In late May, I reconnected with my long-time colleague and esteemed collaborator, Jan Emerton of WWConsulting, for a timely talk about our shared experiences developing leaders and executive teams in global corporations and how we can apply what we know about delivering impactful off-site experiences to deliver more effective on-site experiences with remote and hybrid work as the norms going forward.
This topic of how we work and how we gather moving forward is quite polarized presently. In the past weeks, we have seen open letters from prominent company employees articulating their requirements of management, alongside other companies appealing to talent with extensive flexibility. Some voices are appealing to ambitious talent to not be naive – get back to the office as soon as possible to optimize your progression. A less prescriptive, but thought provoking stand out for me personally has been Priya Parker. In interview with Brene Brown – How to Return and Why it Matters she shares some sobering questions:
Are we racing back without asking what we have learned about our work and our teams?
We have this opportunity to broaden reach for talent and to achieve great diversity, yet the past year has had a sizable disparate impact on women and parents.
What have we learned that we want to carry forward?
Jan Emerton is an expert facilitator of international groups, skilled in delivering with empathy, clarity and impact. Jan has deep experience in cross- cultural differences and their implications in the field of communication in international business. She has wide experience in helping groups of executives from different nationalities, to understand cultural differences and to engage diverse groups in learning experiences. She has worked extensively in Europe and North America, and delivers programs in fluent French and English and operational Swedish and Spanish.
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Entering a new organization in a senior position can feel like the proverbial “dog that caught the car.” This is a post for leaders in transition by a leader in transition, sharing in hopes of making your move better for you and those depending on you.
You’ve prepared and pursued a consequential opportunity that has some hope and promise. You’ve likely left a position of strength, a context you understood, a reputation, and a team of people. Now, amidst the congratulations and feelings of achievement, you must make the transition effectively for your vision to become a reality. Like your past successes, your future success will be constructed upon not only what you bring to the party, but also upon your understanding of the context, your ability to earn trust and influence in the relationships you form, and the choices you make about priorities and how to expend resources. While evidence is mixedon whether it is rational to evaluate new leaders by performance in the first 90 to 100 days – clearly it varies by role – it is clear that transitions into positions of significance carry expectations that new leaders must acknowledge. It is also clear that your actions – or lack there of – impact your team and other stakeholders from day 1.
I’m in a period of transition myself. After 8 years of progressive leadership responsibility with an organization, leading talent and HR, I’m in transition from a place of being well established to what’s next. While I’ve planned and contributed to the onboarding of many leaders joining the organizations in which I led, a recent experience provided additional insight into how consequential transitions can be. I was asked to present how I plan to approach onboarding at the final stage of a selection process for a CHRO position for a firm that was: (1) planning a large acquisition, (2) working through a previous merger that occurred before the on-set of the C19 pandemic, and (3) joining a very impressive international team who are committed to delivering a challenging plan. The opportunity didn’t materialize in the end as the acquisition wasn’t successful, but the work that I put into preparing was very well received and has been valuable in several forums where I have shared it as an example. I hope the underlying approach will be helpful to you.
When planning to onboard a new team member into an organization, there are many things that the organization will (or should) provide and likely has owners for (e.g., INFOSEC, travel profiles, electronics and systems access). There are areas of orientation that process owners and hiring managers within organizations are accustomed to brief and transition leaders into (e.g., company culture and history, policies / processes / tools). However, the transition agenda and “story arc” priorities for a leader’s appointment must be owned by the leader in transition. It is you who will be judged by the choices made in this period. It is you communicating with the first data points of your time in role to the stakeholders you serve.
In preparing to present my onboarding proposal and transition plan, I revisited the resources in my library and did some research for examples and templates, finding many helpful inputs (see below). I did not find a simple synthesis that I felt comfortable presenting to a selection committee, so I made one. In the end, the core came together in three steps / views for me.
Objectives for the transition period. What do you want for yourself and your stakeholders in this period to form a foundation for your tenure?
2. Break down the transition period into addressable parts, what objectives will you prioritize in each period? What will you focus on to know, do and value and in what sequence? What choices / decisions do you plan to make and in what timing (to set and manage expectations)?
For step 2, having a view on the business calendar to understand key milestones in the planning cycle (e.g., budgeting, talent review, strategy and board reviews) along with the status of key projects / decision points is critical.
3. Plan activities to deliver on the planned commitments and achieve the objectives set in steps 1 & 2. This is where you commit time on calendars and enlist others into the agenda.
