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ATP, All Things People, ATP Reflect, ATP Elevate, People Science, Voice Of Employees, Continuous Listening, Employee Engagement, Employee Experience, Proactive action planning, 3Cs of Culture Capability and Commitment
ATP, All Things People, ATP Reflect, ATP Elevate, People Science, Voice Of Employees, Continuous Listening, Employee Engagement, Employee Experience, Proactive action planning, 3Cs of Culture Capability and Commitment

Power of continuous listening in setting-up new managers for success

Over the past 24 years, I have perhaps managed 60-80 direct reports, the vast majority of whom were manager of manager. Over the last 4-5 years, I have also had the fortune of managing large multi-layered organisations of 100+ individuals, where each individual direct could be responsible for the business deliverables, career progression (and effective general happiness) of over 50 people. In that context – one key inflection point, which can have significant business and organisational implications, is when a new leader comes in leading one of these verticals, particularly someone from outside the team or even the company.  

 

Each manager has a different style, different strengths and operating preferences. They have different approaches to business strategy, priorities and decision making. Each business has a different context, different historical strategy (often shaped by the outgoing leader) and a different prioritisation approach. Each team has a different culture and operational preferences, which have been conditioned by the outgoing leader and the business context in which they operate. Hence there’s a troika – of the business leader, the business itself and the organisation – that influences the key short and long term business & organisational outcomes, employee motivation and engagement. Each of these 3 shaped and influenced by the other 2, often over a period of time. Like 3 gears working together in tandem. Any disruption or change in any of these 3 has the risk of throwing the entire arrangement into disarray.

 

Don’t get me wrong – there are times when things have to be shaken up. The organisation may have over time got too fat and lenient – and may not be able to drive the appropriate business outcomes effectively. Or the business context may have changed – necessitating a change in approach. But a more common occurrence is the appointment of a new leader – from within or more often outside the team or even the company. As mentioned above – this new leader is very likely to have a different style, strength and operating preference than the outgoing leader. (This may even be a deliberate choice – a business will need different leadership styles and approaches at different stages of growth and maturity.) They will likely not be close to (or in some cases even aware of) the precise business and organisational contexts. And hence a change has the potential to be highly disruptive – both for the business and the organisation.  

 

While organisations have occasionally introduced interventions such as New Leader Assimilation to help settle new leaders in, these are generally sporadic and left to good intentions, and even if done well – are point in time and not ongoing. I have personally experienced the power of continuous listening in helping me and my leaders navigate through this critical phase. One example was the case of Aparna (name changed). When Aparna came to my team, not only did she have to adapt to a new team, but it was also a new business and the role required new functional expertise (she was going to manage a supply chain team as part of the organisation, when she had not worked with supply chain closely before). Our organisation used to have regular continuous listening surveys that helped me stay close to the pulse of the organisation, identify any emerging issues, and address them quickly.

 

Aparna came with strong scores on these surveys from her past team; and the team also had a history of strong survey results. However, soon after she started, I noticed a drop in score across various metrics – inputs that would indicate drops in employee engagement and commitment. I started being more aware and picked up a drop in energy – both office chatter and at team meetings & reviews. The listening survey asked several different questions on a regular basis, and studying the responses helped me understand the issue in more detail. Based on these questions, the underlying drivers seemed to include (a) new manager style (quieter, more focused on the outcomes); (b) a revised business strategy (more focus on profit), (c) Manager’s lack of experience of working with the supply chain; (d) coupled with the teething issues with any transition. Aparna & I reviewed the results and agreed an action plan to help address the situation. This included things she would do to adapt her style to what the team needed, clearer communication to the team on changes in business strategy, and a reassurance that she was there for them even though she may be less vocal than her predecessor. She also attended a workshop and adopted a supply chain-buddy to help accelerate her learning path in working with supply chain. We reviewed the feedback on a monthly basis, and surely enough the team input started improving as the specific actions took hold.

 

And within 2 months, the scores were higher than what they had been under the previous manager; and there was a noticeable difference in team moral & energy. In addition to her relationship with her team, the insights and discussions (and her overall humility through this all) helped her build strong relationships with her peers (particularly in the supply chain), as well as me, her manager.  

All in all – I found the continuous listening surveys to be a very strong tool to help me manage organisational (particularly senior leadership) transitions in the teams I managed. 

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