mark I think of a successful company but the real big implication here is that a lot of transitions are going on internally right where people are taking new roles laterally moving geographically being promoted and those are not easy transitions right there's nothing easy about you know taking a significantly more challenging role internally right unfortunately there's been a tendency to focus so much attention on onboarding that people missed the point that those internal moves can be as are more challenging than joining the company from the outside and it tends to be you know unfortunately a tendency not to support those transitions as much right it seems kind of obvious that you should help people coming in from the outside to get on board it's less obvious that you should be doing that internally and I think the fact that you have a program and are doing this work says something about the culture of the company right it says that you don't have a sink or swim culture right that you're willing to invest in people making successful moves internally because you recognize that those are really hard there are lots of companies that don't do that right they are sink or swim you know I sometimes describe it as leadership development through Darwinian evolution and we know that that's not that's not a good thing right and the outcomes are not are not good ones how do you recommend that someone who is getting ready for the workshop best prepare themselves so the core of the workshop is really a kind of process of consolidating understanding what you're up against and beginning to put together a plan for say the next 90 days right that's the essence of what really goes on and in this workshop the more you've begun to think about what you're up against right the more you're able to get yourself into a somewhat reflective space so that when you come in you can engage with your peers and really be thoughtful about what are the challenges you're facing right what are the resources that that you you need or you know don't have today the more you're able to do that and be in that reflective you know state of mind I think the better it the participants that don't do as well are the ones that are still it's so much of a turn like when they show up in the program that they don't give themselves the opportunity to really step back and say what's going here right this is a unique opportunity to step back and say let's look at the big picture here right let's talk about what's really going on let's you know compare notes about the challenges we're facing and then let's begin to plan powerfully for how we're going to leave this workshop you know and really propel things forward in our organizations Michael sometimes I've sensed that transitions could actually be more difficult for a team or for the business than the transitioning leader him or herself can you speak to that right if you think about it if you've got a new leader coming in to an organization it causes a form of disruption for everybody in that organization right they've got to sort of rethink their roles responsibilities you know their future even in the organization they've got to adapt to a leader that may have a very different leadership style or set of priorities and so transitions you know yes are hard on the leader but they can be very challenging for the whole social system into which the leader is injected and that's actually not you know really recognized I think as much as it as it should be how enthusiastic should you be right you don't want to create the impression that you're they're just trying to curry favor but you better not stay back too far right those real challenges associated with being on the receiving end of a transition rather than being the you know the protagonist one of the key takeaways for me personally when I attended the workshop was the concept of securing early wins what does that accomplish for the transitioning leader her or his team in their bosses so securing early wins is a way to create momentum and I think to understand why that's important you need to understand that transitions are all about momentum right what's going on early as people are trying to understand who the leader is what do they represent right are they going to get excited and on board is this leader going to be effective or not so there's a very important piece of this that is about perception and about engagement and mobilization and so the big benefit of having some early wins is they are tangible markers that progress is being made right that the new leaders approach is beginning to have an impact act on the organization if too long goes without anything seeming to change people like you know where where is this leader right what impact are they having now that being said you have to be very careful as you select where you're going to focus on getting early wins you don't want them to be trivial right they've got to be challenging enough but they can't be too big you know such that you can have an impact in a reasonable period of time you've got to be careful about taking on too many things that are just about kind of low-hanging fruit that don't contribute to the bigger process of taking the organization where you want it to go the ideal early wind initiative is one that creates some progress and a sense of momentum but also helps lay the foundation for the bigger goals you're trying to accomplish in the organization there have been a number of executives who have been going through the workshop they're not in a transition one of the really unexpected benefits we found is they're coming up to me saying oh my gosh this is my next 90 days so what I found is whether it's the first 90 days or their next 90 days the same contents and principles apply can you speak more to that so the workshop is really about understanding where you are and planning for going forward that's most valuable often when you're in transition but it can be valuable any time right the discipline of taking stock of where you are right understanding the key features of the challenges you're facing thinking about what you need to learn because we need to learn these days at every point in time and putting together a plan for the next 90 days that can be an incredibly productive thing to do I've had leaders go through the first 90 days program and adopt it as a methodology for every 90 days they go forward and do this sort of work as the speed of change is accelerated you could argue that senior leaders are basically in transition in some form or another almost always right and if that's the case then the discipline of understanding diagnosing learning planning connecting you know propelling things forward that can be a very useful discipline wherever you are in terms of timing in your world the successful leadership transition workshop is it's very different than other types of leadership development programs that many of our employees have gone through either in those you you learn a skill you practice a skill you roleplay it but here people leave with a detailed plan I've described it to people that you're not really here to attend a workshop you really here to learn and implement an operating system for how you manage and lead in a transition could you speak toward that successful leadership transitions is different than most other forms of leadership development because in part it's key to a particular time right a time where someone is going through a transition it's not a general set of skills maybe I need them maybe I don't isn't that interesting maybe it's not it's very visceral right you are the case study you are the person who is in motion from one place to another the whole purpose of successful leadership transitions is to help you along that road right so the notion of an operating system I think is very powerful right it's a way of thinking it's a way of understanding it's a way of planning it's a way of mobilizing that can really help you through those times and that's why also by the way that discipline right that approach can be so helpful at almost any point in time because it is an operating system and not just a set of skills that you may or may not need to exercise Michael we really believe that the successful leadership transitions workshop is key to our success in equipping and preparing our courage and emerging leaders to succeed anytime they come into a new leadership role so we appreciate the opportunity to partner with you and to offer the successful leadership transitions workshop so thank you very much and thanks for your time with us today you

2 thoughts on “Successful Leadership Transitions

  1. Very helpful and inspiring book ! I hope i heard about it and practiced some of the key learnong before. Never too late hopefuly. Thanks Michael.

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