As a leader on-boarding into a new company, the first pep talk by the CEO or your boss is most often Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, global expert on hiring at executive search firm Egon Zehnder, has said that a job interview is a conversation between two liars! The interviewer lies about how great the company is and the interviewee lies about how capable s/he is.
That said, often CEOs and hiring managers tell you to hit the ground running, to break some china, to make things happen, or to stir the pot. Often their complaint is that the organization has gotten stale, complacent. Putting pressure on you to set it all right in your first 90 days is pure and utter nonsense. They know it and you know it.
However, you still take the bait—bad advice. Then in about 6-12 months, the culture rejects you like a bad virus. And what’s worse is that the same guy who told you to shake things up is now admonishing you for doing just that. No kidding. This happens with such regularity in companies I have coached that it’s a cliché.
So, what should you do? First, in the employment interview or on your first-day-on-the-job discussion with your boss, smile and wave at whatever s/he says. BUT, DO NOT DO IT. Instead, make it your job to go slow to go fast. It’s a lot like running a marathon. If you start out slow and steady, you’ll find your pace and eventually do a lot better than if you take off like a jack rabbit. Here are some simple but effective steps:
Step 1. Smile, Breathe, and Listen. Smiling says, “I’m not a threat.” The LAST thing you want to be is a threat—creates big problems. Breathe in and out slowly and methodically to reboot your emotions. There’s a lot of science here. Finally, use the 80/20 conversation rule. Spend 80% of your time listening and only 20% responding. Good listening is not simply waiting for your chance to make a point!
Step 2. Ask HR and/or an executive coach to conduct an assimilation meeting. This involves meeting with your entire team to answer any questions they might have about you. What’s your leadership style, your pet peeves, your vision (lay low on this one), your family, your hobbies? This meeting gives everyone a level set about you and saves a year’s worth of hit-or-miss encounters. If you’re with a small company, have all your direct reports make a list of questions they want you to answer. Ask one person to compile them to keep the process anonymous and then give you the list before the meeting to think about your answers. Don’t skip any hard ones if they come up frequently; otherwise, people will think you sidestep tough stuff—not a good first impression.
Step 3. Meet every one of your direct reports individually. Spend an hour or more with everyone who works with you. Ask them about themselves, the work they most like to do, what’s working in the group, what needs attention, anything that would make their job/life better. No promises—this is about gathering information. And, no disparaging the leader who preceded you on the job. Doesn’t ever play well even though it might seem at the time easy and beneficial to you.
Step 4. Meet every one of your peers individually. Again, as mentioned above, ask a lot of questions, seek their advice, find out what’s good about your new team, what needs work, and ask if they will help you understand the culture. Listen more than you talk.
While there’s more to discuss here, suffice it to say that going slow in the very beginning of your tenure in a new job is critical to your success and the corporation’s success. It will feel counter to your very anxious inner voice telling you to “just do it.” But DON’T do it until you know what, how and when to do it! Cultures have to accept you before they accept your opinion.
I explain it this way to my clients: A young man brings home his girlfriend—who is a top interior designer in New York City—to meet his parents. While his parents are out of the room getting dinner and wine ready for the meal, the girlfriend/designer begins to rearrange the living room to make it even more beautiful. Despite how good it now looks or the extent of her expertise, ponder for a moment how those parents might react!
Go slow to go fast later, once you’re accepted into the tribe.