As a new leader in a new job, you know you have 90 days to show your team, your manager, and your colleagues who you are and what you’ve got. Well, really, 30 days.
Leveraging what has helped you before, you decide to follow one of the approaches to starting a new role laid out in Michael Watkins’ book, First 90 Days, which is start-up, realignment, turnaround, and sustaining success. You are now at the thirty-day mark and reviewing what you’ve done so far.
Your calendar is packed with meetings with all of your stakeholders—up, down, across, and all around you. You want to spend more time with your team, but you are being pulled into meetings with your manager and the executive team. Everything shared with you is framed as needing urgent attention, but you are working to discern which is truly urgent and which is just important. Or, even better, can wait at least another month to address. You are really excited about this new gig, but the pace is ruthless. You spend Saturday catching up on some sleep, but then start again on Sunday.
This is a typical scenario for a new leader at a new company. Newly promoted leaders often feel this way, too, even if they have been part of the company for many years. Some of it is a natural part of every new role transition. However, just like everything else in the workplace, there are strategies to help you move through the “new leader stage” such that you establish yourself as an impactful one from the get-go. I have worked with hundreds of new leaders in my career. Here’s what the most successful have done in their first 30 days:
- Pace & Space: They don’t try to get it all done in the first two weeks. They know that achieving important priorities will take time. They respond to the urgent needs while also carving out time for the longer-term strategy. They give themselves space in their days. They decline meetings without a clear agenda or roles for the meeting and consciously work to avoid a relapse to the “back-to-back” calendar days.
- Leverage & Learn: They ask questions. They listen. They learn. They know it’s most effective to share their point of view at the right time, within the right context. They integrate the best of their own skills and knowledge with what the organization and teams need and let others do the same. They know they cannot do it themselves. They test ideas with colleagues and brainstorm with their team.
- Accelerate & Integrate: One of the best ways to accelerate this “new leader stage” is to do a New Leader & Team Integration within the first six weeks of starting in a new role. This process used to be known as assimilation, but it is not about incorporating someone into a culture. Rather, it is more about integrating the ideas, practices and knowledge that the new leader, team and organization bring together newly. It’s a process that I’ve done with scores of leaders and teams. The overall objective is for the team and leader to learn about each other. Without the leader in the room, the team shares concerns, assumptions they’ve made, expectations they have, and hopes for the future. Then the leader rejoins the team and together they review themes, establish commitments, and clarify priorities.
I recently had the opportunity to do this integration exercise with Reema Batnagar, the new Chief People Officer at Pixar, and her team. In the process, certain questions are given to the team and others to the leader. Here are some of the questions given to the team:
- What do we already know about Reema?
- What don’t we know but would like to know about Reema?
- What are our fears or concerns about Reema becoming our leader?
- What do we want most/hope for with Reema?
- What is working well within the overall team that you would like to keep?
- Norms: What does Reema need to know about how we communicate, collaborate, hold meetings, make decisions, hold each other accountable, and deal with conflict?
- What recommendations do we have for dealing with issues and meeting challenges?
- What advice would we offer Reema?
- What else do we want her to know about us?
- What commitments are we willing to make to support Reema?
Here are some of the question given to Reema:
- How is it best to communicate with you (email, Slack, text, live, phone)?
- What decisions do you want to be a part of?
- What does a strategic people organization look like to you?
- You have heard from EE roundtables and senior leaders. What have you heard?
- If you could change one thing in the organization, what would it be?
Reema and the team then discussed their respective answers together. Reema spoke about her compassionate leadership style, the behaviors she is unwilling to tolerate, and what she’d like to see more of across the team and organization. The team shared great advice for her to succeed as a leader. They also gave suggestions for how best to leverage them for decisions, and most importantly, create priorities within an interconnected strategy.
At the end of the day, Reema and her team were clearer about how they were going to tackle objectives and more excited about working together as an aligned Talent Strategic Operations Team.
Edna Mode of “The Incredibles” would have been proud of how direct and clear the entire team was about what they wanted, expected, and hoped for the future.