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By Peter Jordan, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

When a manager engages a new-start he or she will inevitably have expectations. Many of these are likely to be legitimate, based on the new recruit’s prior experience, qualifications and other aspects, as explored in the recruitment process.

No recruitment process is however a substitute for a systematic and thorough “watching of the game” during the probation period. This diagnostic will bring to the fore any gaps in ability which may have been undetected during the recruitment process. Perhaps of greater importance, watching the new start’s game will reveal levels of energy and engagement (summarised as “willingness issues”) which are much more difficult to assess via recruitment instruments.

Similarly, the new employee will also have expectations related to his or her new position. The sooner these are made explicit via one-on-one meetings the better.

Legitimate Leadership maintains that business goals and objectives are the departure point for deciding priorities or what results need to be focused on right now. This provides the context for specifying the contribution required by each person to positively impact on the results to be achieved. This applies to everybody and a new start needs to be onboarded without delay.

About six months ago a senior manager in a client’s organisation introduced a new position into his support function structure. Previously, in his support function structure, this senior manager with professional qualifications had eight junior practitioners reporting to him. The dysfunctions of this flat structure were that there was too large a gap between the senior manager and his reports, leading to him being drawn constantly into routine matters and not giving enough attention to the higher-level requirements of his position.

The specification for the new position was for a professionally-qualified person with at least five years’ relevant experience. A person meeting these requirements was duly recruited. The intention was that the new recruit would manage the eight junior practitioners and make direct contributions at an intermediate level.

At the outset two potentially disastrous assumption were made. Firstly, that due to his previous experience, the new start would have the ability to deliver on the direct contributions allocated to him. Secondly, and more dangerously, that he would have a full understanding of what managing people entails and the knowledge and the skill to do so.

Having attended a Clarifying Expectations Application Module, the senior manager held a one-on-one meeting with his direct report to ensure that expectations were aligned. At the end of the meeting he felt distinctly uncomfortable as he was not convinced that his report had enough background on some of the direct contributions assigned to him or that standards were being maintained by the eight lower-level practitioners.

The senior manager then embarked on a watching the game exercise with both his direct and indirect reports. At the end of this his discomfort had escalated to grave concern. His department is subject to stringent legal and internal compliance requirements. In the four months that he had been focusing on the higher-level issues, standards had slipped to way below acceptable levels as they were no longer being reinforced by the intermediate manager. This left the senior manager exposed to disciplinary and even legal sanction. The ability gaps exposed regarding his direct report were obviously also of concern.

At a review session with Legitimate Leadership which followed shortly after his watching the game exercise the senior manager stated that he was immensely grateful that the Clarification of Expectations Module had happened when it did, so that he could detect the gaps and take corrective action before it was too late.

In terms of corrective actions, the senior manager immediately reinforced accountabilities and standards with the whole team. At a one-on-one meeting with the intermediate manager he clearly established that it was the accountability of his report to hold the lower-level practitioners accountable for delivering on standard or above. His failure to do so would lead to him being held accountable. The ability gaps were discussed, and mutual actions agreed to.

Going forward, the senior manager had learnt the value of watching the game, not least, when starting a new employee.