Plans are a starting point for actions. They will change. By having this foundational work prepared, you will be able to enlist available resources and activities in service to your objectives. You will have clarity on your priorities. You are prepared to show great respect to the team you will lead and demonstrate your commitment to delivering for your stakeholders.
Add to the conversation – what can you share to help those of us in transition? What have you experienced that has made a significant difference?
I recently had the chance to be interviewed for an episode on the You, Me, and Your Top Three podcast by CGS Advisors CEO, Gregg Garrett. We talk about transformation techniques and discuss the major disruptions taking over the HR and mobility industries.
“Brandon’s ‘Top Three’ gives us a glimpse into the origins of his “do something” attitude – from his dad who instilled his inner drive, to his church community who helped him keep grounded in the ‘why’, to his c-level coworkers who let him fill the whitespace that he desperately needed. And you have to hear what Brandon has to say about how you have to learn to lean into relationships to drive forward and to lead.”
I was recently interviewed by Anil Saxena from the ChangeNerd Community Future of Work podcast to discuss ways to connect HR to business results. Throughout the conversation we discuss the value of understanding the business and pain-points, understanding your customers and the value proposition HR needs to bring the business.
For many of us, being invited to contribute more broadly to leading a business, at times beyond our domain expertise, is the greatest compliment we can receive in our work. I lead a global function within an organization and contribute to several cross-functional leadership teams that manage the business. I work with a team of others that do the same – lead a part and contribute to the whole. What this typically equates to is that in a given 2-hour team meeting, 10 minutes will be planned for review of the KPIs, updates and decisions that need to be taken for my part. It is important to be well prepared to effectively manage your part of the agenda, but it’s been my experience that this time is usually cut in half through the normal course of the meeting. Or, if you’re allocated more time, it’s not because it’s going really well. The most effective colleagues I have worked with over the years adapt to accomplish their objectives AND actively contribute to the rest of the meeting.
Being able to accomplish your objectives in this normal course of business should be anticipated and is a team member’s responsibility. If it’s our meeting then we are accountable for the whole agenda. How we engage in the rest of the meeting can be analogous to how we operate within the organization. We can just show up, we can only focus on our tasks and lament when our agenda isn’t granted priority over others, or we can view ourselves as a member of the team accountable for the whole agenda and make a difference in the rest of the meeting. Having the perspective and preparation to succeed in the rest of the meeting can be developed in both process and content.
To be effective in the process, we have to develop our perspective and skills. Our perspective (i.e., attitudes or paradigm) on the team, our role on the team and our individual and shared objectives informs what we endeavor to do. We also have to be skilled in our preparation and interactions to show up on the job beyond intentions.
Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful:
4+2 Model – How HR leaders earn the invitation to operate centrally within their leadership teams to engage and enable their leaders to capably drive the talent agenda. 4+2 Model presentation from the Talent Management Institute at UNC
As we learn the various facets of the work of the team and the relationships and dependencies that exist between them, the content (i.e., business acumen) of the team’s work can be the most daunting gap to bridge. When transitioning to a new role, the content is new and you will have a lot of questions. One example to illustrate this is in how a company manages finished goods inventory. In order to contribute to the rest of the meeting for a team that has to manage finished goods inventory effectively, the questions you have to understand include:
Why is it important? What happens if we have too much? What happens if we have too little?
Where does it come from? Is it sourced or made internally? What are the lead-times to receive more? What is the capacity of the supplying producer?
What causes or triggers it to be sourced?
How do we pay for it? How do we get paid for it?
If we have too much and need to reduce, do we have the right commercial team to increase consumption and what does that do to our production workforce and for how long?
If we have too little, do we have the right talent in the right quantity to ramp up?
Beyond the perspective and skills to effectively contribute to the rest of the meeting, we need to understand the content of the meeting. Curiosity is the key. Do not believe enduring ignorance will go unnoticed. By noting what you do not understand to research and seek mentoring from your colleagues to better understand their part of the business, you can both improve your knowledge and build your relationships.
It’s a choice. You can fixate on your part of the agenda and hope the space you’re given fulfills your expectations or you can take accountability to contribute to the rest of the meeting and make a difference.
