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Why getting promoted might not be as good as you'd hoped

Posted on from Egon Zehnder

Many of us hope to be recognised and promoted by current employers but, says Mark Byford of Egon Zehnder, making a big internal move can also be high risk.

Hidden risks of internal promotion

When we asked delegates at recent events hosted internationally by Egon Zehnder to discuss the challenges around career transitions, the majority confirmed that managers promoted internally are almost as likely to struggle with their transition as candidates from outside. Those taking charge of a business unit for the first time, notably in another geography, are at greatest risk of all.

This flies in the face of received corporate wisdom – most organisations concentrate their effort on integrating new executives from outside – and typically give less, or no, support to an internal candidate moving into a new senior role. This is in the context of little support of any kind being on offer; when Egon Zehnder asked over 500 international executives about this, almost 40% said their organisations provided no formal integration at all, even though the vast majority (84%) recognise the economic benefits.

While there’s an assumption within organisations that internal candidates know the ropes, an international move or becoming head of a business unit for the first time can entail massive changes that are almost as challenging as for an external hire; these transitions have significant hidden risks. 

Support for internal transitions

Dr. Michael Watkins, author of 'The First 90 Days' shared research that shows organisations give the least amount of support to new managers appointed internally. This makes no business sense; with around a third of people dealing with a transition at any one time (their own or that of a close colleague) the potential impact on organisations is huge.

When we asked executives about the support they need during transition, the vast majority said cultural complexities (87%) and stakeholder relationships (75%) were the biggest challenges in a new role. Gaining acceptance from the team (46%) was also considered a major challenge. However, most of those whose organisations do have a formal integration programme said it didn't address these aspects and around half doubted HR could fill the gap, mainly due to lack of resource.

Making your promotion less of a risk

Have you got a big promotion and want to hit the ground running? What can you do to reduce the risk of it not working out?

The key is to use what we see as the golden time (before day one in the role) to gather insight into the challenges ahead, particularly around the culture and people issues. Ultimately a smooth transition demands insight and understanding of the culture, politics and dynamics you may face. This requires a structured approach, which enables you to anticipate and avoid potential obstacles. In this way you will build your knowledge of the organisation and earn colleagues’ trust and engagement more quickly. This in turn will mean you take better decisions earlier, that they will be implemented more confidently, and will deliver results faster.

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