When you start a new job there are two transitions in play. As a new leader you have to fly your new plane and you have to rebuild the team of people you inherit. You are going through a major transition – and so are they! They have lost a leader and they need to figure out who you are. You also need to figure out how to work with them. And you don’t have time to land the plane while you both adjust.
Get to know each other – In our leadership programs at Minnesota State we highlight the importance of personal relationships and trust for effective leadership. Leaders lead through influence and relationship building, not power and control. You need to know who your people are and they need to know who you are.
Show what you stand for – Communicate and demonstrate your vision and values. Your people are not only listening to you, they are watching you. What you say and how you act clarifies what your priorities are and how you define success. Be intentional and clear with your words and actions.
Explain “how” you want the team to work – Don’t assume your norms are their norms. Work together to clarify expectations and processes. Make sure no one is surprised or confused about how to be successful.
Set or clarify goals – Based on what you learn from your boss, your assessment of the situation and what your team tells you take time to explicitly clarify what the goals are for the team. Goals change but you and your team need a common understanding of your current goals and how you will assess progress.
Communicate, communicate, communicate – While it is always true, as a new leader it is vital to interact with your people. Don’t rely on an open door, set up interactions. Schedule 1-1’s, don’t cancel staff meetings, manage by walking around, actually “job-shadow” your people, send emails, share progress reports and just say hi! You only get to be a new leader for a short time so take advantage of your opportunity to build strong relationships and open communication channels.
Solve a problem, remove a barrier, score an “early win” – Most teams have come to accept “the way things are” but as a new leader you can listen to their frustrations and take action to solve a problem and demonstrate that you are listening and able to make a difference.
It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place. – Celeste Headlee
An important leadership skill in transitions–and every other time–is to be able to talk to people. To talk about their concerns, about how the change might impact them, about your views of the change, about their views of the change; to have an effective conversation that promotes collaboration.
Radio host Celeste Headlee did a TED talk about 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. Americans are more divided in their opinions now than they have ever been, and leaders need to bridge the gap in order to help people work together to implement change. Here are her 10 tips:
Don’t multitask. Be fully present to the conversation.
Don’t pontificate. As Headlee says, if you want to state your opinion without pushback, write a blog. <grin>
Use open-ended questions.
Go with the flow. Stay focused on what the other person is saying and see where it might lead.
If you don’t know, say so.
Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If the person is telling a story, don’t hijack it by telling about yours.
Try not to repeat yourself.
Stay out of the details.
Listen to the other person.
This sounds like a very useful list, but it can be overwhelming to do all of it at once. Headlee notes that focusing on one item and getting better at it would help us have better conversations. Where might you get started?
Sometimes, a work group or project we manage is facing change and we are leading the transition. More often, the change is happening somewhere else and we need to support it. This is especially true with leadership transitions. What role do we have when there is change in the organization’s leadership? How can we put out the welcome mat and help the new leader be successful?
The Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) created a blog post and podcast with some useful tips for preparing organizations for new leadership. Here are some of the highlights:
Clearly identify what is worth maintaining. What programs, relationships, and business practices are critical to accomplishing core goals? How can we help shepherd them through the transition? What will the new leader need to know?
Communicate throughout the organization. Develop a formal transition plan with specific communication strategies to ensure regular, open, two-way communication. People will tell you if you’re communicating too much. In my experience, that hardly ever happens!
Build a strong leadership team. When a leadership team is working well together, with clear goals, transparent decision-making, and trust among the members, it is easier to welcome in new members.
Complete major projects. It can be tempting to put things on hold until the new leader arrives. It’s more effective to identify critical tasks or projects and make sure there is a plan to keep them on track. As the article commented, finishing things up is a gift to successors.
Provide orientation and training for the new leaders. When a new leader arrives, provide both formal and informal orientation. This can include the core processes of the organization, resources for getting things done, and standard practices. They’ll also need to understand the organization’s history. Where possible, provide a transition time so the new person can learn directly from the outgoing leader.
Help the new leader build networks. In addition to figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it, a new leader needs to learn who can help. Providing formal opportunities to build connections should be part of the transition plan.
Are you anticipating leadership changes in the near future? What can you do now to ensure things go smoothly?
William Bridges’ Managing Transitions is a leadership classic. Todd talked about the highlights in this post from a couple of years ago. As you may recall, Bridges proposed that every transition has three stages, each of which requires particular leadership actions.
Am I giving people accurate information, again and again?
Have I said thank you to everyone who contributed in the past?
Have I made sure that realistic feedback is flowing upward?
Am I pushing for certainty where it would be more realistic to live a little longer with uncertainty?
Am I being careful not to introduce extra, unrelated changes?
As you can see, these questions require some thought and reflection. When we’re in the middle of major change (which might feel like most of the time), it can be hard to take the time to reflect and plan. The checklists can provide useful reminders. For those who want extra discipline, they are a great starting point for writing in a leadership journal.
Think of a major transition you’re experiencing. Which stage do you think you’re in? Is there a question from the checklist that was particularly useful?
The pressure to deliver results – fast – can backfire and end up looking like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Making a lot of noise, causing a lot of action but not demonstrating your ability to lead and succeed.
To avoid a crash, Daly and Watson describe five crucial subjects or themes that new leaders need to understand before they charge forward. This will require structured on-going dialogue with your boss that they call “the five conversations:”
The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss perceives the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.
In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help new leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role. This is a time that it is “all about you!”
My daughter just started a new job and recently spent a full day in a new employee onboarding program. Since she knows what I do for a living, she called to tell me that I should have been there – so I could tape it and use it as an example of what not to do!
The arrival of a new employee is often one of the greatest missed leadership opportunities. During the period of transition, employees are wondering not just about the nuts and bolts of their jobs, but also about the organization. What kind of team have I joined? What is the culture? How can I fit in?
Last summer I introduced the 4 C’s model of onboarding. Based on work by the Society for Human Resource Management, it identifies four key focus areas:
Compliance: the basic legal and policy requirements of their role.
Clarification: the roles and expectations for the new positions.
Culture: introduction to formal and informal organizational norms
Connection: integrating new employees into the work group.
My daughter’s program focused on compliance. She learned about the laws and policies that govern her new work. She filled out the paperwork to be covered by benefits. But she didn’t hear from organizational leaders about their goals and priorities, and she didn’t have an opportunity to build a connection with the other new employees who were there. She walked away feeling like they had wasted her time on things she could have done from her own desk.
The organizational leaders missed the chance to meet with a group of eager new staff who wanted to hear what they had to say. Even a brief welcome and greeting could have made them feel like the organization was glad they were there and wanted them to succeed.
Many of our Minnesota State schools are examining their new employee programs and looking for new ways to build culture and connection. How can we as leaders make better use of this important transition?
I don’t want to cause alarm. Don’t be shocked! But, as Bob Dylan reminded us in 1964, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. People change, jobs change, leaders change, organizations change, students change, politics change, technologies change, employees change, you change and I change.
Change can be good, bad or in-between. It can be planned or unexpected, purposeful or random, small or large. And it will affect you and your people.
During March and April we will be sharing ideas, tips, tools, resources and asking questions related to your role as a leader during the transitions that occur as a result of these changes. What can be done to plan for change, how to respond to change, ideas for leading change, how to support a new leader, how to be a new leader, what to do when a leader is leaving, what to do when you are leaving, facilitating employee transitions, and other ideas you suggest or want to share.
We can’t stop change. In fact, we don’t want to stop it but we can learn how to make the transitions more successful.