I received this text recently…”the dojo is now closed.” It was sad – a moment of silence type of experience where you recognize something that mattered is no more. I led a team of four Organization Development Specialists, three grew up in the organization in various operations roles before taking to facilitating learning and planned change; the fourth an exceptionally eccentric trades expert from the area, but new to the organization. In the weeks after I joined the company and the team’s formation, they were being moved out of our beautiful new corporate HQ to an empty room in a nearby engineering building. The day they moved in, I was there with them when I had the idea that what we needed was a meeting table in the room and a white board. We would have our team meetings right here; no tracking to a HQ conference room. They were no longer run out of corporate. We were given a sanctuary. Much fun and great work came out of what we affectionately called The Dojo.
I was very proud of this place. I spent time there pretty much everyday though my desk was in the HQ nearby. This was the best work environment I’ve ever worked in. Not because it hosted perfect people, Google like design, or progressive HR policies. We had an engaged team, each member learning and making the greatest contributions of their careers. Within six or seven months of this team being organized and me being brought in to lead it, in addition to our core accountabilities, there seemed to be no initiative happening in our organization that we weren’t needed to contribute to in some way. Additionally, we were meeting with and coaching every Manager, Director and VP in our customer group on a monthly or quarterly basis.
After two-years, I decided to leave the organization for completely personal reasons – to move my family home where my wife and I could raise our kids to know their grandparents, extended family, friends and church. Unfortunately, the magic of the dojo faded quickly. The team members have each moved on now, better from the time they spent together in this place and now using their talents to further other organizations. Who we hire, promote and recognize…who we entrust the duty of leading our talent…This experience was a very personal example for each of us on how the acts of the local leader can enable something remarkable to develop or tear it down. I’m thankful and better off for the years in the dojo.
“Great leaders are great teachers not only because they know what they think, but because they take the time to organize their thoughts in ways so that they can communicate them clearly.” – Noel Tichy, The Leadership Engine
Teachable Points of View (TPOV) are by far the most frequently visited topic I’ve written about. In my own work helping develop leaders, learning to develop and communicate TPOV’s continues to be one of the most needed and, when used, effective skills of leaders. Here, Noel Tichy speaks on this concept that he has developed and instructed for decades.
Leadership is socially demanding. Interaction with those you lead (and hopefully serve) is necessary. I’ve found that it is very unlikely that we as leaders will consistently behave as we wish to – recognizing, coaching, supporting, developing, empowering and engaging…more – without creating some type of structural space/time and process to enable it. A practice that I use and recommend is creating a norm around meeting with each member of your team for one-on-one discussions to focus on their personal learning and performance.
Commit to meeting with each of your direct reports on a consistent frequency. For me, the minimum is 30 minutes bi-weekly. It’s their meeting, so I ask them to schedule the time in open space on my calendar at a time that works for them, booking 3 – 6 months into the future. I’m available for more if they want or need it. Our meetings do get moved as needed, but very rarely cancelled.
I require a written update around a loosely structured agenda built around roles I want to play as their leader:
to provide recognition – My Accomplishments (what have you accomplished since we met last?)
to serve their needs and support them – My Needs (what can I do that will be helpful to you?)
to build trusting relationships – FYI’s (no action needed updates), My Team (skip-level updates)
to engage and develop – My Development (what have you planned or accomplished to learn, experience and connect to develop yourself?)
to coach and empower performance – My Project Updates (what’s the status / how are you planning to progress?)
The purpose of the written update sent in advance is it allows us to make better use of our time together discussing and responding to the situation rather than using our limited time describing it.
Feedback I’ve received on the process:
I get a sense of satisfaction reporting my progress and it forces me to acknowledge ownership of my work.
Conversely, knowing the time is coming where I will report on my status and what has been accomplished (or not) also motivates me; I want to avoid having nothing to report but excuses.
I like having the consistency. It’s easier to get my needs met without feeling I need to “interrupt” as often.
I’ve provided the same update to my bosses over the years and the process makes me better. One thing that is certain is that if I, as the leader, didn’t set the expectation and require the process, entropy would set in; preparation and the good use of our time would end and I’d likely have what most others do with their time.
Committing to this structure and process makes me a better leader and my team members better performers. It also scales really nicely for those of us that manage global, remote or virtual teams.
If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works for you.
When King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king of Israel. The people of his kingdom appealed for some relief from the heavy requirements of them. The new king sought council of two groups, his wise elders and his peers. His elders told him if you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will respond in kind. His peers advised teach them a lesson and make your power known by telling them they have had it good and your requirements are much higher, like scorpions even.
I see plenty of evidence that leaders continue to seek similar council on how to lead.