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Updated: Oct 16, 2023

As Scott Keller and Mary Meaney show in this linked McKinsey article, senior leaders are typically underprepared for and undersupported when they transition into new roles.

According to McKinsey, nine out of ten teams whose leaders had a successful transition go on to meet their three-year performance goals. They generate 5% more revenue and profit than average, and the attrition risk for such teams are 13% lower. Contrarily, when leaders struggle through a transition, the performance of their direct reports is 15% lower.

For senior exec roles, the recruitment outlays are estimated at 213% of the annual salary – businesses just can’t afford to have unsuccessful transitions. This does not include the costs associated with low performance caused by getting a transition wrong.

Yet despite this, in too many cases transitions are under-resourced. Nearly half of all leadership transitions fail, mostly (according to leaders) due to organisational politics, culture and people.

Most organisations see senior executive transitions as one-off events and often rely on these leaders self-managing their transitions. Given that organisations conduct far more of these than do individuals (who might go through 4 or 5 senior transitions in a career) this just doesn’t make sense.

Typical transition plans include providing mentors or orientation programmes. According to @patricia Wheeler and the Institute of Executive Development, only 47 and 19% of externals and 29 and 11% of internal hires respectively find these useful. More helpful are tailored executive coaching and customized assimilation plans, which double the likelihood of success – but only 32% of organisations use them.

Organisations and leaders need to rethink their transition programmes. Can you afford to have an unsuccessful transition?


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