When filling an open position, why not promote internally first? After all, employees who’ve been with the company awhile already have experience with the organization’s mission and culture. Yet, some employers have convinced themselves that internal promotions are a simple escape from the lengthy, difficult onboarding process associated with external hires.
This is a dangerous misconception. Internal promotions can be difficult, and they require a formal training process for junior-level employees, and even more so for senior members in an organization.
Ed Chaffin, president of Impact Group, and Marcia Mueller, practice leader of the leadership and talent division of Impact Group, work directly with junior- and senior-level leaders undergoing internal promotions, giving them the knowledge, skills and tools they need to successfully transition their careers.
Chaffin and Mueller spoke to Chief Learning Officer and shared some strategies learning leaders can use to help make the internal promotion process as seamless as possible.
What are some of the biggest difficulties people face when transitioning to an internal promotion?
Mueller: One of the things that can occur is people just move on to the task of that next job without getting up to the 20,000-foot view. Somebody who is already in a company can very easily get drawn into the task, or kind of tactical level work of that next job, without remembering to go to the strategic level and really get the view of the purpose of the job, what success looks like, how will that be measured. Those are all key pieces to ultimately being successful in that next role.
Chaffin: The mistake we make is we assume that because we’re promoting internally, that [employee] understands everything he needs to know about the new role. But often times, even the culture of a new division can be very different, as well as the stakeholders are very different.
Mueller: When you are an individual contributor, a team member, maybe even a department head, a lot of that work is pretty tactical. When somebody moves into the C-suite, they expect you to be strategic, visionary, long-range planning, able to gain support of others and guide others as they do the more tactical work.
Can employers help minimize some of these difficulties? Are there onboarding processes that are unique to internal promotions?
Chaffin: We firmly believe that the best way, when someone is promoted internally, to ensure and assure their success is a coach. It has been identified in the last two or three years as one of the key strategic initiatives that high-performing organizations utilize now. That third party, one-to-one coach, can triangulate the relationship between the new person getting the new role- along with their direct boss.
Mueller: Sometimes they use this sort of word “inboarding” instead of “onboarding.” Companies are becoming aware that people being promoted internally need just as much focus, attention, and opportunities to onboard, even though they’re already in the company. There’s kind of a checklist of key questions to be answered and key things to be figured out.
Chaffin: I don’t want to say all, but most companies that we’re familiar with just assume that when they’re promoting someone internally, they don’t need to get too intentional about coming alongside them to ensure their success. So it’s shifting that mindset.
How can senior leaders undergoing an internal promotion make the process easier for themselves, as well as the people they will lead and work with?
Mueller: Dan Coffey heads up our outplacement division. Dan always says to me when somebody gets a new boss, they need to say to themselves, ‘It’s as though they themselves have gotten a new job.’ A new leader is going to come in with new ideas, different direction, different expectations. So what causes tension when a new boss comes in or a new leader comes in is that [they] aren’t being really as transparent or saying that things are going to change. It would be unfair to expect them to stay the same. [Subordinates] themselves need to be very agile, very ready to adapt.
Chaffin: The most important thing, as the leader, is to listen. Figure out what employees are going through, what their expectations are. I recommend that you bring in a third party consultant to get all of those conversations out on the table, and let that consultant facilitate some ongoing conversations about the new team. Back to Marcie’s point, people that were in their existing roles, they just got a new boss and got a new job, too. They think they can continue to do business the way they’ve always done, and that’s typically never the case when a new leader comes into the role.
You both mentioned the importance of being transparent. How can companies communicate better and be transparent?
Chaffin: I tell leaders that you can’t communicate enough. A lot of times leaders make the mistake that because [they] stood in front of a group of people today that [they] don’t have to continue the lines of communication.
Mueller: A lot of times when I’ve coached with executives, we’ve really talked about what does it take to take a deep breath, have all those great ideas, but use your first 90 days or so as a sponge. Ask good questions. Be an authentic and deep listener. Don’t assume you know it all. Other people have been here a long time. When you do those two things, and be curious, I hope the outcome is building rapport and ultimately trust.
Can you tell me about a time you helped someone work through an internal promotion? What were their concerns? How were those concerns addressed?
Mueller: A person that I coached had been promoted into her first vice president role. She had worked at a directory level for many years at her organization. This was her first time being a VP. One of the things she really struggled with was what we referred to as “executive presence.” She was regarded as a junior person; that was something we really coached and worked through together. We actually did a survey, a 360-degree assessment, which is where you get feedback from all around the individual. We did that in a narrative form where I actually interviewed many people who interacted with her — her boss, her peers — and we began to hear a trend of things that really were within her control, that she could take action on, that would help her be perceived a little bit more professionally, and help her begin establishing executive presence. That is something people who get promoted from within struggle with because they’ve been seen at a different level. It takes time for them to earn their status, so to speak, within that executive cohort.
Whether it’s with the assistance of a third party coach or through another formal training process, individuals experiencing an internal promotion should be given the tools to communicate efficiently and regularly, listen to their stakeholders, and tackle their new job with strategic vision. They don’t need to have their hand held every step of the way, but they shouldn’t be thrown into a new job and expected to stay afloat by themselves either.
AnnMarie Kuzel is a Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.