10 Tips for Leaders New to an Organization
If you work in the corporate world, you likely have experienced a change of leadership, at least once. The new leader may have come from a different company or from another part of the organization where you were working at the time. It could be a new CXO or a new leader of a line of business, department or team. It could even be your manager.
You know the drill. A new leader joins the organization and inherits a team. They need to start to build relationships, understand the organization’s and their own objectives, and meet their team. They may have gained some information about the existing team through the hiring process or quickly upon joining. Often, the new leader thinks to themselves, “These people can’t be as good as ‘my people’”, referring to their team in their last organization.
Within the first couple of weeks, the leader is heard repeatedly saying, “In my last organization…” as if to suggest that the way things are done at this organization do not share the same level of excellence or, even worse, were substandard. Moreover, they are saying this to the individuals who have worked long and hard to enable their new organization to enjoy the success it has today.
Team members are waiting to determine how the newcomer will lead the team, what changes they will make and what the change will mean for them personally. They are watching every move the leader makes and listening to every word spoken. They are waiting for their opportunity to share their achievements with the new leader and demonstrate their capabilities.
Unfortunately, sometimes, this time never comes. The existing employees are not provided with what they view as sufficient opportunity to show their value. The leader had ‘the most awesome high-performing, cohesive team ever’ at their prior organization and is certain they can mirror it in the new one, if only the leader had ‘his/her people onboard. Ah, a whole “new regime.”
“Old” vs “New” Regimes
People are changing roles and organizations with increasing frequency; therefore, the propensity for having an old and new regime is quite high. However, as leaders change, the cultures, processes and systems by which work gets done in the organization remain unchanged, at least in the short term. Current team members have institutional knowledge and are key culture carriers – they know how to get things done within the organization and should be a great asset to the new leader as they ramp up. But, the
new leader has to recognize their value.
Why do some leaders devalue employees simply because they are part of the “old regime,” an ‘era’ led by someone who is no longer at the organization? Often, it is because the leader’s former team members are known entities; after all, they have a ‘track record’ and will ‘get the job done right.’ If only the leader had these former team members on board, the “new regime” is sure to reach a far greater level of success than
achieved by the “old regime.” Or will they…?
Not necessarily. It’s possible that a team member performing at or below expectations improves significantly under the new leadership, perhaps even becoming a high performer. It’s also possible that the performance of a good performer in the old regime becomes a higher performer in the new one. However, it is also possible that a good or high-performer declines with the leadership change. Past performance under the old regime does not necessarily predict future performance under the new regime.
New Ideas Don’t Require New Regimes
Why do team members have to belong to any regime? As leaders, we want to make sure we have the ‘best person for the job.’ Therefore, it only makes sense that we take the time to learn about each team member’s capabilities, commitment and ability to adjust to the new leader’s style, vision and strategic objectives.
There is no doubt that bringing in a new leader, whether from another part of the organization or another company altogether, brings with it many advantages, such as new ideas and fresh perspectives. Thinking differently, challenging assumptions and beliefs and making change are becoming even more critical for organizations as they think about the future of work.
Certainly, if you are looking to the outside for talent, hiring people you know and trust does seem like it would reduce the chances of mis-hiring – you know what you are getting. Hiring people you know also decreases ramp-up time for the leader as some things like understanding each other’s work style are already accounted for.
However, the advantages may not outweigh the disadvantages. For example, hiring from the outside, whether a member of your old cronies or someone you are meeting for the first time, could cause you to lose a high-performing team member from the “old regime.” You also run the risk of losing a low performer whose performance could turn around under the new regime. Finally, it is also possible that candidates from the external market or colleagues who had been part of your ‘dream team’ in your prior organization would not be as successful in your new organization. Contextual factors – such as culture, size and sector - play a significant role in influencing an employee’s success in the new organization. For example, an individual who worked at a small or medium-size private company, or a tech start-up, may find the new, well-established, large public company a challenge to navigate and gain traction.
