Summer is the time when some people get ready for a change, to start a new role, fresh after a summer break. And while those who have a new role to look forward to are trying to wind down their current commitments, there is always the excitement that awaits round the corner, a great sense of anticipation that potentially marks the start of a new chapter in an individual’s professional life.
As the day of making that important new start approaches, there are usually a number of ideas buzzing around in people’s heads. Equally, there are niggling concerns and some elements of self-doubt or a slight anxiety about the burden of expectations. The first thing to say is that all these are absolutely normal, just as normal as some of these feelings that many of us might have experienced walking down the aisle to tie the knot and make a deep, long-lasting commitment.
So I thought it would be useful to lay out a few simple principles that I have learnt from my peers and seniors (and tried myself), which could be relevant for any role, but particularly for senior leadership or management.
The first 100 days Many books and articles have been written about the importance of the first 100 days in post, and I have known many people who have had elaborate plans for their first 100 days – as did I. But there’s nothing particularly sacred about this milestone. In reality, you cannot actually achieve a great deal in your first 100 days, so you’re best to treat them as your honeymoon period, a time when you get to know the organisation, the history, the culture, the team, the board, the exciting plans and the big challenges.
Making changes A new leader or manager often signifies change, and everyone will watch you very closely in terms of what you want to deal with. And wanting to stamp your influence on this role, you too will be keen to make some changes based on what you have seen and what you think you have understood. However, proceed with caution. If you want to make some changes, do not do so in the first three months – but if you do want to make some changes, do it in the next six months. Of course, these are not the radical ones, but some changes are absolutely critical and even if the change is not completed it is important to have it charted out in the first six months and communicated.
The unfreezing and refreezing When a new person walks in, there is some disruption, a period of "unfreeze". Some patterns, activities, behaviours, tone, language or relationships are disrupted. It is an uncertain phase. But this is also the best time for the incoming person to identify the opportunities, to elicit and promote some ideas. Before you knew it, you too would have settled into a pattern and thus contributed to a refreeze. Make the best use of the unfreeze period to ask some challenging questions, challenge the status quo (if it needs challenging), reinforce some messages, but also assure colleagues about all the good stuff that is happening and which you will absolutely commit to continuing. When that happens, the refreeze becomes more healthy, trusting and less rigid.
There’s a famous quote that says "the best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today". So if you really want to get off to a great start in your new role, invest some time in mentally preparing yourself and bear in mind a few key principles. They might prove to be handy.
Girish Menon is chief executive of ActionAid UK