As written by Michael Watkins in his highly popular Harvard Business Review article, "5 Questions to Ask When Starting a New Job," one of the most important tasks is focusing on the right things. Another key task is identifying and building relationships and alliances with key stakeholders. While new leaders may be given a “meet and greet” interview list, very often the process is devoid of crucial information.
Take, for example, the experience recounted by an executive I recently coached. “I remember clearly my first few weeks in a senior role at a new company,” said the executive. “A schedule had been created for me and I was meeting with the Chief Legal Counsel. While I was able to build a personal connection, I did not yet know enough to truly tap into his expertise. It would have been so much more helpful to have the meeting a few weeks later, when I knew more and could have had a more helpful conversation."
Managers play a crucial role in sharing information and setting the new leader up for success. Here are five questions a manager and new hire should consider and discuss:
1) Who are the key stakeholders?
For the new hire, one important onboarding element is identifying the key stakeholders. For each priority that the new leader has, it is helpful for their manager to identify the 2-3 key stakeholders. These stakeholders might be a person, a group of leaders, a needed support body or a person or group who could derail the new leader’s efforts.
2) What history does the new leader need to know?
For each stakeholder, the new leader needs to know the relevant history. Sharing the background gives the new leader the knowledge of what happened previously. In addition to history, the new leader needs any relevant data and reports that help them understand what has occurred so far.
3) What role does each stakeholder play?
For each priority, does this stakeholder need to be included in decision making, informed after the fact or consulted? It is helpful to bring the new leader into a common understanding of how to work with each stakeholder.
For some decisions, key stakeholders must be aligned and in agreement with the direction. Letting the new leader know this ensures that appropriate effort goes into building an understanding of the organization and its power structures. In addition, with so many demands on the new leader’s time, it is helpful to give the new leader a sense of how soon to meet with each stakeholder.
4) What is important to the stakeholder?
Building relationships is about far more than learning about each other’s history and background. Strong stakeholder management must include identifying what is important to the stakeholder. Asking and working to understand the stakeholder’s business challenges is essential. It is also vitally important to understand how the new hire’s priorities align or disrupt the stakeholders’ own work. The stakeholder holds a point of view; understanding that viewpoint early helps the new hires know how to support and align their work. And, if the stakeholder has reservations or concerns, the earlier those are surfaced, the better they can be addressed.
5) What can be accomplished together?
Alliances are built when the new leader identifies a way to partner effectively with a stakeholder to achieve something of significance together. Alliances may be created around a specific issue or be created for long term support.
By identifying agreed upon goals and needs, the new hire can build partnerships that move crucial work forward. And, by having the support of more tenured leaders, the new hire can often build faster momentum.
In summary, in starting a new job, simply meeting with key stakeholders is not enough. The manager must arm the new leader with knowledge to have a meaningful and productive conversation. By equipping the new leader, the manager accelerates their time to deliver results.
Rose Hollister is a Genesis Leadership Consultant and leadership transitions expert. Prior to working with Genesis, Rose directed the Leadership Institute for McDonald’s, providing innovative, award-winning development for the top 1,600 global leaders in over 100 countries. Rose was also an adjunct professor for several years in the Masters of Learning and Organizational Change program at Northwestern University.