If you’re like most people, you’re anxious to “make a splash” in your new job at the earliest opportunity. Management – possibly content to wait several months for your first major contributions – will be delighted to witness your early success. Executives and managers throughout your company will mark you down as a “comer” on a fast track to further advancement (and nobody will be surprised when it happens). Your subordinates will see you as a polished leader, certain of where you’re taking them and sure of how to get there.
In fact, however, there’s a thin line between “making a splash” and “making waves”, especially where newcomers are concerned. As you join your new organization, be conscious of the line and don’t make the mistake of crossing it too soon, or without the support you need.
Up to this point you’ve been concentrating on gaining the approval and support of your boss. Equally important is the support you need from the people who report to you – your employees. It’s worth a moment or two to review the ways in which the enthusiastic cooperation of employees is earned by a new boss.
Leadership and Management
From among many definitions, we can distill the essence of leadership as “an attempt to influence the thinking or actions of people.”
Your employees have been hired because the function is too big for one person to handle. As the manager (leader) of this function, your job is to “influence” your people toward accomplishment of organizational goals. In this sense, your success depends ultimately on your people, and you must find ways to reach your objectives through their efforts.
The secret of successfully influencing people involves understanding what motivates them to perform up to the standards you expect of them. As you enter the scene, your employees’ personal “motivators” are both positive and negative:
- Positive, in the sense that you represent a new beginning and your arrival could help them get closer to their individual career goals.
- Negative, in that you are an unknown commodity, and working with you might not be a pleasant or successful experience for them.
Although you have many anxieties of your own about making a soft landing in your new job, be aware that your employees have questions, too:
- What are your values? What do you stand for?
- What do you want from them? Will you change their assignments or working conditions?
- Will there be new rules?
- What’s your personality like? Will you be easy or difficult to work with?
- Will you listen? Can you be influenced?
- Is this a “new start” or are you aware of their past successes and failures?
- Are their positions secure? Will anything be taken away from them as a result of your arrival?
- How visible will you be? How much contact will you want with them?
- Will their creativity and contributions be recognized?
Each of these questions is a potential “negative” motivator because your employees’ anxiety will persist – and interfere with their productivity – until they receive satisfactory answers. Your actions and statements in the early weeks will provide those answers…..and once initial impressions are formed, you’ll have to work very hard to change them.
From the first moments on the job, you can show that you’re aware of these anxieties and begin to remove the negative motivators. Your systematic approach to entering your new job includes a thorough preparation for getting started with the people whose efforts will determine your success.
The “Easy Entry” Method
Many people fear a change in their working environment. To varying degrees, your subordinates are concerned about how your arrival will affect their lives. Under your predecessor – whether they were happy or not – at least they knew what to expect. They’ve become accustomed to being managed and evaluated in a certain way. In the beginning they’ll be watching you closely to see how your ways will differ from the old ways.
The “Easy Entry” method is a proven technique for respecting the concerns of your people while minimizing the disruptions to productivity that are caused by your arrival as leader of the group. IF you can incorporate each of the following six policies into your style, you’ll find that:
- The group “performance drop” can be avoided entirely even though you may be making major changes in work assignments and procedures;
- The structure of a planned entry will reduce some or your anxieties, too;
- The “crisis” of your arrival will become an “opportunity” for personal growth and higher performance levels among all your people.
Each policy is described briefly. Based on the impressions you’ve formed from your Pre-Start review of projects, plans and personalities, you can list specific issues you’ll want to address.
Policy #1: Learn the rules before you change them
Every organization has its traditional norms and customs, and your people are used to certain ways of doing things. Smart leaders know they have to “earn” the right to change procedures. Spend a few days getting to know how your people have acted and interacted in the past. Pay attention to traditional lines and patterns of communication. Show people you understand the system before you impose new ways of getting things done. With each change you introduce, be sure that all your employees understand why you’re improving the procedure and what benefits the change will bring.
Policy #2: Evolution, not revolution
Even the most needed medicine is hard to swallow if the dose is too large. You may have inherited a smoothly running machine or a “clunker” badly in need of repairs. Either way, a massive dose of cure-all could kill the patient.
Plan your change strategy over an initial period (at least one month) instead of dumping all the issues on your people at once. Try to consult with key players and get them to “buy into” both the need for change and your methods of making it happen. Part-authors make very enthusiastic helpers.
Policy #3: Hold an early group meeting
Your first encounter with your employees will probably be brief and functional. As quickly as possible thereafter, schedule a meeting for everyone in your group, to calm the anxieties and set the stage for your action plans. (A structured approach is provided in the First Meeting Ice Breaker below.)
