Being the “new guy” is always an exciting position – something about that clean slate is invigorating, and you have the added benefit of saying “I’m new” for that 3 or 4 week honeymoon period when everybody loves you [shelf life of that phase varies]. It’s obviously a little different when you come into a leadership role; the “excitement” also comes with a lot of expectations, some of them self-imposed, but abundant nonetheless. The reality is not far from what your imagination tells you – yes, people are looking at you, sizing you up, and judging you. What’s a girl to do?
That’s been my experience the last 3 months as I assimilated into my new gig ~ and the tone was set early on. As one of the senior team members said to me on Day 1, “If it wasn’t broken, you wouldn’t be here.”
An optimist would hear that and say, “Well that’s great – you have a situation that needs improvement, you have the opportunity to look good in comparison!” That’s why you rarely find optimists in Talent Acquisition. Yes, there’s some validity to the new car smell you’ll have, but it is also expected that you will “fix” whatever is broken. Whether that be process or people, change is expected.
Fixing what is “broken” can be cause for some fairly challenging situations.
- Sharks & Jets ~ You’re coming in to manage a team of people, some of whom are still emotionally attached to your predecessor. Others in the group may see an opportunity as nostalgia starts to compromise reality, so there’s a certain shine that exists in the former manager’s absence. On the other extreme, you may have been heralded as Miles Finch, primed to make a last minute rescue while the incumbents breathe a sigh of relief and relax.
- Breast your cards ~ An interesting part of being new to the company is the internal recruiting pitch you will get from employees. Not in the sense that you might think, but rather in an attempt to “educate” you on the players, haters, suck-ups, frauds, power-brokers, etc. Having been out of corporate America for some time, I had forgotten the almost sibling rivalry-like competition that exists within a company. When people sense a change is coming, they begin politicking on behalf of their own interests – who is your most frequent office visitor? It might not mean anything significant, but I doubt you’re that popular.
- The Sacred Cow ~ Combine “new guy” energy with a consulting background & you know what you get? The annoying combination of way too many recommendations with way too much confidence in their success. Can you relate? You walk in, see 100 things that you could change immediately, and your first reaction is to step on the gas – that worked a lot better as a consultant, when there were no worries about whose dog is in the race. Careful how you proceed, that service agreement you just vetoed may have been somebody else’s very proud accomplishment.
Even with some of the unique challenges you face when you come in as a new leader, you still need to remind yourself that you were a desired commodity. Be the person they hired – just take your time. Remember, the old bull walks down the hill.
John Whitaker (“Whit”) is a SVP and Chief People Officer at Sage Dental and the founder of HRHardball.com (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal.