Congratulations on landing your new position. Now the real challenge begins. You' re about to be measured not only by what you accomplish in the next three months, but by how you make your mark.
Like many new executives, you probably want to articulate your mission and hit the ground running. But a gung ho approach usually fails, so don't do it. Consider the example of one executive, who was completely energized by his new job as a senior vice president of a failing division at a major New York bank. Formerly an attorney at a stodgy law firm, the 40-something executive was eager to abandon his firm' s bureaucracy to create an ideal work environment at the bank: a high-performing team of independent and committed members who would operate autonomously, but with a shared vision.
He began his first day by setting an agenda and informing his staff that major changes lay ahead. In the weeks that followed, he reorganizedt he staff, eliminated three positions, and brought in two of his own people. He also redesigned several systems and engaged a consultant to analyze the team' s performance. Finally, he instituted staff meetings at which each senior member was expected to share ideas about future activities.
The vice president was astounded when, at the first meeting, no one spoke up. Each of his staff members sat at the table as if in a stupor. He couldn' figure out why. The reason soon became clear. Rather than create an ideal workplace and collaborative team, he'd operated as an individual contributor, expecting his team to buy in without clear direction.
Soon after, the bank retained an executive coach to improve the department's performance. In team interviews, the vice president discovered that he had misjudged his staff's reaction to a newcomer and to massive, unexplained changes. While they were just as anxious to turn the department around, they saw his leadership as a direct assault on their prior efforts. They believed he was insensitive to their potential contributions, unaware of their experience, and unwilling to communicate or share his vision for the group. They described him as a train rushing full-steam ahead without getting the passengers on board.
A Fresh Perspective
The newly hired chief information officer at a major New York investment firm had a different experience. As a newcomer to a recently merged organization, the CIO was recruited to bring a fresh perspective to a sleepy department. Looking around on her first day of work, she observed outdated systems, a poorly organized help desk, and several frightened veteran staff members -- two of whom had applied for her position. She announced immediatelyt hat she wouldn't make any immediate changes in staff or operations. While her statement brought immediate sighs of relief, she realized that she still needed to create trust and commitment before forging ahead.
A series of one-on-one meetings with each staff member led to several team meetings led by selected staffers. The team elicited ideas about where the department needed to go and how it might get there, including thoughts on necessary resources, time frames, and assignments. Then, realizing that she'd need corporate support to launch appropriate solutions, she began a campaign to meet partners and peers throughout the firm. She scheduled a packed weekly agenda of breakfasts, lunches, visits, focus groups, and data-gathering.
At the end of those 90 days, the CIO had a clear sense of her staff's abilities and personalities and how the company functioned, so she could create several proposals for needed change. Patience bought her loyalty, which paved the way for achieving her initiatives. By her six-month review, she was credited with turning the department around and rewarded with an increased budget.