Upgrading Talent? The Business Case for Coaching the Externally Hired Leader

A priority for many business executives in this down economy is upgrading leadership talent in such areas as Sales, Finance, and Supply Chain. In these and other key functions, executives are betting that the external hire can outperform the incumbent, now, and in the future. As in any bet, there are risks with taking such an action. One mitigating action is improving the organization’s effectiveness in interviewing and evaluating candidates against metric oriented job and candidate specifications (see Upgrading Talent? Upgrading Interview and Assessment Skills As Well? ). If senior leaders make no significant changes to their process for selecting leaders, they should not expect any improvement in the odds of hiring top talent now than they realized before.

A second mitigating action is supporting the ramp-up of the new leader once he or she is on board. One might wonder, “If I hire an “A” player, shouldn’t they be able to hit the ground running? After all, isn’t that why we selected an experienced leader in the first place?” The reality is that even “A” players require a period of time to fully ramp-up. The Alexcel/Institute of Executive Development 2008 “Executive Transitions Market Study” reports that “92% of respondents said it takes new executives more than 90 days (to reach productivity) and 62 percent said more than 6 months.” Even after making it through the first 90/180 days, other studies suggest that 40% of new leaders fail within the first 18 months. Ramping up quickly and successfully has never been more challenging, with pressure to hit financial growth or expense reduction targets, effectively manage restructurings and run lean with fewer people and resources. What are some of the challenges facing a new leader today?

• Getting clear on expectations
• Building peer relationships
• Prioritizing attention to today’s details vs. a strategy for tomorrow
• Building a team
• Introducing and managing the right amount of change

Clearly, too much is at stake today to run the risk that the newly hired leader will quickly and successfully ramp up with a “sink or swim” approach. What should organizations do to increase the return on upgrading talent?

• Identify a senior internal mentor who will teach and sponsor the recently hired leader.
• Engage an external coach who, in partnership with the mentor, will help the new leader monitor first impressions, leverage strengths, mitigate developmental areas, and understand expectations and priorities.

With risk management a critical matter for all organizations, proactively supporting the ramp-up of a new leader with coaching and mentoring should be a key step in the effort to upgrade talent.