HR clinic: When to support your new chief

Should our trustees back the new chief executive, whose management style is upsetting our staff?

Your organisation used to run as a cooperative, but a new trustee board with a greater focus on outputs has appointed a chief executive with a more directive management style. Long-standing employees are challenging her authority.

Your new chief executive has been appointed to deliver a more modern approach, focused on effectiveness and results, and is being directive rather than consultative. This is an understandable shock to those employees who no doubt believed they were doing a good job, but who were less aware of the constraints of the changing world around them. They are kicking out and challenging authority because it is so alien to their experience and way of thinking. It's understandable on their part, but it's also wrong.

However, the chief executive might have got it wrong too. Has she spent enough time explaining the organisation's new direction to the staff? Has she sought to counsel those who don't understand what is going on around them? Has she been too impatient to get on with it and misjudged the pace of change?

She might well want to go back to basics. She needs to get the message across that the organisation is changing, and that she wants the staff to change with it. She needs to emphasise that new styles and approaches are not up for negotiation, but that she will listen to employees' concerns and will seek to accommodate them as far as possible.

Awaydays, team building sessions and training are all useful tools that can be deployed to get the majority of the staff team on board. If necessary, your chief executive can also isolate the few stubborn employees who have no intention of changing.

For them, as for everyone else, individual performance targets can be established and managed through the organisation's appraisal process, and these targets can be about attitude as well as output. And although most staff will, eventually, perform to everyone's satisfaction, the chief executive will then have the evidence she needs to manage the few obdurate employees out of the organisation through the use of the capability procedure.

The trustees certainly need to back the chief executive. But, depending on the circumstances, they might also need to counsel her on her approach, especially if they have significant experience of the staff team and their expectations.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions. Send your HR questions to

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