New director should build rapport with his staff

Dear Joan:
I really enjoy reading your articles in the paper. Your responses hit the mark, so I'd like you to respond to the following question. 

I work for a public organization that has about 150 employees and an annual expenditure of about $10 million. Three months ago, a new director was appointed (former director retired) and the newspapers and our in-house newsletter reported the event. The new director was not a former employee of this organization. Some of us at work have discussed that we haven't heard one written or spoken word from our new director to the employees of this organization. Some employees defend him saying he's a very busy person and will surely get around to saying something. Others including myself, feel that he should make at least a token statement to his new subordinates.

My question is, regardless of management style, what should a new director's responsibility be in regards to communicating to the employees after coming on board? I suppose the question could be asked not only of a director but also extend down to a new group supervisor. Looking forward to your answer.

Your leader reminds me of a new football coach who spends all of his time pouring over game plans and forgets to go out on the field and meet the players. On the day of the first big game, he's likely to walk out on the field and find chaos. 

If your leader is "too busy" to communicate with his new organization, it's because he's busy doing too many of the wrong things. He needs to join you in the locker room before he alienates any more people with his absence. If he doesn't want to be known as aloof, uncaring or arrogant, he needs to show his (friendly) face. Your new leader can't lead the organization until he leads the people and he can't lead the people if they don't know who he is. 

Hopefully, he's spending some of his time getting to know his direct reports. His immediate staff members are probably a little anxious about who he is and how he manages. Middle managers are usually the employees who feel the biggest impact in a change of leadership because they are caught in the squeeze play between top decisions and front line execution. The fact that none of them was promoted to replace the retiring leader may be causing some additional tension. 

If he hasn't done so already, he needs to call each of them into his office and discuss their responsibilities and get their ideas. If he's a good coach, he'll ask them what they think the biggest problems and strengths are in the organization. He may even ask each of them, "If you were me, what would you see as the top three priorities needing attention in the first year and what would you do about them?" After doing this individually, he should call a planning meeting of his staff to openly discuss the priorities and plans for the coming year. 

He also needs to get to know others in the organization so he can assess the bench strength of his team. His managers should urge him to do this, since they are probably aware of the unrest his absence is causing. If he's uncertain about how to approach employees, he should call a meeting of his top management staff and ask them to help him design a plan. 

That plan will probably include a warm, personal letter in the newsletter to all employees. He may also want to host a "Coffee Break with our New Director." Some doughnuts and coffee are a small price to pay for some valuable good will. He should get out from behind his desk and go on a tour of the facility. Each supervisor would be proud to show him around their areas to meet employees. Perhaps there is an upcoming holiday party or employee event that he could use to address the group more formally. 

150 people is not a very large organization, so he should be able to find ways to meet everyone in a face- to- face encounter. He needs to show confidence, warmth and genuine concern for the employees. He should be using employees' natural anxiety about new leadership to build excitement and enthusiasm rather than fear and skepticism. The team is eagerly awaiting the first play and he can't afford to miss this opening because they are 'wide open.’

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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