Leaders who are on the fast track know what it’s like to have to “scale” when they’re promoted. They may go from managing an organization with a few people to managing hundreds in the blink of an eye. They may not know how to scale the relationships that are most important to their success.
Your ability to maintain relationships is key to success in the new position, of course; and you also must be able to scale connections with people in your organization (and make time to develop important stakeholder relationships outside the organization). What worked in your previous situation with a much smaller group may not work now to assure important connections.
Consider Sue, who managed a group in a Fortune 100 for several years. Her organization consisted of four managers who reported directly to her and 60 total employees. She knew all of them, including their strengths, weaknesses and what they loved doing. She had met many of their families over the years.
Sue’s strength was in the one-to-one conversations she methodically had with each of the 60 employees in her organization at least once a year. She loves people, is a good listener and is able to set people at ease with her casual, easy-going manner. Sue feels these regular conversations have been important to her and her organization’s success.
Sue just got a promotion. She’ll be leading an organization of several hundred employees and their managers. She knows she has to conduct large (impersonal, in her words) all-hands meetings from time to time with this new group. How can she possibly manage to continue with the “personal touch” that’s been her strength now? Although Sue really wants to continue using her gifts in one-to-one conversations, she also understands that it will be almost impossible, from a time perspective, to do so.
Here are some ways she could continue to manage this while still using her strong ability to encourage honest dialog in new ways with this larger group:
Encourage and teach her managers to have the kind of conversations with their employees that were successful for her. Listening well, using curiosity, and using empathy when needed are all great skills for her to promote in her management team. Sue could facilitate a discussion in a management meeting about the importance to the organization of forming and maintaining strong relationships and the manager’s roles as a catalyst for that.
Meet with small groups to continue to have the kind of safe, warm conversations with employees that she has been used to. The same strengths Sue used in one-on-one conversations can be used in small groups, too. Although there may be some dilution of “intimacy” in these small groups, Sue will find that she can use her conversational gifts to keep the space safe and draw people out in a way that works for everyone.
Meet one-to-one with a “representative sample” of employees from throughout her organization. Perhaps she’ll want to meet with informal leaders in the organization, or choose randomly who’ll she meet with. It would be difficult for her to get around to everyone on an individual basis, but this is one way to continue to use her strengths.
Find ways to make all-hands meetings conversational and informal in a similar way to her one-on-one meetings. She might want to think about being the earliest arrival so that she can greet as many of the attendees as possible as they arrive. Staying after the meeting for anyone who would like her ear is also a great tactic, as is breaking the meeting up into smaller groups for facilitated conversations around an important topic. Asking a question of the large group from the “front of the room” is another tactic Sue can use to encourage a more conversational, informal tone.
P.S. With some modification, all of these tactics can also be used with virtual teams.
Sue discovered some ways to bring her strengths with her to this new, larger venue. Although there may be some things that she’ll have to give up, maintaining a connection with employees shouldn’t be one of them.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and owner/operator of Aspire Collaborative Services. She and her team work with organizations worldwide to develop and manage coaching programs and coach leaders to become the best they can be.