Friday, April 13, 2012

How do you bring new Senior Leaders up to speed quickly?

There are some very unique aspects of knowledge transfer when you are dealing with Senior Leaders-- especially those with long tenure or deep expertise.

New Leaders, as we have discussed before, are given less time then ever to have impact in the organization. 90 days is the current estimate. A daunting task. And not all Senior Leaders are skilled at sharing their knowledge with those moving in to their roles. There is more then knowledge involved-- there is also pride and sometimes their own sense of identity. Everything we do in knowledge transfer must be done with respect.

With Senior Leadership transition, it is critical for the new person to understand the background and history of how things have happened in the organization-- NOT to be stuck in the same old, same old. On the contrary. Often when Senior Leaders retire you are bringing in new blood or promoting to help bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to the Leadership Team.

But to ensure new Leaders are heard, build credibility, and are able to influence in a way that is effective, new Leaders must have some understanding of what has gone on before, what works or what does not in the team, in the role, in the organization. Even to shake things up, it helps to know what it is they are trying to change-or not, and how that might be done in the most  beneficial and successful way.

Joining a Leadership Team or heading one is somewhat like joining a family. A family has history, stories, myths, realities, past experiences that exist and those experiences have helped to form how the family now works together. The Leadership Team also has shared experiences and a way of working (or not working) together and to make great change it takes not only a good mind and great courage, but also depth of understanding.

When I am doing knowledge transfer for Senior Leaders, my focus is on getting new people up to speed quickly with as much critical knowledge as possible to help them build credibility. I not only interview peers and close working colleagues but go a bit broader. The interviews are confidential, and having an external person do them is helpful-- I have no political skin in the game and my focus and goals are clear.  From the interviews, I build questions for the outgoing Leader to help create rich and targeted dialogue between the new and outgoing Leaders. This dialogue leads into topics critical for a new Leader--topics range from personnel strategy to anticipation of future trends/risks/opportunities, and budgetary challenges to the role played by the outgoing Leader on the Leadership Team.
Although these discussions may happen without such facilitation and rigor, in my many years of experience, they do not happen as deeply and completely if there is not another person present keeping a focus and ensuring the questions are fully answered.

The process does not take a long time, scheduling is often the biggest challenge, but the outcomes are incredibly valuable. I also develop for the new Leader, a learning plan or on-boarding to help them use their time in the new role to effectively gain the knowledge, skills and experience that has been recommended.

As one Minneapolis based Senior Leader said recently:
"I wish I had done this in my previous role as well, I have a full picture of what I need to know to make decisions quickly in my new role."
There you go, that's what makes this work fascinating and rewarding-- you can see the impact almost immediately.
Consider this for your own organization-- how can you make a new person effective as quickly as possible within the culture that exists now. 

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