Episode 2: Landfall

Good leaders are multipliers of talent.  They can take the three individuals and have them produce the output of six individuals.  On day one in a new leadership role, all leaders are a talent and value drain; they actually take away value from their organization.  Think about what you do on your first day in a new job, go through human resources, read policies, etc.  It could be days or even weeks until you are able to start doing the work you where hired to do, never mind the fact that you may not be doing it well in that early phase.  The message from the first post was to build a plan for your transition.  Building a plan will help you get to the point where you can add value sooner.  Michael Watkins refers to this as the “break even point.”  In the first week in a new role, you will not step in and start adding value; however, there are a few things that you can be doing early (and some missteps and you can avoid) to help you accelerate the break even point.
My approach to the first week was inspired by The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  In this story, Jane (the fictional CEO) started her first two weeks on the new job as a listener.  She attended the regular meetings, spoke individually with her new employees and focused on learning all she could about her new team.  I modeled my first week on the job after that.  The transition plan I created called for a series of conversations with my new team covering everything from personality to their current projects.  I also built in time to speak with critical business partners.  The only person that I did not spend a significant amount of time talking to and learning about was my new Manager, Robert.  These conversations and the learning that occurred was all directed and inspired from the The First 90 Days.
The First 90 Days includes a concept called the learning plan.  The learning plan is a involves identifying questions that you want to learn the answers to, building hypothesis and then testing them and refining the questions you are asking to progressively increase your knowledge about your new team.  Before staring my new role, I created a list of 5 questions and my hypothesis for each of them.  During my conversations with my new team, I tested the hypothesis and built an action plan for the next steps for learning.  The single more important thing I learned was that there was a lot of confusion about individuals job roles on the team.  Why was this?  How did we get to that?  What did everyone view as their role on the team?  Those became my next focus of learning.  Answers to these questions would be very influential in the future as a starting building a strategy how to run the team near the end of the 90 day journey.  At the end of this post are the 5 questions that I was seeking answers to from my Learning Plan.  Learning was necessary and a positive way to start the new role; unfortunately, not everything was pleasant on that first week.
On the last day of my old role, I was very concerned.  I had not told any of the people I had work closest with about this transition, that I would be leaving and Michael would be taking over the work I was doing with them.  After expressing my concern with our CIO, he agreed that I should go ahead and communicate this to a Sr. Manager that I worked closely with.  The conversation went like this
Me: “I’m sure James has already given you some details about this this transition …”
Manager: “Not really, I heard something from my boss about this, but this is the first conversation I’ve had about this …”
It turned out that my former manager had told a Division Director (manager’s boss) that Michael was inline to replace me and that it would likely happen before the end of the year.  I personally called one of the women I had been working very closely with over the last 18 months that evening to let her know.  There was a lot of confusion, excitement for my opportunity, and hurt that this had been kept in the dark until after the 11th hour.  In total, 3 people, outside of my department (old and new) and HR, knew about this transition before it happened.  Monday, as the word got out with my business partners, was a day filled with negative emotional reactions.  This created a mess for myself, Michael , James and Robert to clean up, and it took a lot of energy to do that.  To make the situation worse, both my prior and current managers were out of town that week.  Email and phone calls between sessions at the conference they were attending was the only opportunities for them to assist.  The final announcement came out on Thursday when Michael and I traveled to the monthly leadership meeting at our power plant in Oklahoma.  This cost me a day with my team but it was necessary as all of the managers and leadership that I had been working with for the last 8 years was present in one place.  You cannot under estimate the power of good communication, or the effort it will take to repair poor communication.
Coming into my new role with a plan made that first week relatively easy.  Any leader tranistioning into a new role should prepare, plan and make assumptions about your new role, but be prepared to be wrong on them.  That’s okay, what is important is that your learn and grow from you incorrect assumptions.  The things that made my first week difficult issues around timing and communication.  The feelings from the people that I worked with was that this change was a big secret.  It was not.  I have learned that it is important to be as transparent and preemptive in your communication of the transition as possible.  On the issues of timing, you should avoid starting a new role when your new boss is out of town and you should also avoid being out of town as well.  Having your new boss there to bounce ideas off of a soliciate feedback is important, so is spending as much time as possible with your new team in that critical first week.
The questions from my Learning Plan:
  • How has this team performed in the past? How do people in the team think it has performed?
  • What efforts have been made to change the team? What happened?
  • Name three things that if we accomplish in the next 12 months would constitute for the team, i.e. what would make 2016 a good year?  Why?
  • In what areas is the team most likely to face challenges in the coming year? What are these challenges (technical, cultural, political?) What can be done now to prepare for them?
  • If you were me, what would you focus attention on?