Beware the traps of doing your old job in addition to your new one for an extended period of time and overestimating the quality of the staff you inherit.
In our transition labs, we find internal promotes to new C-level roles often make two choices that can constrain their time and compromise their credibility:
- Continuing to do their old jobs for an extended period of time such that it gets in the way of successfully addressing the new job
- Overestimating the quality of talent on their team.
Internal promotes need to recognize and mitigate these risks.
Despite organizational succession plans, promotion to C-level roles does not frequently occur in a well-planned way. Sometimes, a last-minute call from a CEO to prepare for a promotion and announcement does not give you much time to prepare to assume the new role—let alone prepare whoever will assume your current responsibilities. Indeed, while preparing for the new role, you may not even be able to disclose it to a potential successor even if they are available. Thus, whether it is the availability of a successor or the unexpected nature of a promotion, you can find yourself suddenly doing two jobs. As transitions are already demanding of your time, this is generally unsustainable beyond a month or two and can significantly eat into your ability to do your new job. Thus, you need a strategy to give up your old job and move forward.
The best case is that you have a successor who is ready to assume responsibility for your role. In this case, a few 1–2 hour briefings may be sufficient to inform your successor of the key issues and projects that they will have to take over. One suggestion for organizing the discussion agenda with your successor is to focus on the issues you will plan around for your own transition—time, talent, and relationships:
- Time: Address your current priorities and projects.
- Talent: Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team you are leaving behind.
- Relationships: Articulate issues pertaining to key relationships, including stakeholders who support you and your organization as well as the ones who don’t.
In the best case, you are able to exit your prior role in a matter of days.
If you do not have a successor, the situation is more challenging. You have to fill the gap between recruiting an external candidate to take your old job or accelerate the preparation of an internal candidate. Either route can take considerable time. Two strategies we see seasoned executives deploy to conserve their time for their new job are to a) delegate as much of the old job as possible to their previous and current direct reports and b) recruit interim help as needed until a permanent replacement can be found. Fortunately, in many markets, it is now possible to get senior executives in a wide variety of roles on an outsourced, interim basis. While there is some risk—for example, an underperforming outsourced executive—it is an important strategy to consider when trying to protect your time. Temporary staffing is especially useful if there is limited capacity in your existing organization and it will take considerable time to recruit or develop a replacement for your previous role.
Internal promotes often make a second mistake: They overestimate the capabilities of their former peers who are now their current staff. This can adversely impact their ability to move forward with a new agenda in a timely way. When your team is not strong, you have to spend more time correcting their work. Realistically assessing team capabilities and improving them quickly to meet the needs of your new role is vital to successfully moving forward with your new job. So beware the trap of overestimating the team you inherit.
The Takeaway: Being promoted is great, but beware the traps of doing your old job in addition to your new one for an extended period of time and overestimating the quality of the staff you inherit. Effectively moving forward in your new role may require extensive delegation of your prior role across your team, the use of interim staff, and an honest assessment of the team you have inherited to deliver on your future agenda. The various issues of talent and team are discussed in our next set of essays.