If you are an incoming leader, you are entering a high-risk period that will define the rest of your tenure.
The stakes are high. Do it well and you will lead your organization to even greater performance. Screw it up, and the team will be undermined by unnecessary drama, bad blood, and frustration.
Here are four steps to help you succeed.
First, avoid creating new-team versus old-team dynamics. This is amateurish. Leadership is not about you, it is about the organization and its mission. So get over feeling threatened by people who supported the last boss; stop playing games to see who can switch allegiances to you faster. Your going-in position should be to treat people as professionals until they prove themselves otherwise.
Because your new team has gone through this before, they will be on guard for signs of chickenshit or other silly power-games. It is one of the first ways people size you up.
Second, conduct an informal self-assessment. This is a great way to begin the consensus-building process. Yes, even if you are brought in as a change agent, you will need to build consensus.
A self-assessment allows your team and external stakeholders to identify critical areas that need to be addressed. Hiring an outside consultant to gather the data anonymously will lower the threat perceptions and help you get more honest feedback. I generally use a simple questionnaire that asks your team to identify key organizational strengths, weaknesses, risks, and opportunities, and what key challenges the organization must address in the near-future.
Discuss the results in an open forum. Chances are, the assessment will have identified all of the major issues you have been told to fix. If not, then you have gained invaluable information about candor in your organization. Ask leading questions to bring out discussion on the unspoken issues.
Next, develop a game planto sustain the strengths, address the weakness and risks, and capitalize on the opportunities. This approach gets your new team to own the problems and the solutions.
If the organization already has a sound strategy and solid performance, and the external environment has not changed dramatically, then you will probably be able to focus on adapting specific plans, operations, and processes identified in the self-assessment.
If, on the other hand, a strategy revamp is necessary, you will have a solid foundation on which to proceed. More importantly, you will have built consensus for change among the team without having to ram it down their throats.
To paraphrase the ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu, the acme of skill is to win the battle without fighting.
Nonetheless, be prepared to make hard and unpopular decisions. Change is rarely easy, especially in large organizations with entrenched bureaucracies. The self-assessment is one of the tools you can use to build support for tough choices.
Fourth, provide periodic feedback on the self-assessment. Follow-though is critical. Everyone hates the process of filling out surveys or having feelings sessions, but never hearing anything back from the leadership. This is a great way to breed cynicism.
Instead, revisit the key points from the self-assessment after the first 90 days. Communicate what steps you and the organization have taken to address them. Talk about the effects of the changes. Discuss what still needs to be addressed, and determine if new issues have arisen.
Never cut anyone off at the knees, embarrass him publicly, be sarcastic at her suggestion, or throw a temper tantrum. This is a sure-fire way to suppress future candor.
This kind of honest “feedback-on-the-feedback” will earn you tremendous credibility, give you more support for further changes, and promote greater honesty from the organization.
Take these four steps, and you will make the changes you need to make, gain the ownership to make it work, and earn the credibility to push the envelope even further.
What are your leader transition horror stories? Or success stories?