Changing leadership is an adjustment process. It’s a period of excitement, growing pains and hope. While earning the trust and loyalty of an entire organization is a challenge, there are five things an incoming leader can do right away to hit the ground running and earn support:
Get to know all levels of staff.
In some situations, new leadership can mean staff changes across the board. But, in most cases, tenured staff are still in place. The new head coach of a sports team can be great, but he has to start with the players the team already has. Focus on earning their trust and respect.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is a great example of a new leader who came in and got to know people at all levels. He said that “there was a high level of distrust and disengagement with employees” when he came in. That’s not unusual. When new leadership takes over, some people may be skeptics at first.
Munoz revamped company morale in a grassroots way. He spent time in the maintenance hangar with the mechanics and he stood out on the tarmac with the baggage handlers; he showed he genuinely cared about the people working towards achieving the company vision — authenticity gets people re-engaged. And, oftentimes, the best and most innovative ideas are going to be the ones that come from the people with their ear to the ground every day.
Even though Marissa Mayer’s time at Yahoo! has been panned, what she attempted to do made strategic sense. She came under fire when she ended remote work at and mandated employees come into the office. The criticism made it seem like she was taking a personal stand against remote work. She wasn’t. It was about fixing a broken company culture. If the company had been succeeding when she took over, it would be a different story.
Mayer understood that having people in close proximity to their bosses and colleagues is important. People need that fire in their seat that comes from the energy in a room full of people working together towards a common goal.
Hold people accountable.
Hold employees accountable to take ownership of their role and speak up when they have opinions and ideas. Then, showcase the successes that come as a result.
I tell my staff all the time, it’s simple: If you speak up at work, you will actually have to do something and execute to prove your thoughts and feelings are valid. It pushes you to take action. Too often people assume that someone else will figure it out. But, oftentimes they don’t. Speaking up is not about complaining, it’s about executing. Employees need to be part of the solution, not the problem.
Identify the superstars and build on them.
Every leader has her own way of gauging top talent, but too often it happens indirectly. For new leaders, there’s a benefit to taking a staff inventory right away. Pay close attention to who the key producers are. It will take some time to get an accurate picture of what people’s abilities are (and that amount of time will depend on the size of the company), but putting in extra time to get to know staff in the early phases will lay a foundation for identifying the key players the company needs to invest in and re-recruit.
As you get a feel for staff, make a three-column list. In one column, you have three (or maybe five or 10 or 20, depending on the size of the company) people you like the best. In the second column, who’s the most competent today? And in the third, who has the most potential to be great? Each list will have different names, but there will be rare cases where there’s some overlap. And the list might change as you make more observations over time. The point is to have a visual running reference for who needs more challenging work, extra attention or corporate grandparenting. It’s about making sure the company’s future is in the best hands.
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