Policy #4: Get your people out of the weeds
The natural tendency for some people is to lie in the weeds, holding back their thoughts and ideas until they see which way your wind is blowing. Presuming that each of your employees is necessary for your group to be productive, you cannot afford to let them hide until it’s safe to emerge.
Potential contributors may need some prodding at first. Solicit opinions and probe for the reasons behind them. Let your employees know you’re interested in them, both as people and as professionals. Avoid judgmental reactions to their statements during your early days in charge.
Policy #5: Don’t knock you predecessor
On the surface, it’s easy to establish your leadership credentials by pointing out (even with faint praise) the failings of you predecessor’s programs and methods. It’s a quick way to show management that changes ought to be made and you’re the right person to make them. Besides, if the last person to hold the job is gone from the company or location, there’s no easy way from him/her to fight back.
Criticizing your predecessor is perilous, because at this stage you don’t know what loyalties exist in the organization. You don’t know who else worked hard to propose and execute the existing programs. A better strategy is to step with care in this area, and state your personal goals in terms of improvements rather than rescue missions.
Policy #6: Keep everybody informed
One of the best ways to foster a “team” spirit among your people is to begin with an open-communication policy. Although unwieldy in very large groups, the practice of keeping everyone informed demands little extra effort. Yet your people will know they are valuable members of the group, and their appreciation will translate into productive results in their jobs.
Of course, you’ll have more frequent contact with immediate subordinates than with others in the group. Still, you can insist on a “stair-step” communication system to assure that everyone gets the word.
Make your own personal notes on the six policies of the “Easy Entry” method, or add policies of your own.
The “Easy Entry” method can be implemented from your first day on the job. The mechanism is a series of transition meetings with your staff members. The sessions begin with an emphasis on getting to know each other (Ice-Breaker), and evolve into strategy meetings concerned with “where we want to go and how to get there” (Action Planning). Depending on your objectives and circumstances, you may need to schedule several meetings stretching over a period of many months.
Use the recommended agenda as guides, adding whatever special items you think should be covered. Divide the business items into several smaller meetings if you choose to concentrate in specific areas with your staff. If possible, send agenda outlines in advance so that all participants will know what’s expected of them and will have sufficient time to prepare.
Ice-Breaker Meeting with Your Employees
Use the following as an outline for you introductory meeting with employees. Check the items that apply to your situation, and make notes on how you intend to handle each subject.
- Start the meeting by announcing its purpose: to begin a systematic transition involving two basic phases (organization analysis; action planning) and extending over a “set” time period.
- Introduce yourself and give some pertinent information about your background.
- Tell them something about your values, operating style, desire for future group accomplishments, etc.
- To stimulate involvement and begin coaxing your people out of the weeds, ask each participant to describe his/her background, current major responsibilities, etc.
- Describe the group’s workload (as you see it) for the next 30 days:
List current projects and deadlines
- Discuss any changes you feel necessary for projects, deadlines or persons assigned
- Discuss routine responsibilities for each participant, and ask staff members what your involvement should be
- Ask each participant to describe the non-routine activities that are part of his/her job
- Establish reporting/decision channels (explain your reasons for changing any previous customs)
- Give the group your work schedule (including travel dates) for the next 30 days.
- List any administrative matters to be resolved in the next 90 days (e.g. salary reviews) and schedule date/time for each.
- Ask if there are any questions, and answer fully.
- In adjourning this Ice-Breaker meeting, establish an open-door policy for the next 30 days (at least) and encourage each staff member to bring all delays or difficulties to your attention.
- Add any Additional Subjects to Cover
As the series of meetings with your boss and staff progress, you’ll begin to feel a need for a system of recording and publishing the results.
The Action Plan format provides a simple framework for listing projects…..assigning specific responsibilities for each action step…..and tracking the results as you go along. Further, it serves as the basis for progress reports to keep your boss well informed, and for use during subsequent staff meetings.
After the Action Plan is prepared and circulated, you can take responsibility for keeping it current or assign the task to the person primarily charged with producing results. You can keep the master set on file in your office and schedule update sessions periodically.
The Action Plan helps you keep each project on schedule. Failure to reach a certain sub-goal by a given date is an automatic signal that something’s wrong and some trouble-shooting action is needed. After completion, the Action Plan worksheet is an excellent place to document performance and prepare detailed reviews for salary adjustments or other decisions.
Use one Action Plan sheet for each project.
To receive Action Plan sheet or Progress Record Templates please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Look for the final phase in our blog tomorrow.
Sharon Jenks, CEO/President The Jenks Group, Inc