Coaching Newly Re-assigned Managers

Have you heard these comments?

  • “I have always wanted a chance to do this job!”
  • “If I do not get a promotion soon, with more challenges, then I will have to look elsewhere.”
  • “Frankly, I am not sure that I am ready for the demands of this job.”
  • Thanks for the promotion offer, however…”

I have heard these comments, almost every week, from managers and leaders who want to do a good job but are not sure HOW to do great work.

You may have heard that one measure of corporate success is agility.  HR professionals cite studies that describe “learning agility” as a key determinant of corporate success.  In fact, just yesterday a coaching client stated, “My core competency is my flexibility and willingness to take on any challenge.” He is representative of any high potential manager.  He was recently re-assigned to manage a new group.

For some of his direct reports, they have had 4 managers in 10 months.  [yikes.]

Managers are often re-assigned to “fix” a group.  As if people could be fixed.  A colleague used to state, “Leadership training is not like a flea tick bath. You cannot send someone to be trained and simply expect them to be cleansed of bad habits.   Leadership training is an ongoing process.”

In a similar way, some senior leaders use re-assignments as a diagnostic tool.  To test capacity.  One senior executive told me, “I need to re-assign ______ to this group.  If he cannot fix them within 2 months, then no one can.”

Some workers call that approach “seagull management.”  They complain about temporary managers that fly in, squawk loudly, poop on everything, and then fly away.

What about your company or organization?

Just as there are two sides to every coin, it is useful to consider each side of the re-assignment situation:  1. from the manager’s perspective, and 2. from the worker’s perspective.

This post focuses on coaching the newly re-assigned manager. For the other perspective, read my blog called “Dealing with the newly re-assigned manager.”

  1. A re-assignment is a great opportunity to shine. The newly reassigned manager is usually a high performer.  They may lack specific skills or knowledge for the job.  However, they are not alone.  The former manager is often displaced nearby.  That former manager can provide information about what did not work and the strengths of every person on the team.
  2. A re-assignment is lonely. They are often tasked with doing something difficult, such as re-aligning a team or managing a difficult client or driving new business.  Like any manager, information is currency.  And they need accurate information.  Typically I suggest that the magic number is 6.  Each manager needs at least 6 informants who provide accurate data. It will not likely be the same data.  However, from each of those data sources any manager has a greater likelihood of having enough information to make smart decisions.  A coaching question is:  Do you have at least 6 informants?  If not, what are you doing to cultivate those 6 relationships?  (Frankly, some leaders hire an external coach like myself to provide another data source on the individuals in their team.   External, objective, experienced perspectives are the best investment I know of for newly reassigned managers.)
  3. A re-assignment requires action. Typically there is little time for assessing strengths of the team, understanding the business needs.  You are in the lion’s den.  When faced with fire, you may want to stop, drop and roll.  But you may not know what to do.  I often suggest that new managers 1) share your vision, 2) briefly state your story and experience, 3) gain alignment by assuring people that they have a purpose, and 4) advocate for their careers.

Here is an example/ case study.  Joe was formerly an external consultant with 6 large companies.  He has the demeanor of Dr. Spock and the passion of Captain Kirk.   Because of his reserved nature, few new about his experience, and few new his thoughts.  Within 2 years he quietly showed both.

When Joe was promoted onto the senior leadership team, some wondered who he was and why he was promoted.  Last week his manager gathered about 20 leaders, from the director level on up, and explained his re-organizational structure.  Within 2 hours, Joe had a similar meeting with his team of over 30.  Most did not know him.  I coached him to share his story.

You may have heard “A Picture is worth 1,000 words.”  The corollary is “A story is worth 1,000 pictures.”   We remember stories.

  • Our heroic manager, Joe, started by naming the anxiety in the room.  He acknowledged that humans fight any change in inertia.  We resist change.  He named the emotions in the room by stating, “Some of you may be feeling fear, concern, excitement, confusion…”
  • Then Joe shared his story in 4 minutes or less. He used plural pronouns (we, us, our team) more than personal pronouns (I, me, mine.)    He mentioned specific companies and stated results using exact numbers, so that all understood the examples.
  • Then Joe stated his values of teamwork and humility. He intentionally modeled pattern language that worked for him in the past such as “I know I’m not the smartest guy in the room…” and “Like that successful team, I expect our team to…”
  • Then Joe provided two images to show the story. The first image was of the organizational chart. It included everyone’s name and title.  That way everyone in the room immediately knew where they fit, and where other’s fit.  The second picture was of the Brooklyn Bridge. As a history buff, Joe knew the details about how a team of immigrants did the seemingly impossible task of building that bridge.  And the bridge metaphor became part of his pattern language when he said, “Just like that team of immigrants, we need to build bridges with our customers so that…”
  • Then Joe supported the bridge metaphor by providing structure to his new team. For instance, he promised to schedule 30 minute meetings with everyone on his team in the next 10 days.  He stated that he preferred scheduled meetings and that people schedule through his assistant.   He stated his expectation that each person must bring an agenda to those meetings, so that they use their time efficiently.  And he suggested that they adopt the 10-10-10 model.  For the first 10 minutes the employee defines the agenda, for the next 10 minutes Joe defined the agenda or asked for clarification, for the final 10 minutes they collaborated on next steps.
  • Then Joe stated how he would model accountability. In his words, “Do not be upset if I ask you to wait for a moment while we are talking.  I need to make notes of actions I promise to do for you.  When we meet, I may take notes on paper or on my blackberry.  If you would just pause for a minute, then I will be able to take care of you, and follow-up as needed.”

These best practices work.

The best reason to invest in an external, objective coach like me is so that your newly re-assigned managers can succeed.  Some 80% of change initiatives fail (source: The Conference Board.)  The only way to make certain that your change initiative does not fail is to invest in your team’s success.

Typical investments in individual and group coaching are for 12 months, so that your people know that you expect them to change.  What are you willing to invest for a successful change initiative- $100,000? $150,000?  $200,000?

For specific details call 704.895.6479.  I would love to learn about your newly reassigned managers!

Respectfully, Doug Gray, PCC