Turnover figures show leaders need direction

SOMETIMES it’s a useful exercise to remember your feelings when you started you most recent job. Can you recall the excitement, the anticipation and the adrenaline?

Ask yourself what you know now that would have been useful when you started in that role. Your answers might include: “the role’s top priorities”, “my boss’s expectations”, or “the people to be in with”. The answers come easily now that you’ve been through it, right?

But, in case you’ve forgotten, the challenges for those moving into a new role, particularly a leadership role, are often severe. You may be one of the 40 per cent of newly appointed leaders who, as research suggests, leaves within 18 months of their appointment. If you are you’ll agree with me when I suggest that most companies’ support structures for newly appointed leaders are woefully inadequate.

Is this a harsh call? I recently met a senior manager from a stockbroking firm who had been procured at great expense. The interview process promised ‘working closely with the CEO on important strategic issues’. In his first month, he had met with his boss, the CEO, only once.

Lacking clear direction, the senior manager haphazardly worked on what he thought was important. Needless to say, what the CEO thought was important was entirely different and, two months down the track, the CEO (in their second meeting) shelved the senior manager’s work. Three months in, no runs on the board, and the frustration levels were increasing.

Six months later the senior manager left the company, disappointed and frustrated. The CEO, let down and under pressure to deliver results, put it down to ‘poor performance’. Sound familiar?

According to a survey of 826 human resources managers by consulting firm Manchester, the most common reasons why newly appointed leaders fail include failing to build partnerships and teamwork, con-fusion about their boss’s expectations, and a lack of political savvy. Add to the mix the dilemma of needing to get early runs on the board versus learning how the place works and you have a tall order indeed.

Leadership turnover is estimated to be between 1.5 and 3.5 times the person’s salary. That’s a lot of money for someone who’s not there. Not counting the hidden costs of lost knowledge, flexibility or the impact on the organisation’s effectiveness.

Can you imagine the stress and frustration of a leader with high turnover faced with the prospect of having to do more himself or herself – to train more people, to work longer hours, and seeing targets slip away into the distance.

Many would say: “Get out of their way and let them get on with it. We pay them a premium because of their track record”. And, of course, it’s easier to just let them get on with it because we’re all busy enough as it is, or so the thinking goes.

This approach is risky business. Past success is no guarantee of future success – just ask any fund manager. The environment your new leader is moving into will be foreign in many respects. How can you be sure they’ll assimilate quickly and successfully.

Here’s an alternative approach. Proactively manage your risk. Provide your new staff with the support they need to thrive, and for you to insure your investment. After all, you don’t really want to be looking for a replacement in 12 months.

What does such support look like? Smart companies use an effective ‘on-boarding’ process. This process goes way beyond meeting with the key people and being shown which cup is yours in the tearoom. It’s a structured process that requires an investment of time up front to develop a strong foundation. The new leader and their boss work closely together, and are guided by a professional coach, retained to facilitate the process and accelerate results, which include a faster and better ROI, with less risk of turnover or need for damage control.

Newly hired leaders need ongoing support. Expecting them to do it on their own is risky. Having an effective on-boarding process maximises your return while minimising your risk.

As mentoring authority Howard Hendricks says: “There is nothing more common than unfulfilled potential”. So when you’re promoting or hiring a new leader, and it’s critical that they succeed, consider what else you should do to ensure that they can.

p Next week: Simple strategies to maximise success and minimise risk in a new role.

p Digby Scott is director of The Catalyst Group. He can be contacted

on 9385 0888 or

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