New Leaders & Engagement Trappings

A seasoned employee was called into the office of his brand-new manager for an introductory meeting. You know the type. Get to know you. Share your background. Tidbits of personal chit chat designed for both employee and manager to learn a little about what makes you tick.

As the meeting progressed, the manager walked through a rather lengthy laundry list of potential projects that she had brainstormed on the plane ride into town. These were true “high-value” projects that would instantly raise the visibility and perceived value of the unit within the eyes of executive leaders, she explained excitedly. “So, which of these would you like to tackle?” she asked her employee.

The employee stared at the list, silently wondering why none of his current projects appeared there. What did their absence imply about the value of the work into which the employee had poured his heart and soul for months? And with performance reviews just around the corner, what chance did the employee have to receive high marks, if the new manager saw little value in the work he had done?

Unfortunately, this scenario plays our far too often in today’s corporate world, with reorgs now the norm, developmental rotations rapidly shifting leaders from comfortable areas of responsiblity into “growth opportunities.” Many, if not most, leaders, when given a new challenge, ponder ways in which they can provide demonstrable value immediately in a new position. Their intentions are pure and they are almost always positive. And yet, the failure rate of new managers remains unacceptably high, because they often overlook the existing value of their newly acquired employees and units. The ultimate result — a rapid descent into disengagement by previously innovative, bright, and successful employees.

How many times have you read that new leaders ought to take some time before enacting changes? It’s a mantra of my consulting work that has more often than not been ignored. On the one hand, this typically leads to repeat business, as leaders who come to realize those very difficulties about which I cautioned return with pleas to help them “clean up the mess.” On the other, the real cost is not in bringing the consultant back to deal with the aftermath, but the loss in productivity, trust and passion in the employees affected by rash change impulses of a new manager. Those are often losses from which recovery is impossible. Once that trust and passion is lost, the only way to regain that within a unit is to start over with new employees, to replace those high quality employees who have left the organization for greener pastures.

Managers frequently extoll the virtue of a poor economy in retaining talent who have little choice but to stay put. What they fail to recognize, in their quarterly results orientation, is the value in a slower, more deliberate change strategy that restrains their own eagerness to “change the world,” until they truly understand the world that already exists for their new employees. Only when they fully understand the value of current programs and talent can they truly evaluate which programs and policies will be best suited for a future that they, together with their teams, can create.

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