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Leadership transitions in a virtual world: Setting up for success in the first 100 days

By 27/02/2021April 8th, 2022Employee Management, Recruitment, Team
Leadership transitions in a virtual world: Setting up for success in the first 100 days

The type of remote work insurgence COVID-19 ushered in was never intended to be permanent – it was a crisis response. Prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that just 2.9% of the world’s workforce operated from home permanently, compared to the 88% since national lockdowns were imposed.

Remote working has caused companies to rethink – to tweak, test and improve existing formulas for a more favourable outcome.

The sudden shift to distributed work has highlighted the importance and unique challenges of integrating new talent into the business – where adapting through ‘osmosis’ is no longer feasible.

With the current central challenges facing new leaders and HR professionals, how can the people department integrate new talent while ensuring they are connected to colleagues and cultivated within the culture within this virtual world?

In our popular HR Expert series, executive coach and talent consultant, Nikki Hill addressed how HR leaders can help new employees find their feet and make a major impact within their first 100 days in a remote environment.

The ROI of hiring costs – why getting this right matters

When your organisation is hiring leaders, whether it’s a small team manager or an executive director, it’s so crucial to hire a person that brings energy to the culture while radiating the exact expertise needed, but in truth, this process isn’t cheap.

In 2020, Glassdoor outlined that the average salary for a director’s role in London was £100,000.Eye-watering, right? Then, you want to add on their bonuses, pension contributions, agency and search fees (taking in the 20% cut).

HR Expert, Nikki Hill quote on leadership transitions However, even after hiring, you need to onboard, train, engage, motivate and most importantly, retain them. Deloitte found that 22% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment; 86% of new hires decide whether to stay or leave within the first six months. So, there’s a particular pinch point period around those first few months that you need to offer the right support and integration, ensuring new hires can offer as much value to the business.

For the new hires that choose to stay, how long does it take them to get up to speed? According to the Harvard Business Review, it typically takes eight months for a new hire to be fully productive, which is well past the 100-day mark. This indicates that organisations need to be more patient, open and trusting before an employee can begin to flourish.

Challenges facing new leaders

HR Expert, Nikki Hill quote on leadership transitions In these current times, there have been three key challenges that new leaders are poised with and need to be addressed to lay the foundations for success. In many cases, these challenges exist even in a non-remote environment. Still, each of them has been heightened and have additional considerations since the virtual world has taken the working landscape by storm.

Pressure to perform

Most of us can handle pressure, up to a certain point, that is, and there are some people who seemingly thrive on it. But it’s not the pressure that makes them perform better; it’s how they handle themselves at the moment.

HR professionals can find themselves under pressure to get the right candidate and make sure that it works out. New leaders are aware that it’s crucial to the business that they join that they can deliver on these expectations and have their own personal desire to be able to make an impact and hit the ground running.

Navigating unfamiliar terrain

At the best of times, it can feel like you’re finding your way through a maze when you’re joining a new organisation and beyond the basics of physically trying to find your way through a new office, which thankfully is absent in the remote world.

There’s often a degree of uncertainty around the precise expectations, accountabilities, priorities, and measures of success. There can be both an information overload, any gaps in terms of what knowledge they need to be successful. So, they can be bombarded by mandatory training and policies without yet understanding the context of how that might affect that individual.

You may also feel potentially like people are speaking a different language if there’s a lot of organisation specific acronyms and terminology. Being able to navigate through that and understand how things really work here can be tough if this insight is implicit rather than explicit. However, what makes this more challenging in a virtual world is the fact that there’s a lack of learning through osmosis.

You’re not having the opportunity to hear conversations around you where there are references to projects, products, or business areas that might prompt you to do research or ask questions. Equally, there’s a lack of opportunity to observe team and stakeholder dynamics to pick up on communication styles and decision-making approaches.

Starting from scratch – alone

Factoring in the uncertainty and lack of familiarity with your surroundings, there’s also a need to build a brand-new network of relationships in order to achieve success and to make the most impact possible.

Generally speaking, most new starters are going to have limited contact in any place of work. They leave behind a strong reputation and this creates the need to focus again from the very beginning. Ultimately, this involves repeatedly and consistently creating positive first impressions with senior stakeholders, peers and the teams that are going to be leading. This experience can make employees feel like they are in the spotlight, exposed and under scrutiny.

Remember, there will be pressure to perform and the expectation to live up to a successful profile immediately. Unfortunately, this virtual world currently makes this obstacle a lot harder. In working remotely, the lack of interaction and limitation on feedback when interacting with others can be quite damning.

There’s a vast difference between being in a meeting room where you can make eye contact and assess body language directly. This is in construct with being on a video call, where you are potentially looking at tiny images on gallery view or simply not observing a video camera at all. Without the lack of ability to read those reactions and adapt, it makes this area even more complex.

How HR can make a difference

So, how can HR make a difference and address these particular challenges so your leaders can be set up for success from their first day in the organisation?

HR Expert, Nikki Hill quote on leadership transitions An essential question HR must ask themselves is: ‘When is the appropriate time to share or engage and can it be done before day one?’ With this, HR will then accelerate that learning curve in advance and create a sense of excitement ahead of the employee joining the organisation.


Clarity in the business world is about sharing clear and specific expectations about the role a new leader is playing and how exactly these fit into the wider picture. Here, they’ll be provided with explicit detail as opposed to a vague sense of direction.

Before the leader starts their role, you’ll want to make sure they have been shown the company’s mission statement, the purpose of existence, strategic objectives for the year and the story behind the success, where this journey all began. This way, they’ll be able to reference this from their first day, helping them to connect with the organisation.

Use these questions below, to help you pave the vision for your new leaders, and help them understand what they’ll be accountable for from the get-go.

  • If you have multiple different objectives, what’s their relative priority?
  • What are their key dependencies?
  • What will have an impact on them being able to deliver against this?
  • Why do these matter?
  • Addressing the longer-term impact, what will happen if they achieve these?
  • Specifically, what is the new leader accountable for?


This element is going to be all about the landscape the new employee is operating within. HR should always be looking to help employees navigate their way through unfamiliar terrain. So, give them the correct onboarding, documentation and if needed, even a map to ensure they can orient themselves.

This will help leaders be able to make connections between information across different parts of the business and people, but importantly, it helps them to understand the potential pitfalls in advance. Pitfalls will widen their sense of direction, ensuring they make more informed and considered decisions.


First of all, you want to be able to think about the values and behaviours, which are likely going to be the most common areas of culture that are explicitly actioned by HR. It’s important to remind them so you can bring stories to life and allow your new leaders to analyse what things really mean in the business.

There is also a connection between values and behaviours and what actions get recognised in the business. From HR’s point of view, especially in this remote landscape, employees will be working harder than ever with the lack of social opportunities, and if not rewarded or recognised, frustrations will mount, damaging the company’s culture.

Another fundamental piece to the puzzle is how do processes and procedures work in this new landscape? It’s vital to communicate with your workforce, new leaders who make decisions and the person(s) accountable for specific business goals. But to do this, you’ll have to find time with the appropriate senior leader to talk through an idea and, importantly, acquire the green light.

Lastly, you want to establish a sense of connection and belonging with new starters and create new social aspects that employees can participate in within their remote environment. This will involve having meetings without agendas, hosting virtual coffee chats, regular check-ins to ensure employee wellbeing and interactive team building exercises. There are thousands of ways you can continue to connect, foster connections and enhance company culture, even when employees feel like they have never been so isolated.

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