Some common scenarios suggest employers are mishandling their internal promotions and failing to pay enough attention to ‘inboarding’, increasing new leaders’ risks of underperformance and attrition.

Dr Ty Wiggins, a leadership, transitions and executive leadership expert at Russell Reynolds Associates says in many organisations, the promotion process is not as “well planned” as it should be.

While promoting from within is a good strategy for numerous reasons, new leaders promoted internally face some key challenges that HR teams must be aware of, Wiggins tells HR Daily.

Wearing “two hats”

Unlike candidates who are hired externally and have a “firm date” for leaving behind one job and starting their next, an internal promotion tends to have an existing “to-do” list from their previous role, and then “they add things to their to-dos and then move to another desk”, Wiggins says.

A major challenge also exists when someone is promoted but has to “double hat” and continue to manage their old role.

“That is really, really difficult because what it does is it stalls the transition process, because the person doesn’t start really transitioning.”

The leader’s old team is still used to coming to them even though they are now meant to be managed by someone else, says Wiggins.

This means the new leader is “not able to show up at the senior level quickly enough”, he says. “So you can fall out of step and people can start to doubt whether you are the right person [for the job] based on where you are assigning your priorities and actions.”

Time to stop and think

An external hire gets to start anew and do all the “learning” again that they need for a new role, including space to “ask the innocent questions about why stuff is done in a particular way”, Wiggins notes.

But the internal promotion never gets time to stop and think.

Further, “when you transition [externally] you get the opportunity to change components of your leadership. It’s a [missed opportunity] to just be the same leader that you were in the last role in a bigger role”.

Another issue arises when one person is promoted, and someone else is promoted into their role, so two people are transitioning and that can cause both teams to stall, says Wiggins.

A lot of the work still crosses over and there is a “cloudy area” of what “I’m doing” and “what you are doing”, he says.

Predetermined views and “baggage”

Meanwhile an internal candidate has a much harder job when they are promoted because they have “history” and “baggage” in terms of other employees’ perceptions, Wiggins says.

“People have a predetermined view about you – which makes it that little bit harder.”

Wiggins says he worked with one candidate who had been in a role for a long time before being promoted.

“She noticed in her new role, where she was peered with people she had previously reported to, that they were being challenged to see her at this new level.”

Succeeding at a higher level also requires leaders to “drop” a lot of their previous behaviours and mindsets, says Wiggins.

“It is cognitive, it is interpretive, behavioural, there are things that need to change and that is harder if it is internal.

“Sometimes they find this challenge of, ‘the thing that made me great and helped me get promoted is now something I am not involved in’.

“HR and their people manager need to remind them that they can’t be effective if they are performing things they did at the old level.”

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