Right from the start: Address the Challenges of a New Leader

By Drs. Sheila Boysen, Mike Cherry, and Lesley Page

As we continue to encounter the ‘Great Resignation’ in our environment, we thought of the wise saying, ‘When one door closes, another opens!’ With resignation comes the need for onboard new team members and we want to support them in a successful start at our organizations.

Several years ago, authors Dan Ciampa and Michael D. Watkins grappled with this challenge regarding the frequent turnover of senior leaders in organizations. Their research suggested, at the time, that the average tenure of CEOs was 18 months. They concluded that this was not much time to get up to speed and be successful.

As these CEOs exited (door close) and another arrived (door open), Ciampa and Watkins thought there must be a better way to support the new arrival. Their research included the following crucial, and holistic, categories and tangible suggestions. We suggest these may be the exact categories for a successful on-boarding strategy for new, or recently hired, team members.

Acquiring needed knowledge quickly

  • Ask clarifying questions. Invite stakeholders to provide input. Be proactive in soliciting knowledge on processes, procedures and “how are things done here.”
  • Schedule forums (whether one-on-one sessions or with large groups) for stakeholders to provide input, suggestions and to share ideas.
  • Look for patterns. What makes the group successful or not?
  • Discover the expert (s) in the different areas of the organization. Solicit their input.
  • Be careful of focusing on solutions too quickly. Allow others the opportunity to be heard. Ask more questions than providing answers.

Establishing new working relationships

  • Establish relationships with…(you complete the sentence)
  • Find the expert (s) in the different areas of the organization. Identify your stakeholders and solicit their input and listen. Ask these experts to introduce you to others in the organization.
  • Initiate relationship building (you do the inviting instead of being invited).
  • Set up 1:1 meetings with executive team members and/or key stakeholders.
  • Show empathy/concern to others’ requests, complaints, without providing solutions too quickly.
  • Be sure you understand the cultural protocols when establishing new relationships.
  • Be available for administrative/social functions

Juggling organizational and personal transitions

  • Realize that others see you as a potential “change agent.” This means they will immediately have an opinion about you (positive or negative), whether warranted or not.
  • Gather information, share the information, ask for clarification and demonstrate that you want to understand others’ perspective then…focus on a plan to move forward.
  • Carefully craft your communication to include how potential changes will impact (or not impact) individuals.

Managing expectations

  • Spend time clearly understanding the expectations stakeholders have of you (ask them directly).
  • Set expectations for your team and hold them accountable.
  • Determine Customer Satisfaction goals and how to sustain progress.
  • Communicate (internally and externally) success stories (partner with the marketing department to tell the “story”).
  • Find an area for a quick “win.” Tackle that immediately. Pick some “low hanging fruit.”

Maintaining personal equilibrium

  • Demonstrate credibility to earn the respect of your colleagues.
  • Don’t minimize the stresses of taking on a new role and establishing new relationships.

We feel this could be the beginning of an effective 30, 60 and 90 day plan for the onboarding of new teammates! Change out the bullets for boxes and it can become a check list!

For further information check out these resources…

Right from the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role by Dan Ciampa and Michael D. Watkins

The first 90 days: Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter by Michael Watkins.T

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