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Moving into a new leadership role.

tips for onboarding
Moving into a new leadership role

Moving into a new organisation, or even on occasions into a new part of one’s existing organisation, is a time of both opportunity and risk. To help you prepare for the changes ahead and minimise the risks of tinkering with the organisation before you have gained the necessary understanding, here are some tips.

Prior To Joining

What you need to know:

  • As much as possible about the dynamics of markets

  • Track record—company, business, senior team, etc.

  • Expectations of stakeholders Reporting relationships/management style of boss

  • Expectations of roleClarity (or lack of clarity!) of goals—long, medium and short term

  • Culture and values of the organisation (how do people behave? And with what consequences?)

  • Nature of immediate team reporting to you—what are the perceptions of their capabilities, service profiles, track records, potential, etc

  • Nature of peer group—service profiles, experience, style, effectiveness

  • How was your predecessor perceived—and where has he/she gone?

  • Are any other senior staff newly-appointed?

What you need to consider:

  • What are the essential ‘need-to-knows’?

  • How are you going to spend your first few weeks? Discuss your planned familiarisation activities with your new boss.

  • What are your initial (three months/ ‘100 days’) goals to be?

  • Who will you meet and in what order? Will you meet your new team all together or one to one?

  • What do you want from those meetings?

  • Should you set up a programme of meetings in advance?

  • How will you describe your management style and communication needs to subordinates and peers? (Worth a lot of thought—people will ask the question!).

  • Check out exactly what all internal memos and more public notices / announcements say about your appointment – and about you.

  • How will you manage your work/life balance? (Starting with a seven day week and twelve hour working day will soon create problems at work and at home! There is more about this in the section on Life Goals below).


Who and what you need to know:

Basically, this is an extension of what you sought to know before joining. So you need:

A better understanding of the management style of your boss

  • Ask the boss about his/her style, needs, dislikes, etc.

  • Ask others about the boss’s style, needs, dislikes, etc.

  • What does the boss expect of you—explicitly and implicitly?

  • What are your delivery deadlines?

  • What balance between formality and informality is best in communication?

  • What are the regular reports expected—and are these formal or informal, verbal or written, etc?

  • What are the boss’s priorities and pressures?

  • What regular meetings does the boss hold? (And how many will you be expected to attend?)

  • What sort of relationships and reputation does the boss have with his/her colleagues?

Clarity around expectations of the role:

  • The extent of your role – where are the informal boundaries?

  • Where does it fit in the overall strategy for the business?

  • What are the elements of strategy for which you will be entirely responsible?

  • Is there a business/departmental strategy?

  • Is the Board comfortable with that strategy, or does it need reviewing?

  • What are the annual targets and goals?

  • What budgets are you operating on?

  • Is there any mismatch between budgets, targets and strategies?

  • How do expectations compare with current performance levels?

  • Is a major leap forward in performance expected and, if so, what are the underlying reasons for that expectation?

  • What formal limits are there to your authority (eg in making policies; in revenue and capital expenditure, in terms of discipline, etc)?

An understanding of the organisational culture:

  • How are things done?

  • How are the decisions made—through the formal or informal processes?

  • What kind of behaviour is really valued?

  • How bureaucratic is it?

  • What is the pace of acceptance of change?

  • What are the espoused values? (Is that espousal merely lip service, or a genuine and integral part of the corporate or local culture?)

The strength of your own team:

  • What are their individual strengths and weaknesses?

  • What do they do as a team? Do you understand their individual roles and interactions?

  • How well do they operate as a team?

  • How are the team perceived by people within the Company?

  • How are the team perceived by people outside the Company—by customers, suppliers, etc?

  • Do you understand their individual aspirations and ambitions?

  • What in their view are the key problems and opportunities?

  • Are they happy? How’s morale? (Reasons?)

  • Did anyone else expect to get your job?

  • Was the team expecting someone else to get it?

  • What do their last “personal appraisals” tell you?

  • How do you plan to get to know them better?

The nature of your peer group:

  • What is the recent history of the group?

  • What are their individual strengths and weaknesses?

  • Where will you fit into this group? (What is to be your role, and stance?).

  • What amount of socialising goes on in this group?

External perceptions of the company?

  • Analyse your business with them – grasp the basic numbers/facts/patterns

  • Familiarise, by visiting with colleagues

  • Really get to know any strategically vital customers – spend quality time with them, to establish and build a personal relationship

  • Understand the recent history!Remember you / your team will have internal “customers” and “suppliers” – treat them the same way!

  • What is the Company’s external reputation? (How is it seen by customers, suppliers and competitors, etc?)

  • Does the company do any systematic external bench-marking?

What you need to remember:

  • Early perceptions are very important—those formed by you, and those formed by others about you. Remember this at all times!

  • Everyone is watching you; actions speak louder than words—so ‘walk the talk!’

  • Understanding should precede activity, so don’t rush the fences!

  • But inactivity can be equally dangerous; avoid giving the impression of being dis-empowered by newness or ignorance.

  • Understanding and managing organisational politics is an essential part of any Senior Executive role, and so it is to be welcomed, as an opportunity to influence for the better, rather than avoided.

What you need to do:

  • Take time to develop relationships

  • Be visibleBe consistent

  • Understand what makes people tick, their issues and concerns

  • Don’t just talk to top people; be seen to be interested in everyone, especially the junior and middle-ranking people within your own orbit—work to learn names quickly

  • Work at building up trust—and don’t rush to impress too quickly

  • Find some quick wins—sort out something everyone is complaining about, for instance

  • Where changes are clearly needed—make them

  • Let subordinates know how you like to manage and how you like them to communicate with you

  • Set clear goals and targets, both in terms of your induction and, by the end of three months, for the balance of your first year

Life goals

Discuss your evolving impressions of your new environment with your Coach, and (even more importantly!) with your partner/spouse. This will help you put new elements and new people into perspective faster and more accurately.

While on the topic of partners, it is very important that you and your partner recognise and talk about the fact that the crucial first period in the new role (typically the first 3-6 months) will demand unusual amounts of your time and attention.

Because of that, you must make a real effort to talk over, to share, your impressions, concerns and reactions with your partner. Make time to do this. One of your key goals should be to make the experience of changing roles a shared one, and if possible a ‘fun’ one.

This is particularly where a change of domestic location is involved—in such a case it is essential that you make time to share with your partner. So in pursuit of that thought, be rigorous in the following:

  • Ensure you take time to explain what is going on to your partner—share your feelings

  • Encourage your partner to reciprocate—and make time to listen constructively as he or she does so

  • Share people problems and issues as they arise—don’t bottle it up, and remember that first impressions matter

  • Try to make sure your partner meets some of the new people, as appropriate—but at least ensure he/she meets the key players!

  • Make sure you have as healthy a life style as possible when under the additional pressures of ‘settling in’—make time for your normal exercise; go easy on the calories; ensure plenty of sleep; stick to a low alcohol intake, etc.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you when considering a new leadership role. Feel free to get in touch with me when you would like to have some more support.


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