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Why Do New Leaders Cause Turnover?

An organization doesn’t bring in a new leader, at any level, whose vision is to maintain the status quo. Fundamentally leadership is about change. It’s about improvement. It’s about creating a better future.


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Published by Talent Plus
on 29 Nov 2016

Why Do New Leaders Cause Turnover?

I’ve observed this phenomenon over the years. A new leader comes in and inevitably some of her direct reports leave. The new leader selects replacements. Then some of the replacements’ direct reports leave. The turnover cascades down through the organization. This post discusses why this happens and what can be done about it.

First let’s be honest. An organization doesn’t bring in a new leader, at any level, whose vision is to maintain the status quo. Fundamentally leadership is about change. It’s about improvement. It’s about creating a better future.

A new leader brings not only new strategies, but also different philosophies, different priorities, and a different management style. The new leader has existing relationships with people with whom he’s worked in the past. He knows they’re loyal to him, he knows what they can do, and he knows how they’ll do it. He wants known quantities — people he can rely on in this new, challenging situation. Add to all of this the issue of chemistry. Some of the people who had good chemistry with the previous leader, simply won’t have it with the new leader.

So turnover’s inevitable. It’s a fact of life that some people who were successful in the previous regime will not be able (or willing) to make the adjustments necessary to be successful in this new regime. And when the new leader comes from outside the organization the culture change will be more pronounced than if this person is promoted from within. The more pronounced the culture change, the greater the stress on the people in the organization and the greater the turnover.

If anyone had the magic formula for addressing this situation, we’d all know it and it wouldn’t be a problem. So I certainly don’t have “THE” answer, but I do have a couple of suggestions. Please note, these suggestions are focused specifically on issues caused by turnover.

If you’re going to make personnel changes, do it compassionately, but do it swiftly. This applies to all levels as this turnover cascades down through the organization. At every level, make these changes rapidly. Drawing out the time frame increases the pain and stress.

Turnover requires new people to build positive relationships as rapidly as possible. Be proactive about building relationships with your direct reports, and foster relationship building activities for the new leaders coming in at every level. These new leaders should establish as quickly as possible that they truly care about each of their direct reports. Among other things, this requires a lot of active listening.

I’ve written a couple of posts that might be helpful in rapidly building positive relationships.

How Do You Welcome New Team Members?
What is a Career Investment Discussion?

For thoughts on the broader issues of managing change, please see this post:

How do You Manage Your “Back to Egypt” Committee?

Thanks to my colleague Libby Farmen for suggesting this topic.

Thanks for reading. And as always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Last Modified Date: 23 Apr 2018