Socialise with subordinates an executive dilemma?

Byron Kalies, Management consultant

This is the last of a four-part series on the interview process and starting a new job

Six crucial steps to cultivate success in the first 90 days of your new job

After preparing well and getting through the interview, let's assume you've now landed the job you wanted. If it's your first managerial job, there will be a new set of real-life problems to deal with. Many of them will be staff-related. There will be people who are older and more experienced than you and who know far more about the organisation. They may be resentful that you got the job instead of them, so if you want to do well, you should take note of the following:

1. Preparation
The learning process starts even before the interview. In preparing for that, you will have learned a lot of facts about the organisation, but now that you've joined them, the focus should change. You need to find out more about the individuals you're working for, with and, possibly, against. Approach this task with an open mind, whether you're an external hire or have been promoted from within. Find out whatever you can about the culture, customers and employees. Get to understand the personalities, problems, strengths and weaknesses of your team. Ask fellow managers for their views, but don't accept everything at face value. The aim is to form your own opinions within the first few weeks.

2. Key people
Try to identify the real key players. I don't mean the people with the fanciest titles or who have a good position on the organisation chart, but those who really know what's happening. Many years ago, when I was training to be a teacher, one of the lecturers asked us who we thought was the most important person in a school. "The headmaster or headmistress," we sang in unison. He corrected us by pointing out that the deputy head, secretaries or the caretaker often know more about what is going on and, therefore, may have more influence. "Keep on their good side," was his final word of advice. In an office, it's well known that personal assistants often pull the strings. See how such people operate and learn from them how to get things done.

3. Be honest
Think carefully about what you want from the job. Have a clear idea in your own mind what experience you can gain and try to visualise what you can achieve in the next six months, two years or ten years. Evidence suggests that the clearer this vision is, the more likely it is to come true. Also, if you don't know where you're going, how can you expect to lead a team?
People will be looking to you to set the standard. Realise that others will see your behaviour as an example to follow, so your first few months in the post should be exemplary. If someone breaks the rules, you need to address the issue and be prepared to show zero tolerance. Your staff will test you to see what you're made of. This will not necessarily be malicious, but you must give them a chance to learn about your style and values, so they know where they stand.

4. Symbolic gestures
When you start a new job, it is a great time for making symbolic gestures. They don't need to be huge, but people will be expecting something new 娗 fter all, that's why you were hired. As a newcomer, you will perceive things differently and have licence to ask "obvious" questions about what people do. Listen carefully to the answers, and if you hear "because we've always done it this way", examine if it can be done better. Your early decisions will establish your reputation for a long time to come, so use the first few weeks carefully.

5. Right balance
If you're now the boss, you will have to get used to making tough decisions. That can be especially difficult if you've been promoted from within the team. You can still socialise with your colleagues, but must realise that things have changed. One school of thought says it's best not to socialise with your subordinates, even if you have known them for years. The reasons given often refer to possible problems with enforcing discipline in the office when you need to lay down the law. That doesn't make sense to me. It's a matter of both sides realising the relationship will change slightly and making sure to get the balance right.

6. It's all about people
The quality of the work a team produces is directly related to the quality of the relationships within that team. As the leader you are responsible for this and the secret is to get to know as much as you can about what makes your people tick. This requires more listening than talking and is something you should do every working day. Listen to what staff tell you about their kids, pets or football team. If you're uncomfortable doing this, get used to it. This is a skill you need to learn and is as much a part of your job as managing the finances.

Points to note

  • In any new role, identify key colleagues and find out how they operate
  • Realise that it is up to you to set an example
  • Examine current practices and look for improvements
  • As an incoming manager, make consistent efforts to get to know your team

    Byron Kalies ( is a writer and management consultant currently based in Liverpool, England. He writes for a number of magazines and newspapers across the world and has written a book 25 Management Techniques in 90 minutes.

  • Taken from Career Times 02 July 2005
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