Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

So now you are in charge

When Christopher Coyne became bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Ver­mont, he made what, to me, was a very intelligent statement. He said that a wise man he had worked for at one time said he should wait a year in a new role before making changes.

This is important, especially if you are following a great or endearing leader. Think of John Sculley, who followed Steve Jobs when he left Apple the first time. Steve Jobs could do no wrong and he proved it when he returned after a short time when his successor had changed a lot of things and unraveled the fabric of Apple. Jobs had to undo the makeover and reinstate his own culture, and the rest is history. Apple has become the most valuable company in the world.

After a month, Bishop Coyne wrote a letter outlining the changes he decided to make. Some were superficial. Some elevated to permanent status people who were “acting” in capacities. But some of the changes were substantive. So what was different in just a month and what can we learn from this as managers?

Some changes are a matter of personal preference. You might like all casual dress and I might like people to wear suits (although the latter may not be so popular today). I remember in a management role I had where I tried to introduce a more inclusive management style. I would ask my people what they thought of this change or that before I made it. One employee was particularly resistant. When I asked her how she would feel about a change in process, she looked at me and said, “What are you asking me for? You’re the boss.” After a year, she was the most vocal at meetings where changes were discussed.

Sometimes we are replacing someone who was particularly unpopular or incompetent. There, change has to come more quickly while we are being careful at each step of the way that all bases are covered. Some changes are obvious. And, more often than not, many changes will meet opposition or resistance. That’s when you might remember that you’re the boss (but you had better be right).

So, how do you know what to change when you come into a new environment?

Style changes

As I mentioned, my style is more inclusive so if my predecessor was autocratic, for example, I might make a change in the short term.

Personnel turnover

Whenever a new leader comes in, there is going to be some turnover, whether from disgruntled employees who thought they should have the job to people who don’t like change, however refreshing it might be.

Obvious problems

Every organization has some shortcomings in its structure and a new manager has the unique opportunity to make changes to correct those shortcomings.

Structural changes

Some changes come due to relocations, mergers or reorganizations. There are many fewer choices in these cases and, fortunately or unfortunately, your changes must be accepted (so again you had better get them right).

Now, I am not going to make arguments for adopting an inclusive style versus an autocratic one but, by consulting with your top managers before making changes, theey will be more accepted. By bringing these managers into discussions, you will make better decisions; the decisions will be more nimble and adaptable in case of resistance or error; and the managers will bring their people along to make your changes more accepted.

Change is difficult, as I have written before, but whenever there is a new leader, for whatever reason, change is inevitable. Your job as a manager is to get people to embrace the changes that you need to make or want to make. This is one of the keys to managing effectively and successfully.•

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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