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Promoting Individual Contributors: Why Onboarding is Still Critical

Your company has some high-performing individual contributors that are being promoted to management. With an internal promotion, you can hit the ground running and skip the employee onboarding process, right?

Not quite.

Even when promoting from within, you have to consider onboarding for new roles. When done well, this process might even result in improved work ethic, motivation, and employee retention across the company. So, effective leadership training is crucial to transition employees into successful leadership roles.

Challenges Facing Internal Promotions

In their book Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths, Scott Keller and Mary Meaney report that 75% of new leaders feel unprepared after promotion [1]. They found that companies don’t prioritize onboarding for leadership roles. Leadership coach Lolly Daskal warns that between 27 and 46 percent of leadership transitions are regarded as failures after two years [2]. However, there’s a 90% chance that the team can meet its three-year goals when a leadership transition is successful [3].

Though your employees have a wealth of experience within their previous roles, they may still lack certain skills critical to their new leadership roles. At the very least, this data suggests most leaders start their roles feeling ill-equipped and unprepared. So, how can companies set up their new leaders to succeed?

Case Study: The J.R. Simplot Company

The J.R. Simplot Company had an interesting problem: high-performing individuals were being promoted into supervisory roles in larger numbers and at faster rates. However, these newly-promoted employees had scant management skills, and Simplot needed innovative and practical leadership training to facilitate their transition.

Training Assets:

New supervisors completed web-based training modules that were short, flexible, and available from learners’ mobile devices. This training went hand-in-hand with an almanac full of resources that subject matter experts at Simplot deemed critical knowledge for leadership positions. This almanac was indexed, searchable, and available both digitally and physically. New supervisors were also given a set of task-oriented flashcards to guide their behavior on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. Referencing these flashcards gave new supervisors direction for their jobs while allowing the flexibility to accomplish tasks individually.

Mentor Program:

Simplot leveraged the experience of upper-level management and experienced supervisors throughout the training. New supervisors were collected into a cohort with a mentor. These cohorts provided new supervisors with peers they could rely on and an experienced mentor to ask for help. These groups engaged in discussion through virtual tools while also meeting in-person for educational and social activities. This arrangement also helped managers to closely track the progress of their new supervisors.

Mentors were given additional job aids to outline their roles in supporting new leaders. These mentors also facilitated on-site training, video conference discussions, and provided on-going resources in the almanac’s digital library.

Applied Learning Activities

Course content nurtured a well-rounded self-awareness by giving learners opportunities to apply what they learned in their course to their work through structured leadership challenges. These challenges addressed real problems and fostered meaningful dialogue between team members. Through innovative learning tools like gamification, interactivity, motion graphics, and videos, new leaders at Simplot were empowered with resources, insight, and support to improve technical and leadership skills all from one web-based platform.

After its implementation, Simplot had reduced HR incidents, reduced safety incidents, improved communication and accountability, and a workforce of supervisors with confidence in their jobs.

Better Onboarding for New Leaders

A LinkedIn study in 2018 found that employees and managers rank leadership and soft skills training as the top priority [5]. But how can other companies recreate the success of Simplot?

Perhaps, we need a change of perspective. Rather than thinking of promoting an employee as an event, consider this transition a long-term journey. It’s not as if your employee only needs to step into a phone booth, rip open their dress shirt, and emerge as a superhero to lead their team.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggested something similar. They suggest onboarding isn’t the right term. While it might describe how most companies transitioned new leaders into their roles, it isn’t enough. According to surveys they referenced, 60% of new leaders reported it took six months before they had full impact in their new roles. And almost 20% said it took nine months [6]. Instead, HBR recommends thinking of onboarding new leaders as integration.

What New Leaders Need to Succeed

Traditional leadership training and leadership transitions boil down to a few basic ideas. In their new role, leaders need:

  • Communication and collaborative skills
  • A holistic understanding of the business (e.g., departments, positions, responsibilities, processes, software, etc.)
  • Delegation skills
  • Confidence in their authority as accountability increases
  • Flexibility to balance different opinions
  • Mentoring skills

Though some of the above may develop on the job through trial-and-error, that is likely the exception — not the norm. It might even be the method that you experienced, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be perpetuated.

The Value of Training Consultants

These skills can be better learned through engaging, interactive methods like those The J.R. Simplot Company chose to pursue with AllenComm. When companies take charge of their leadership training, they can ensure that transitioning an individual contributor into a leadership role is successful. Consider the benefits a training consultant can bring to your leadership training as you onboard employees into new leadership roles.


[1] Leading Organizations: 10 Timeless Truths

[2] Lolly Daskal

[3] Leadership Transitions

[4] Emotional Intelligence & Performance

[5] Workplace Learning Report

[6] Harvard Business Review