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A chink in the armor

brand consulting firms

‘It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important’, epitomizes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


A few days back, in deep discussion with a business acquaintance on Leadership transitions, suddenly emerged a ‘aha’ moment.

Picture this … A team has been working with a leader, who they like, are comfortable with or then have just got used to. At some stage this person either moves to another job or then is elevated in the company paving the way for a ‘new’ Leader. There are instances where after a year or so the team rebels, cries foul and wants the now not so new leader to be up and away. Senior Management and HR receive feedback from different quarters and things come to a head … it’s time for an OD intervention

Let’s dive deeper. Is this unique to the world of management. There is evidence that the interest and performance of students from year to year bears a correlation to their level of connect with their teachers. The pressure of performance in students comes from multiple quarters, one of which is their desire to look good or be recognized by the teacher. And this is something they seek from some, not all. So, if from one grade to the next, you find Math marks spiralling … there’s one more place to look.

Cut back to the corporate world. A team that has been used to a friendly, consensus-oriented leader and suddenly finds itself with an authoritarian one is likely to cold turkey on the new leader. This is an extreme expression, but let’s take it that styles are bound to be different

Thinking of this my mind suddenly flashed back to 1995, to a large banking and financial services company with strong HR practices in that era; and the sheer brilliance of how they managed this Leadership transition challenge that could potentially destabilize business and the success of newly appointed leaders.

Such companies had a program called the ‘New Manager Assimilation Program (NMAP)’, timed 3-6 months after a New Manager took over the role and team. Once the team had got a good dekho of new leader, they were invited to share with him their impressions, expectations and concerns with the leader. Not a pack the leader off session, but one that created an early conversation between the leader and the team, rather than letting the kettle boil over in an eruptive form at a later stage. What this gave the leader and the company an early dipstick, to then strengthen the leader well in time.

The invitation is for organizations to make such a program an essential part of the induction processes every time a new leader takes on his or her role, whether the person is moved internally or joins from outside.

A caveat; this works in companies that have a strong and mature feedback culture established as part of their performance management process. If not, instituting such a process is destined to fail, as team members will not be willing to put their cards on the table and the leader will receive muted signals, so much so that they might be led to believe that all is well with them at the helm.

In addition, managers driving this from the HR function need to be skilled to be able to run this program, since there is a risk of causing irreparable damage to the relationship between the manger and the team, if not handled delicately.  Done well, the content of the feedback can create a platform for supporting the leader in bridging gaps and building stature …

Such a process has been run with team members of the manager thus far, but I guess it can also be extended to formally or informally getting views from other stakeholders as well; peers, bosses, external stakeholders. For example, in the case of an employee of a consulting firm working remote at a client site on a long-term basis, the client is likely to have a more informed and considered view on that individual; which can be used to augment the internal view.

If this seems a bit incredulous; check with your new leaders and get their take; if there is an overwhelming acceptance, then it’s time to get some traction behind the NMAP!

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