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How to Help New Colleagues Get Off to a Good Start

When a new executive joins your team, it can be frightening and frustrating. Their new ideas may not mesh with the current culture, strategy, or environment. You wish they understood how the company really works, or that they’d at least seem more open to learning about it.

Try acting as the host: Give the new arrival the flavor of your team’s journey, including its history, traditions, grievances, and a sense of the old tribal culture. Meanwhile, seize the opportunity of having their fresh eyes on board: What can you learn from them?

Remember that the hot-to-trot newbie may have been hired specifically for their special expertise or fresh thinking, and part of their assignment may be to shake things up a bit. So even if you’ve already tried everything they’re recommending, consider that perhaps you haven’t done it their exact way, with their precise focus or spin. Or maybe the market has changed, and now is time to retry things that didn’t work in the past.

If You Feel Threatened

Let the new person go first with their questions, explanations, and suggestions. It’s their job to make new things happen, and it’s your job to help create the conditions in which they — and the company — can succeed. So instead of resenting their blue-sky summaries, encourage them to give details and examples, and get their context with some gentle questioning: “Would you tell me how and why you want it this way? What led you to this kind of plan vs. that kind of plan? Thank you. Let me share with you how and why we’ve been doing it this way, even though it’s imperfect. Let’s see how we can combine the strengths of both approaches.”

You may really be thinking, “Oh, yeah? Well, let me tell you the dozen reasons your plan won’t work and the two dozen reasons that you don’t even know what you’re talking about” — but don’t say that! Instead, try: “Tell me more about that so I can see how we can mitigate any downside. And let us know more about how you like to work so we can learn how to collaborate with you effectively.”

Put in real effort to understand what they’re proposing before you offer cautionary or pragmatic suggestions, based on your deeper knowledge of the real working conditions and the nitty-gritty of actual execution. And make sure you’re working from within the framework of shared goals and commitment to serve the business overall. When you have to challenge ideas or actions, do it with respect and the desire for everyone to do well, not as if you’re hurling grenades.

Be the Teacher You Wish They Had

It’s to your advantage to get new colleagues up to speed as quickly as possible, because whatever they don’t understand about your business and its culture will surely end up in your way. So take it as your job to teach the fundamentals of your business, particularly if there hasn’t been a thorough onboarding process, or if senior executives haven’t realigned roles to help mesh old and new responsibilities.

It’s not enough to tell your new colleague what you need — or to give them “constructive criticism” or even “helpful feedback” — when you don’t like the way they’re handling something. Real teaching and learning happen best when nobody is feeling defensive or shut out, so be open to the ways the new person responds. And get them to read last week’s post, How a Little Humility Helps New Leaders Fit In.

Onward and upward,


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