The fact is that you don’t know what actions will be taken by your team members. But what is known is that team dynamics, productivity and employee engagement will be disrupted and the employees’ trust in the new leader will remain in question for some time. It is up to the leader to be intentional about creating the work environment they want their team to experience.
Furthermore, many organizations profess to value the development of their employees. However, hiring from the external market when there may be internal employees who are both highly capable and interested in moving onto the team sends a message that is counter to what has been widely communicated about its commitment to employee development. Therefore, the new leader may be missing great internal talent and, frankly, unnecessarily increasing the cost of the hire.
New Regime May Impact an Organization’s “Brand”
We should not underestimate the impact new leadership has on intangibles, such as the organization’s “brand.” Current and former employees communicate their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the organization’s culture or a particular experience to the outside. They will communicate by word of mouth and social media and without filters. Some of what is said is, no doubt, not the things that the organization would knowingly decide to communicate. Therefore, how the new leader approaches his role as the leader of the “new regime” will change the experience of those on the team, favorably or unfavorably, which in turn will be communicated to the external market.
We know that organizations spend a great deal of time and money working with internal and external marketing and PR experts to be very deliberate about the brand they communicate to the outside. We need to be mindful that what is communicated by current and former employees without filters will become part of the organization’s brand, which can very well impact the flow of qualified candidates attracted to your organization and the engagement and retention of your existing employees.
The Solution May be Right in Front of You
Our intention as leaders is to have the best person in each role. When we are a new leader in an organization, we must first get to know the talent we have and be clear on what is needed to achieve objectives. Before going to the outside for candidates, we should consider the talent that is right in front of our eyes, on our teams and throughout our organizations. After all, these existing employees may offer unique perspectives and creative ideas that were not considered in the past. So, leaders, let’s be intentional about learning about the talent that already exists, before “throwing it out with the bathwater.”
Tips for New Leaders:
Don’t become “that” leader.
o Avoid deciding arbitrarily to do away with the “old regime” in favor of creating a “new regime” comprised of their team members their prior organization.
o Get to know the existing talent – and organizational dynamics -- first before making changes.
Take your time.
o Listen. Learn. Enjoy the process.
o Avoid coming to conclusions or making any decisions too quickly; be cognizant of your own biases.
Listen to the perspectives of others, but formulate and test your own.
Get a “culture coach.”
o Make sure you have someone you can turn to learn about the organization, such as its structure, who the key stakeholders are and how to get things done.
Be authentic and be genuine.
o You don’t have to be funnier or less funny. Just be yourself.
o Ask team members if they have any questions and then answer them candidly.
Get to know your team members.
o Learn about their achievements, capabilities, values, motivations and interests.
o Stay open-minded as you learn all about them.
o Ask them how you, as their leader, can help them be successful.
Allow your team members to get to know you.
o Share your high-level objectives for the function.
o Provide them with a brief overview of your background and experiences to build a foundation of trust.
o Share an area or two that you find most challenging and ask for their help as you onboard.
Provide team members with the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities.
○ Set short-term and medium-term objectives for each team member.
○ Review progress against objectives at 1, 2 and 3-month intervals.
○ Begin to understand the skills of employees.
Tips for Hiring Managers of New Leaders:
Provide your new leader with a comprehensive Onboarding Plan (30, 60, 90 days).
○ Include short and medium-term objectives.
○ Provide a list of key stakeholders to meet.
○ Highlight available resources and any additional activities that need to be completed.
Support your new leader’s listening tour.
○ Allow your new hire the time to travel and meet key stakeholders, and then process what they have heard.
○ Ask them to provide recommendations by a mutually agreeable date, allowing enough time to get to know the team.
Francine Esrig & Associates, LLC
201-962-0700 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.francineesrig.com
To access these Key Take-Aways in a one-page document,
go to Tips & Tools, or visit francineesrig.com.