Congrats on your hire or promotion! But before you take your new authority for a spin, let’s take your natural enthusiasm (or qualms) for leading a new team and slow it down, back it up, and set a course that’s really going to serve you well as the organization’s designated driver.
In most American firms, though it is rarely acknowledged or formalized, there is a 90-day honeymoon period for managers. If you don’t have your team – however big or small it is – functioning as a team in 90 days, the honeymoon period likely will end. That is the typical window of opportunity to make initial changes before raising executive eyebrows or facing cohesive employment pushback, because you’ll be standing on your new authority as a change agent to, well, make changes. After 90 days, however, your job naturally changes to one of facilitation – you’ve made whatever procedural or employment changes required to put together your ideal team, set a direction, and now it’s time to truly lead that team in achieving the common goal. With that in mind, let’s make the best of the honeymoon phase.
The first 30 days: Ask, seek, knock. Question every assumption. Before you can give honest feedback or guidance, you need to develop a relationship with your direct reports, and you need to fully understand your supervisor’s expectations and assumptions. “Caring about” your employees, in the generic sense that you are accountable for their output, is a starting point. However, you’ll have far more influence if you learn to “care for” each one’s personal development and success. If an individual or unit is underperforming, ask about their concerns and listen to understand, not to defend past management directives or expectations. Likewise, listen to your superior’s concerns to understand, and not to automatically champion their viewpoint. You were hired to bridge the company’s needs with the employee’s needs to best satisfy the customer’s needs. What are those needs and where are they misaligned?
The next 30 days: Build on the positives. People will respond readily to your leadership once they feel heard and upheld. You showed, during Phase I, that you are a good listener. Now it’s time to show them that you admire their strengths. This doesn’t mean that you should develop a false sense of la-la land where everybody is a hero for doing an okay job. If there is an obvious attitudinal problem, it must be privately addressed and corrected as you continuously prune your team. However, this is your best opportunity to team build, and the daily practice of putting five pennies in one pocket and moving a penny to another pocket every time you honestly give positive feedback for a job well done, is worth considering. Training yourself to give positive feedback for positive outcomes will reap huge benefits over time and will underscore the belief that your later criticism is also fair and credible.
The final 30 days: Shape your organization through direct challenge. Some managers derive a sense of power and superiority through criticism, and that’s not a good outcome for anyone. We’re not confusing that with the need for direct challenge, which is necessary for a healthy organization. We don’t turn off the supportive spicket and turn on the criticism. Instead, when you approach corrective measures from a place of caring, your feedback will be far more effective, and the team can move on as a fully engaged unit to meet its challenges.
Your first 90 days is not only an investment in the company and the employees; it’s an investment in your future success. All eyes will be on you, and what you do matters – likely much more than you realize. Being open to input, showing you are focused on the positives, and then being direct while coming from a place of caring – who wouldn’t welcome and value a manager with those skills?