HR Professional
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By Debra Hughes, MBA, Ph.D.


Success strategies for new executives in new positions

To answer pressing strategic or tactical challenges, organizations often find it necessary to create a new executive position based on that specific need. But what if you were introduced to the new executive vice president of customer engagement? Would the title alone tell you anything about why he/she is there or how the role adds value in the organization? Probably not. Without careful planning, one-off appointments at the senior level can generate confusion as to the person’s responsibilities and place in the reporting structure, and can compromise the value the new role was intended to add.


To accelerate the integration of an executive into a role that has no organizational precedent, the HR professional must pay special attention to the five key success factors (role clarity, relationships, culture, early wins and learning) as outlined in the first two articles in this series, published in the October and November/December 2014 issues of HR Professional, respectively.


But because both the executive and the position are new, there are five additional steps that should be addressed to enhance the value of the new executive/position combination. HR leaders can play a vital role in all of these steps:


Ensure all key stakeholders are aligned on what this new position will contribute. Create a profile of the unique combination of behaviours and skills required to be successful in this particular role at this point in time. Everyone should be in absolute agreement on this document, as it is the basis for the success or failure of the position.


Without this foundational step of defining the role, the new executive will be unclear how best to focus their efforts, stakeholders may fail to include him/her in important conversations, tasks could be duplicated in other roles and priorities might not be aligned with those of the organization’s. In short, the new executive is set up for failure.


Brief peers, direct reports and other key stakeholders on the role’s purpose, expected outcomes, measurements and how they can offer support. Carefully articulate how this position is different from the past, particularly if it is a variant of or broader version of a previous role. Create a list of who should be informed and how they can benefit.


Make sure the senior leaders advise the entire organization about the appointment and expected benefits. Find every opportunity to repeat the message. Constantly communicate the role’s value proposition and its contribution to current goals. Be specific.


Build commitment
Get feedback from key stakeholders on the education campaign between the first 30 to 60 days. Do they understand the mission of the new executive? Are departments cooperating? Is anyone withholding information for political reasons? Are there any roadblocks? Schedule meetings to discuss projects and boundaries so disagreements can be addressed and clarified before they lead to conflict. Share the results with the newcomer and adjust the action plan as needed.


Upper management should also be selling the position and making sure laggards catch up and align. At times, pressure must be applied to overcome resistance to working within the redesigned structure, especially when the new position is carved out of existing areas of responsibility.


The incoming executive needs to understand the values, decision-making processes and best way to communicate within the organization. HR can act as a trusted advisor or mentor for the new executive, providing honest and accurate feedback, helping the new executive adjust and normalizing their frustrations. Even if they have successfully done something similar elsewhere, they will likely need to adapt their approach.


This stage is about producing results and making sure they are visible. If stakeholders don’t know what the new executive is doing, they are likely to assume that he/she is not focused on the right tasks, even if this is not the case.


Make sure incoming leaders are placed on the agenda at regularly scheduled staff meetings so they can reinforce the mission and give updates on their progress. Continue increasing their visibility throughout the company.


  • Outcomes
    The benefits of a robust, well-executed new executive/position program are substantial:
  • The original strategic need or tactical gap is addressed successfully.
    Companies can reap the rewards of the created position more quickly.
    The process can be used for other new positions in the future, creating a competitive edge.
    The new position leader will become a valuable asset to the company, ready to begin fresh assignments and take his/her place in the succession planning process.

    Dr. Debra Hughes is a partner with RHR International LLP (Toronto).
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