The first few weeks and months in a new role can be daunting to even the most confident of leaders. There’s a balancing act to perform, how to make an impact as quickly as possible whilst at the same time laying careful foundations? How do you balance, taking the time to make informed strategic plans that don’t have an immediate effect, against the temptation to be visible and dive in, which can leave you busy dealing with the tactical day-to-day?
The actions you take during your first few weeks and months in a new role have a major influence on whether you ultimately succeed or fail. With as many as 50% of newly appointed leaders failing within the first year, the leadership transition period is a critical time, both for the individual and for the organisation.
Whether you’re joining a new organisation or moving internally into a new leadership position, we’ve put together some helpful tips that will keep you on track to deliver a plan for future success:
Use the recruitment process and your notice period to plan ahead
A great time to start putting questions to individual stakeholders within the organisation, about what’s going to be expected of you within the first few months and beyond, is during the recruitment process. Firstly it’s a great interviewee question and secondly, it allows you to understand exactly where your priorities should lie. Knowing where to focus allows you to plan your approach and next steps ahead of your start date.
Listen carefully - Plan to gain knowledge
A great way to be visible, whilst still planning your future approach, is by meeting with your counterparts, customers and direct reports. Don’t just meet for a chat – meet with the purpose of learning. Aim to understand the practical – products, operations and customers, political – decision making, influence, people and cultural – vision, values and purpose. On all these aspects, ask questions around pains and pleasure, what’s working; what’s not? This will help you identify challenges and will highlight any opportunities to make an early impact.
Know your team and let them know you
A change in leadership brings uncertainty, particularly for those who report directly to the new leader. Help your team adapt to this change by acknowledging this and letting them know a little about you; inspire with why you’ve chosen this role and your vision, and set expectations by communicating your management style. It’s critical that you also understand their capabilities and behaviours early. In order to align any future success to a strategy, you must know you have the right team with the right mix of skills and experience.
Build relationships and alliances
Knowledge of the political landscape will help you establish alliances with the right people. By understanding these individual’s motivators and challenges you’ll be able to influence and persuade. If your predecessor is still in the business, reach out and establish a relationship. They will be a font of knowledge and will give you a perspective on the tasks ahead. Likewise, reach out to former executives you’ve admired, they may well relish an opportunity to act as a mentor or advisor.
Initiate some quick results
It’s important to be able to show some tangible results of your management within your first few months in the role, it will set your tone as a leader and reassure any superiors. Remember, tangible results don’t just come as a result of initiating something new from scratch, they can come from what you change, improve and what you stop. These quick achievements will motivate you and your team and if they affect performance and profits - even better!
Lay the foundation for success
Good foundations are essential in strengthening and accelerating performance. But just like building a house you need to have a plan in place so you know what your foundations need to support. Underpinning your plan; your focus will inevitably fall to your team. These are the people who are going to ‘build your house’ therefore assessing your team at this early stage will reassure you of success and/or highlight gaps. At the same time, you need to review how the construction will take shape and this means digging (pardon the pun) into your processes – are they fit for purpose, a help or hindrance? Everyone will have a view on this, so choose those you trust for opinions.
Construct a personal pitch
When you know what you want to accomplish, you can share/sell your vision for your team. Having a personal pitch gives others clarity of your ambitions, allowing them to buy in and share your goals. This pitch, however, can only come after time has been given to understand the organisation and where you and your team fit within it.
Actually knowing thyself is only half the story, 'be thyself' needs consideration too. The ability to ‘be thyself’, to be authentic and sincere is critical. It is the way leaders earn trust with their stakeholders, particularly employees. But being thyself is difficult without knowing thyself. It can be damaging to ignore your strengths and weaknesses, personality traits and how you impact others. As a leader, if you are absolutely blind when it comes to self-awareness, then your personal impact and approach can create turmoil, distrust and turnover among your executive team. Self-assessment, and understanding yourself and how you impact others is an essential step to maximising your leadership skills.
There is so much information to take in as you start in a new role, regardless of whether you are in a new or existing company, but all too often these first few months are seen as a time to find your feet. Working to a defined plan can reduce the negative effects of change and uncertainty, and advance the point at which a new or promoted executive can contribute value to an organisation, amplifying the new leaders reach and influence.
Collingwood’s career transition process can work alongside the recruitment process, or as a standalone service, and aims to and ensures that no further recruitment costs are incurred by supporting your new executive to be as successful as possible. Companies who show this level of support and investment in their new employee enjoy increased staff retention rates and higher staff satisfaction. For more information on our services visit our career transition page.
Recommended read: Michael Watkin first 90 days strategies expanded.