Avoid New Broom Syndrome as a New Leader
"New broom syndrome" affects a lot of new leaders who suddenly find themselves in charge of things after years of being led by someone else. It refers to the desire to sweep out old practices, old ways, old methods, and even some of the old staff! Once you become a leader, it is really important to learn the ropes fully before flexing your muscles. You can only gauge the direction of everything as a leader by observing, talking with everyone and looking for the big picture first.
- Don't assume you know what's "going down" even if you used to work in the same place. Being a general employee differs from being a leader. Once you become a manager or a boss, it will take time for you to spot the general trends in the overall landscape. What you learned in your previous role may have only pertained to that role, area, or service. Assume that you still have a lot to learn, and many pieces of the jigsaw to put back yet. You may benefit from reading How to Be Humble.
- Tread carefully at the start. Don't assume that you will be liked. Your predecessor may have been so well-loved that nobody wanted to see him/her leave. Or (s)he may have been so unpopular that they're afraid that you might be just as challenging! Let people get to know you before you implement changes; earn their trust by being responsive, available, and honest. In other words, learn How to Be a Good Boss (or How to Be a Good Manager) before you tackle change.
- Take time to get to know people and their roles. Ask them questions about how they perceive their role and how they perceive the general direction of the organization they work for. Don't make it feel like you're grilling them, though, or make them worry about losing their jobs.
- Observe. Take a good look at how the unit functions, watch for bottlenecks, and get familiar with the culture of the department and staff. Do they talk, joke, laugh? Are they tense, terse, or reserved? Are they busy, or are they just looking busy? Are they efficiently going about their tasks, or are they spinning wheels on things that should not be first in line to get done? Watching first will help you identify problem employees and trouble spots before you just go in and start slashing.
- Ask staff for their ideas. Although you're probably brimful of new ideas, simply presenting these as the new way of doing things is unlikely to get buy-in from existing employees - and can create resentment. Remember, these are the people who have been doing the work for a long time. Their "insider" view may be very helpful. Instead, take a dual approach of consulting employees to get their ideas and then thinking through the ways in which you can marry the most promising of these ideas with yours to achieve positive outcomes. Be sure to make it clear that you have benefited from staff ideas and pinpoint those that are being implemented. Doing this will smooth your way!
- When you delegate, you're more likely to get more useful, relevant feedback. See How to Delegate.
- Implement gradual change. A bunch of sudden and abrupt changes will leave everyone lurching, and threatens to destabilize your organization. The best approach to implementing change as a new leader will usually be to gradually shift out existing practices and reshape them with new ones. The only exceptions to this will be a situation where the company is failing and everyone knows you have been brought in to try to turn it around in a short span of time, or when you are being confronted with an unexpected crisis. The latter would be a good opportunity to implement a new way of working if you clearly think it would propel the organization forward and resolve the crisis. Use any resistance you encounter at this point as a barometer of how ready the organization is to accept you and to clear out any dead wood at an appropriate (later) stage.
- Don't accept the commonplace reasoning from worried or stagnating staff that "This is the way we've always done it." While it is vital to avoid the sledgehammer approach, you will need to do the role you were employed to take on. You were selected to lead and your superiors will expect to see you making improvements. Don't make changes for the sake of change alone, but do implement improvements. Employees become entrenched in routines that are either too redundant or too risky - where you notice such non-constructive workplace activity, make changes. Request and expect enhancing changes to be implemented at once. Most of all, don't be swayed by any resistance not supported by serious evidence that your proposed changes are not sustainable or beneficial.
- Equally, don't make the mistake of doing nothing any time soon. People expect new leadership to inject new insight, motivation, and methods when they come. It's a balancing act that is expected of leaders. You were selected because you have clearly demonstrated these abilities to lead, so have confidence!