Fast Start: Helping New Managers to Perform Quickly

Get off to a Fast Start

Get off to a Fast Start

Have you seen this guy? The new manager who announces to the world ‘things are gonna change’. In pursuit of this radical philosophy, on Day 1 he stops the purchase of all newspapers. On Day 2, he overhauls everyone’s expenses. On Day 3 he invites the builders in and they start to physically re-arrange the office space – under the headline of creating greater transparency. Yes, there’s certainly going to be change around here; there normally is when you hire a gobshite!

Managerial Anxiety: But, lets assume that the interview process has produced a good candidate, solid raw material. Perhaps the hiring committee decided on an internal candidate to lessen the chance of organ rejection. Perhaps there were no concerns about cultural fit and they stepped outside to source new blood. Either way, what’s often undiscussible is the anxiety and self-doubt that all new leaders feel as they move into position. If we could X-Ray the inside of a new managers head, the tape playing on a continuous loop would state the following: “As soon as the whistle sounds, I’m being evaluated. I want to make a good first impression. Therefore, I need to do stuff quickly”. This anxiety explains the range of silly moves outlined above. Many new managers succumb to a rash entry strategy. Behaviours designed to communicate ‘I’ve arrived’, usually end up highlighting the fact that the new manager is nervous and unsure.

Calling Halt! So, why doesn’t the organization shout stop? (or slow down).  There’s a couple of reasons. If the new manager is the CEO, there’s often zero ‘supervision’; no-one wants to tell their new boss to cool the jets. The underpinning belief in the Board is as follows: if you were smart enough to get the job, we’ll assume you are smart enough to do it. New managers are therefore left to struggle on their own (and there is a surprisingly high degree of labour turnover in the first couple of months because of this). Consider the fact that it takes 4 years to become a carpenter; people new to any senior executive role have to serve a similar apprenticeship, slowly building confidence and credibility. Yet, most new CEO’s receive zero training for the role. One example: University Presidents take on that complex job having come, in most cases, from specialist academic roles where they often have very little managerial responsibility. In the private sector, the most common problem with new CEO’s is the gravitational pull towards what they know already e.g. finance or marketing (they have to learn the ‘CEO ropes’ on the job and can’t actually tell anyone they don’t understand it). Indeed, moving into a managerial role is confusing, regardless of ‘level’. One company in the midlands, promoted a shop floor operator to the position of supervisor. He turned up for work the following Monday in a Louis Copeland pinstripe suit (they had the sense to send him home to change before any of his new reports actually saw him). While this level of naivety is funny, an underpinning anxiety exists for all newly promoted managers. Well-managed companies recognize this and help new managers navigate this phase.

On-Boarding: In terms of my own experiences of bad ‘inductions’, probably the worst example was when I joined Initial Towels on the same day that the hiring manager went on holidays for 2 weeks. No-one quite knew what to do with me. Until someone came up with the bright idea to put me into a dark room (no windows) on my own to ‘read the files’ for 2 days. After reading the files for about 2 hours, I sat there thinking, “Jesus, this was a mistake”. I probably should have ran then. In stark contrast, well-run organisations use phased inductions. Rather than attempting a ‘data dump’ in the first couple of days, they help new managers soak up information in easily digestible chunks. (tip: In addition to the ‘normal induction’, managers need an informal briefing around how the politics work in the organization).

High Productivity: Lets’ be crystal clear here. None of the above is an effort to be ‘nice’ to people; it’s to get them up-to-speed and productive in the shortest possible timeframe. You don’t want high cost managers, scraping along the bottom of the productivity tank.

Fast Start Assimilations: In terms of clever on-boarding, the smartest practice I’ve ever seen was pioneered in GE. It’s called The New Manager Assimilation Program. The process is designed to speed up the relationship between a new manager and his/her team i.e. it facilitates the rapid development of a working relationship between an executive and his/her direct reports. A relationship that can take up to 9 months to develop normally can be achieved in about 9 hours.

How it Works: An outside facilitator meets with the new manager’s direct reports. The agenda for this meeting (which typically lasts 3 hours) is as follows: The facilitator explains the purpose of the Fast Start Process and how it works. The facilitator then leads the group in developing responses to the following questions:

  • What do we really know about (new manager)?
  • What don’t we know but would like to know about…
  • What are our concerns about…becoming our manager?
  • What do we want most from…?
  • What does…need to know about us as a group?
  • What are the major obstacles…and ourselves will encounter in trying to achieve our objectives?
  • What suggestions do we have for overcoming the points raised above?

Summary Responses: After the first meeting, the facilitator consolidates the responses (recorded on flip charts) into a written document and this is reviewed with the new manager. It usually takes about 3 hours. A copy of the document can be sent to the direct reports once the manager has reviewed the issues. Within a few days of receiving the responses, the new manager (along with the facilitator) meets with the direct reports. The agenda for this (again, 3 hour) meeting is:

  • The new manager presents the data from the first meeting and seeks clarification.
  • The manager adds any information that helps to explain his/her style.
  • An open discussion is held between the manager and direct reports.
  • If appropriate, action planning is done around the points covered.

General Communication: The ‘questions and answers’ (or edited elements) can be used for general communications to a wider group. For example, these can be captured in a Q&A document and inserted into newsletters, staff emails etc.

This is a great example of using speed as a competitive weapon – ensuring that the manager/employee relationship is productive right from the start. In a rapidly changing environment, the Fast Start assimilation process provides a simple but extremely effective tool to ensure that you can move managers quickly and effectively. Try it yourself. This one never fails.


PS Lighter Note: Unlucky Guy: Was recently playing golf in Portugal with a guy, who’d a particularly bad round. Lost golf balls. Hit every bunker and then failed to get out of the sand. Found more water than the source of the Nile and so on. As we were walking off at the end, I was trying to make him feel a better and said: “It was a tough day. You didn’t really get the ‘rub of the green’”. His reply: “I’m so fu***ng unlucky, if I was reincarnated, I’d come back as myself”.

PPS Lighter Note: Things have become rough in Temple Bar in Dublin – as you can see from the attached clip.

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
This entry was posted in Management Practices. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s