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Starting a new leadership role – one top tip

Over the weekend I was reflecting on my first week at Education Cubed as the agency director responsible for company strategy – a new role in a very fast growing and relatively new organisation.

The week was busy and intense at times but it was also exciting, fascinating and the most enjoyable first week I’ve had in a job. This was despite me having to meet the team virtually due to the national lockdown and feeling anxious about this given my extroverted personality and my preference for face-to-face communication above all else.

So what made my week so enjoyable? Well some of that had to do with the fact that Education Cubed’s sole mission is to support the education sector – total alignment with my passion. And some of it was related to me being in a role which will bring together all my skills, knowledge and experience from my 20 year career, in particular the previous six years that I’d spent at Revolution Viewing where I grew the most in terms of sector knowledge, personal career maturity and business nouse (thank you, Tom Greveson). This was satisfying as well as being a huge relief!

I’ve read all the business books on how to make the most of your first 100 days and what good communication looks like etc etc but there was one thing I did which I would advise to any person starting in a leadership role in a new company – especially if it’s a new role or if you are going to be setting a new company strategy or key objectives

During your first week, make sure you meet the whole team/department/section [delete as appropriate]. Meet as many people as you can in individual 1-2-1s but consider if you could also meet any in groups of team members who have similar roles to keep the number of meetings to a manageable number. Set aside 30 minutes for each meeting to ask team members the following questions:

  1. Summarise a typical day/week for you in your role
  2. Tell me two things that you think our company does really well, and why (Rich Gregory, these questions will look familiar!)
  3. Tell me two things that you think our company can do better, and why
  4. How would you hope that my role would help you in your day-to-day work?

The benefits of meeting the team members as soon as you can when you start are obvious: quickly learning what people do (in their own words), starting to build rapport and common ground, showing that you respect the work that people deliver, putting names to faces (even if it is virtually), learning about different personalities and communication styles within the team and building trust across the team that you were the right hire for the company.

These benefits are worth the time you will invest but asking the above questions is where this time becomes a really valuable investment. Here are just some of the additional benefits I gained because I asked the right questions:

  • If asked genuinely and with no preconceived ideas, these questions open up conversation and the responses provide prompts for more questions so the conversation flows and doesn’t feel stilted – everybody wants to feel listened to and understood rather than interrogated
  • Everyone, from long-standing team members to new starters, should be able to answer these questions easily and with no prep, especially if you keep the first meeting to 30 minutes in duration
  • You will very quickly gain a sense of key themes that are relevant across the company – at Education Cubed, I was delighted to hear how much alignment there was across the team with our strengths in our unwavering customer service and company culture (our clients support these strengths too which is even more pleasing) and I was very interested to hear how we could improve our internal processes and overall strategic approach to the sector (after all, that’s what I’m here to help with…phew!)
  • These themes will help us to add meat to the bones of our strategy and to help ensure that our team, and clients, will help to drive this forward
  • Even though I had already set myself some key objectives and deliverables relating to my job description and what the company needs me to do, I finished the week with a list of 41 potential ways in which I could help the business in my first three months which I grouped into strategic themes to discuss with the senior leadership team to agree what we will do, what we won’t do and what we’ll do at a later date – I found this particularly helpful given that my role is brand new and the company is evolving fast, so it’s hard (and not appropriate) to have an exact blue-print for what my role will deliver but what is very clear are the areas for which I’m responsible and accountable and the vision for where the company is heading which will make it fairly straightforward to prioritise the list and set the plan! (Jo Redfern, Chris Rogers, Rich Webb – this will be fun, honest!)
  • I’ll have some real tangible results to report back to the team after just my first month which they will recognise as they’ve helped me to shape the work that I will deliver
  • I felt totally immersed in the company, and very proud to be part of it, after only five days in the role and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in – I was also really impressed with how open and honest our team members were and how invested they were in the company and our clients.

In total I met with 26 team members during 19 meetings. This may sound like a lot but the meetings were 30 minutes long which totalled 9.5 hours across the week – so just over a day’s worth of my time (don’t forget everyone else’s time to attend the meetings too). In my opinion it was well worth the benefits that the company and I have gained, and will gain, from this exercise and definitely the most effective use of my time during my induction.

I hope this helps. Drop me a line if you are thinking of doing something similar or if you have done something like this before and you want to advise me on some sensible next steps!

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