Get to know new employees and make a productive start

Dear Joan:
I recently got a new job where I am a manager of a six-person department. I've was a manager in my former company but I came up from the ranks and everyone knew who I was and we had a real easy transition when I got promoted. For example, I knew their jobs, knew about their work habits and their personal lives.

In this company I'm coming in cold. I only know the person in Human Resources who hired me and my boss and employees. I know my own peers but only the ones who report to my boss. My question is: How can I make a good start? I'd like to get off on the right foot, so who should I get to know, how should I act, and any other tips you can give me. This seems like a company that I'd like to stay at for awhile, so I want to do a good job.

Managers almost always underestimate the personal affect they have on their team. "I don't see myself as being that influential or powerful," they'll say. Or, in the case of a new manager, "This team has been around a long time. They aren't going to be that concerned about my arrival." Not true. A new manager joining a team is like a new stepfather joining a family.

The eyes and ears of the group are studying your every move and the rumor mill is working overtime. They are probably trying to figure out what makes you tick, and more importantly, how they will fare under your leadership.

You can shave months off the learning curve by taking some specific steps now that will set the stage for a quick, productive start. Based on my experience, here is what works:

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with each of your employees as soon as you can.
The agenda for the meeting should be rather one-sided . . . on their side. When I work on assimilating new managers into their jobs, these five things are the most requested by their employees.

§      Ask each of them to describe their job.

§      Ask what they enjoy most about their job, as well as what they don't like or what frustrates them.

§      Ask what their personal goals are.

§      Ask how you can help them do their job better.

§      Discuss your expectations of them and their expectations of you.

§      If you're comfortable, exchange a little information about your personal lives.

Have a "work with" session for those employees whose jobs you don't understand very well.
If you are very familiar with the work of some team members and not others, you will likely feel more comfortable with those whose work you do understand. You can't afford to be seen as favoring one group over the other.

§      Schedule an hour or two, to sit side-by-side with these employees.

§      Let them show you the main components in their jobs.

§      Ask them to share the lessons they've learned and the improvements they've made.

§      If members of the group don't know what each person does, arrange some time at staff meetings for an overview or a tour of their respective work areas.

Have a weekly meeting.
In spite of all the complaining about time wasted in meetings these days, most groups admit that without the ability to meet face-to-face (or at least electronically), communication breaks down. I think it's especially important when there is a new leader, since the entire group will need to readjust to his or her style and expectations. However, discipline yourselves to stick to a tight agenda and cut it off after one hour. Here are some techniques that I've seen work very well:

§      Post a sheet of paper in a central area and let people add agenda items. I find that this works better than submitting items via e-mail or orally, because everyone is sure to see the list and is reminded to add to it.

§      Ask the group to make recommendations on how they would like to structure these meetings. Too often, groups will rely on the leader to "own" the agenda and do all of the talking. Insist that they create their own process and then periodically re-evaluate it.

§      Avoid making the meeting merely an "update" meeting, where people share what they are working on. People will lose interest and think it is a waste of time. Instead, strive to include agenda items that have an impact on everyone, and to which all members can have input.

§      Use these meetings to share some of the big picture information you get from senior management and from committees and meetings you attend. Groups count on you to be their ears and eyes to the bigger organization.

Spend some time as a group defining your current and long-range goals. I've found that most groups want more discussion about who they are, what their priorities should be and where the leader wants them to go in the next year. Even existing groups benefit from this kind of discussion. Too often, leaders assume that everyone knows their jobs and, therefore, intuitively know what they should be working on and working toward. Not so. The process might look like this:

§      We exist to... (What is our purpose?)

§      We do this by...(What are our key activities?)

§      What do we want to look like in two or three years? (What is our vision of the future?)

§      What 1 or 2 critical goals can we actually complete during the next year?

Don't ignore your manager, peers and other "internal customers."
You won't be able to function well in the organization if you don't know what is expected of you and how you're doing. Schedule meetings with your boss and regular lunches with colleagues to make sure you are staying on track.

Would you like to bridge the commitment gap with your employees?   We provide management consulting, executive coaching and customized, skills-based training for managers and supervisors, that changes behavior, creates a healthy culture and builds a customer-focused team.  Call us today at (800) 348-1944.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized training (leadership skills, presentation skills, internal consulting skills & facilitation skills), team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation.
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