Friday, June 20, 2008

Enter the new executive

Over the past few months I have been helping two clients who have experienced issues with the introduction of new executive manager. The first is an organisation that hired its first ever CEO, after many decades of growth and management by committee. The second is a hospital that has recruited a replacement Director of Nursing, replacing an incumbent that had been in place for many, many years.

In both instances, the organisation experienced unrest and discontent as a result of the new appointments. This is not entirely unexpected. Whenever a new person arrives it creates a discord. Different experiences create different perspectives which lead to different management practices. Everyone involved is forced to adapt somehow.

Just because the discontent is unexpected does not mean it cannot be managed and the disruption minimised. In both instances the disruption in each of these organisations could have been minimised through better communication with stakeholders, in particular the existing management team. In both instances the repair work was as a result of improved communication. It's a funny word communication it just keeps cropping up!

In the instance of a new CEO being introduced, especially when there hasn't been a CEO in the past, everyone will be impacted upon. The collegial management style of the past will likely change. Decisions may be made faster. Due to the decisionmaking being delegated to a single individual there may appear to be less consultation, though the reality may be different to the perception. The Board has a role to play here, ensuring all stakeholders are advised of the appointment, of the strengths and experiences the incoming CEO will bring, expectations of the Board and some indication of the immediate direction and management plans. Secrecy does not aid integration, it actually hinders the incoming CEO as he or she seeks to implement change. Secrecy or a lack of information leads to rumour, innuendo and stalling behavior, all which results in the organisation becoming distracted from its strategy.

A new senior executive joining the ranks of an existing team has to deal with ingrained management behavior. Again change is inevitable. It is rare for an new senior executive to be hired for the purposes of maintaining the status quo. The situation lends itself to introducing change. When a new executive manager is introduced there is a fear factor amongst all existing staff. Some will fear being caught short as their competencies and work practices are challenged. Peers will resent any attempts to move in on their patch. Poor understanding of the role and expectations of the incoming executive may lead to suspicion and blocking behaviour. On the other hand the incoming executive will have their own fears. Depending upon their past experiences they to may fear being found short on experience and knowledge by peers or direct reports. They may feel obliged to meet seemingly unreasonable expectations by the CEO or may not even fully understand what is expected of them. They may face the challenge of having to make unpopular decisions before they have had an opportunity to become known and accepted.

The CEO has a role to play in helping to integrate an incoming executive manager. Again communication is the key. It is important to bring the management group together as a team. The CEO should communicate to the group collectively so that all hear the same message and any assumptions can be challenged. Ensure the entire management group understands why the new manager was hired and what is expected of this person. Discuss and confirm the roles, expecially any changes to the status quo. It doesn't hurt to discuss as a group any shortcomings the new manager may have (and they all have some) so that the group can work together to minimise any impact of those shortcomings. Hiding shortcomings does not help the organisation in any way.

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