John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

In the previous column, we reviewed the importance of starting your new position by building an effective relationship with your new manager. Here we will discuss in some depth how to carry out effective “sensing” sessions in one-on-one meetings.

The purpose of visits in your sphere of responsibility is to form impressions of the people in your unit, build relationships, project your management style – by your actions, not words – and learn how the unit functions. Doing this well requires a skilled listener. (For more, go to www.beyondluck.net, click on “preview the book” and scroll to page 17.)

As in all interviews, the more you speak, the less you learn. This is the time for shrewd questioning. Consider this backbone of questions: tell me about yourself, how did you come to this company, what jobs have you held, tell me about your job, what do you like about it, what don’t you like about it and what are three things we could do to make the unit function better.

Have a framework of ideas and use “follow your nose” questions when the opportunity presents. You must guarantee no attribution as a condition of these visits. To share who said what will be a big-time trustbuster.

Throughout this process of inquiry, take careful notes, review them and assess the key lessons learned. Here are some of your potential takeaways: What are my manager’s expectations and how can I work with her best? Who are my key internal linkages, how can I work with them most effectively and how do they perceive my unit? What are my key reports’ personal styles, who among them appear most competent and trustworthy, what is nagging at people right now and what do I have to work on immediately?

If you have a group of front-line managers between you and the people, I suggest that you visit with some employees (use a stratified random sample or else everyone if you can).  Use the same question format as previously noted. Aggregate the results and have a meeting with your managers, sharing, discussing and inviting input on how to address these issues. A Pareto analysis of these items would be quite useful.

This is a rather complex process, but if carried out competently, will serve you well. To support this endeavor, I suggest you read and study the Development Index in my book Beyond Luck. Three of the most important articles for the initial start are 1.3 (active listening), 1.8 (managing meetings) and 2.5 (engagement & decision making).

It is likely your new company is rather bad at running meetings. One way to produce rapid improvement in performance and morale is to run meetings very well. Do not hesitate to use an agenda, have a purpose, ground-rules and goals, summarize with assignments and do an end-of-meeting review. All this is seems like a lot, but if you do these things, it will improve meetings by orders of magnitude.  I once worked with a vice president in a production facility that changed the culture of the organization by making everyone run effective meetings.

This is a comprehensive overview of an initial assessment and socialization process. If you don’t have the time available – remember, you only get one chance to do this and that’s during the honeymoon – then I recommend you devote your initial efforts to the relationship with your manager.  “Well begun is half-done.”

John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at www.langhorneassociates.com. His new book, Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, is available at www.beyondluck.net.