The past 12 months has seen some of the most high profile leadership changes in recent years with a new US President and a new UK Prime Minister. Our research shows that 94% of organisations are experiencing significant recent or imminent people-related change; this is an issue not confined to the world of politics. As a result of high profile leadership change, we have become fixated on both how to and how not to lead, and accustomed to judging leaders and deciding their legacy within increasingly shorter periods of time.
As Mr Trump and Mrs May will no doubt testify, being parachuted in as a new leader at an organisation can be a difficult terrain to navigate. Yet, arguably for business leaders who do not enjoy the privilege of a mandate it can be even trickier.
Establishing your leadership style and vision as well as demonstrating your credentials within 90 days is essential for any new leader. Validating your position early creates a strong base of support and power, and inspires confidence and assurance from your employees, something employees seek at a time of workforce uncertainty.
As Mr Trump and Mrs May will no doubt testify, being parachuted in as a new leader at an organisation can be a difficult terrain to navigate. Yet, arguably for business leaders who do not enjoy the privilege of a mandate it can be even trickier.The key to establishing your position while securing support lies in striking the balance between acting decisively to demonstrate your credentials, while remaining compassionate of the workforce you have inherited, their views and visions for their company.
Outlining the vision and strategy you hold for the company from the outset to your employees is essential. Sharing this with all employees regardless of role or rank in an open and clear way will help settle any anxieties they may have about your leadership and priorities.
A new leader joining a company can be interpreted by employees as a signal of further disruption and change. Notifying your employees about what features of the company you are committed to retaining is crucial in relieving any anxieties, whether that’s the culture of the company, their key objectives or even staff positions. Our research shows 15% of employees believe workforce change has been communicated to them poorly, it is therefore imperative for new leaders to make communication and clarification a priority.
For leaders inheriting a workforce of millennials, a clear and open communication style is particularly important, with a recent survey by Deloitte showing that “plain talk” and “directness” was the communication style they valued most from their leaders.
Placating fears and anxieties from the outset, while outlining your plans in a clear and coherent way, can help create an open and honest relationship with your employees, leading to greater cooperation.
Facilitating relationshipsNew leaders should intend to go the extra mile to build personal relationships with employees, acting as a visible and present leader. While the “my door is always open” mantra may be a cliché, it works. In fact, go one step further and remove the door entirely. A door immediately creates the notions of territories and borders within an office and subtly points to the fact you have the power and luxury to close your door and shut yourself off to your employees.
While admittedly a borderless workspace may be unfeasible for all to roll out, leaders should strive to create the most open forum possible where employees can come to discuss any concerns they may have about their future as an employee or indeed about the company as a whole. This culture of approachability will no doubt strengthen ties and help to build a strong base of support.
Personal communication with your employees will help to demonstrate your compassion, showing that you’re a leader that cares both about them and the company and are committed to advancing both their interests and those of the organisation. Take the time to talk to employees you may not have day-to-day dealings with. This will help to inform you as a leader of issues that may not be communicated to the upper echelons of your organisation while demonstrating to your employees care and interest that goes beyond the bottom line or share price.
Creating a culture of approachability and openness will not only encourage employees to come to you with their concerns, but their ideas too. Great ideas can come from unexpected places if the gates of communication are left open. While some may fear the opportunities for change that a new leader may bring about, others may relish it. Make your first 100 days the time where employees can share with you the changes they would like to see implemented at their company. This collaborative approach will help employees feel included while acclimatising them to upcoming change.
Prepare for politicsProfessional and personal politics for many are an unwanted consequence of leadership. Unfortunately, the higher the rank you climb the more inherent and challenging it becomes.
When starting as a new leader, it is important to acknowledge that not all your senior and influential employees will be your biggest supporters. Identifying those that may pose a particular challenge, is something you should do in the early days, for example are their senior employees who were in contention for your new role that may now hold a grudge?
Leaders should seek to identify these colleagues and neutralise. While it may be tempting to isolate them to contain their influence and risk, this will only worsen the relationship. The more effective solution is to convert them into an asset, make them seem indispensable and showcase their talent publically and regularly to neutralise any potential they may have to undermine your authority.
Demonstrating humility in this process is crucial. Accept that your colleagues may have expertise and knowledge on the company or industry that may usurp your own. Position them as experts and trusted advisors who are essential to help you navigate your early days of leadership.
Create tangible changeWhile implementing a positive culture and building important relationships with employees is crucial, it is important for leaders to also implement tangible change. The first 90 days will define a leader’s legacy; therefore leaders should act decisively to implement palpable changes that will be acknowledged by all, from employees to the board to the external analysts and media.
Marrying this balance of acting decisively and swiftly while keeping an organisation collaborative is difficult, but if achieved successfully can silence even the harshest of critics. Leaders should identify a challenge which they are confident they can offer a solution to, and quickly. Securing a quick win can inject confidence into both the board and employees and reassure them that they have made the right decision and provide you with important political capital as you look to the long-term.
Look to the long term
Once a quick–win is secured it’s important to focus on the future, and initial success will help buy you time to do this. As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock recently wrote, short-termism can be a “powerful force” hard to resist but a long-term vision and strategy is what your employees really want to see and hear.
A study of 400 CFOs of large US public companies found that 80% would sacrifice their economic value in order to meet their quarter earning’s expectation. Strategies such as these are not only unsustainable from a commercial standpoint as shown by a recent study by McKinsey but are also detrimental to employee relations. Demonstrating to your employees that you are committed to a long-term sustainable strategy that goes beyond the first quarter or financial year is crucial to winning their assurance and confidence.
At a recent Lee Hecht Harrison | Penna event, our keynote speaker, Karren Brady stated that “leadership is about connecting with people’s hearts and minds. What staff want to know is where they’re going and how they’re going to get there and what their role in that journey is.” Communicating this journey and vision persuasively and confidently will create engaged and invested employees, turning them from bystanders to important players.
Leadership means vision. Even if it is only you that can initially see that vision, your duty as a leader is to communicate this vision to your employees, let them know it can be achieved and that their involvement is crucial in doing so.
 Lee Hecht Harrison | Penna ‘Workforce Transformation Tracker’. Research conducted by Opinium in September 2016 among 1,000 managers in small and large companies in the UK.
 The Deloitte Millennial Survey, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennial-survey-preference-plain-talk-inclusiveness.html
 Business Insider, ‘Here is the letter the world's largest investor, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, just sent to CEOs everywhere’