Managing Successful Transitions

By Heather Baldwin

Here’s a humbling statistic: If you transitioned to your role as sales manager this year, you have only a 50% chance of succeeding. Here’s why, says Kevin Temple, president of Ascent Logic, an El Dorado Hills, California-based company specializing in leadership issues ( Every year, says Temple, 25% of the Fortune 500 management will change jobs, meaning approximately 500,000 people will transition into new leadership assignments. Of those, 38% will fail to transition successfully if they are promoted from the inside, and 64% will fail if they come in from a different company. Temple cites the following reasons for failed leadership transitions and offers suggestions for overcoming them.

1. Poor relationships with peers and subordinates. Remedy: Check in with enough people to learn about the culture and get a good picture of the situation. Implement a few small changes that demonstrate success, build credibility and prepare the team for bigger changes, if needed. Identify and reach out to surrounding organizations to develop supportive relationships early.

2. Uncertainty about what the boss expects. Remedy: Develop a rapport with the boss and plan regular reality checks to ensure your efforts are targeted to meeting his or her expectations.

3. Poor political skills, which Temple defines as the inability of the leader to effectively understand the political structure of the new environment and effectively leverage that structure to support his or her initiatives. Remedy: Work on skills that enable you to map out the political structure of your company to understand who can make things happen and give you the resources you need to get a sale completed. Uncover opposing coalitions and neutralize them with some straightforward conflict resolution skills.

4. Failure to reach required objectives. Remedy: Simply solving the first three problems often allows new managers to reach required objectives. When new sales managers build good relationships with their team, know exactly what the boss expects and understand who has the power to help them get things accomplished, they will achieve their most important objectives.

5. Inability to adapt to a new situation, such as a change in market conditions that requires new selling strategies. Remedy: Understand where your business is in what Temple calls the growth, recovery and crisis (GRC) business cycle, and follow a plan to systematically uncover information about the group’s political structure, culture, history and performance. “While this won’t ensure your ability to adapt, it will help you recognize the differences between your experience and orientation and the group’s situation and orientation,” says Temple.

6. Overconfidence in one’s leadership transition abilities. This problem often is apparent in experienced leaders. Remedy: Use a common transition framework that can be coached and inspected for a company’s return on investment. The purpose of this framework is to provide a guide for the transitioning leader and an inspection template for the leader’s boss.