Often, these are questions that cannot be answered right away. The new manager needs to get information, meet the people and get out into the market. That learning process takes time.
In the meantime, the fears of employees come to the fore–and fear dominates the mind and bodies of people who experience it, whether they are in a cubicle or a foxhole. Fear causes stress and eliminates productivity. Famously, fear resides in the brain stem, the so-called lizard brain that modulates fight or flight. The stress of a new manager coming on board can figuratively make folks into komodo dragons wearing business casual.
So the CEO has an obligation to give a message that calms the staff, and which sets the tone for working effectively together.
You’re not Introducing Yourself
Sometimes folks come into a management position and they introduce themselves by reciting their resume and hobbies.
Yawn. You think it’s about you? Never.
If you make a good impression, the staff will look you up on LinkedIn. If not, well…
You are Setting Expectations
The point of the talk is to set the tone you want to set for the people, how you will address the tasks at hand and how you will communicate on day one.
Why? Because it’s news people can use. A little direction-setting and more than a little hint on where you see success.
It’s Not Strategy
No fair-minded person would expect you to have a strategy for the business on day one. That takes time, talk and study.
But they will look for hints about what kind of leader you aspire to be. For that reason I mention that I will be meeting with everybody–and that conversations will be held in confidence. This lets people know that I need to get into the details, and that telling the truth about what faces the company is valued–and protected.
It’s also why I always mention teamwork. It’s a value that is easy to aspire to–and hard to manage. My thinking is, if its hard, let’s start today.
Here is the talk I have given when starting an interim CEO assignment:
My name is Walter, and I am the CEO of this company. I am new, so I hope you will be open with me when I ask questions. I am not probing for weaknesses in you or your colleagues. I just want to see what we do and how we might improve. My interest is in understanding processes over personalities.
The first is safety. Whether you work in the factory or in the office, I’d like to ensure that you all go home safely at the end of the workday. I will be asking specific questions on this, because we are all in this together, and we can’t promote that feeling if someone is risking a cut hand in the factory or a sore back in the filing room. Please be open as to how this concern might be addressed.
Next is respect. I will treat you with respect at all times. This means no shouting or yelling. I will expect the same treatment in return, and also that the same courtesies will be extended to everyone in the company. That doesn’t mean we can’t be human — as a matter of fact, I do like laughter and chatter — but it must be respectful.
The third is integrity. That means we tell the truth. You can expect me to tell the truth, and I will expect the same. Telling the truth is very freeing. The truth has no politics and no taboo subjects. If it will make the company perform better, it should be spoken about candidly.
By the way, when I ask questions of the folks here, I keep their impressions to myself. It doesn’t do anyone any good for me to say, ‘Susie thinks our marketing is a disaster.’ However, after speaking to Susie, I might ask marketing, ‘Can you tell me a bit about the latest campaign?’
Oh, and a commitment to telling the truth is not the same as giving out all information. You do not have the right to know everyone’s salary or when the big merger is going to be announced. Some information is kept appropriately hidden.
The last expectation has to do with teamwork. If you need help, you should ask for it. No one should feel that his or her position is in danger when he or she feels a better job can be done with a little help. You should also provide help when you can, especially when it would help others do a better job. No doubt this means that you will be making extra effort and personal sacrifices. Those efforts will be recognized by the people around you and may eventually even lead to material improvements in your situation.
But at a minimum, you will realize that some days you, too, need help. Having provided it, you will be gratified when your colleagues step up to do the same.
Those are my expectations. Please let me know if we are falling short in these areas.
My door is always open. Thanks for listening!
June 7, 2017