There are no hard or fast rules when you step into a new leadership role and are faced with whether to keep or replace the existing team. Either way, you are under a spotlight and the first 100 days can make or break you.
Let’s look at the pluses and minuses of either decision.
A hybrid of this either/or option happens every time we elect a new president. Every head of every agency submits his or her resignation. The new resident has about 3,000 appointments to make, and can, in fact, “hold over” – essentially reappoint - some individuals from the previous administration. The next level of employees under the appointees are the careerists. They stay in place from one administration to another, and some people feel they are the ones who actually run the government.
Option 1: Keep the existing team
- You don’t have to recruit all new direct reports
- The incumbents have a lot of institutional knowledge that is available to you
- Work can go on underneath you while you formulate your game plan
- You need to do your own assessment of the staff (conducted by you or a third party) so you know their capabilities
- You team may withhold information or sabotage your efforts
- The staff you inherited might have been part of or contributed to why your predecessor was removed
- You still may find that you need to replace people, and if you do it over time, it is more disruptive for a longer period than doing it all at once
Opton 2: Clean house
- You get to pick your people
- You may have some people who worked for you previously that you could attract and get in place relatively quickly
- The remaining employees are likely to be more open to change
- The new staff does not know about - and will not attempt to hold onto - the “old” way of doing things
- People you recruit may not fit this culture
- You will need to spend a lot of your personal time recruiting, which will take away from getting your arms around the business
- It will take the better part of six months to get your new team in place
- Your new team must learn how things “work” here
- Your team must assess their staffs and develop their game plan
- The organization’s output will be negatively impacted during all the changes
Either option has several negatives, but you may find a hybrid between the two alternatives. It may be that the new leader, while not from within the current division, came from another business unit of the existing organization. That might mitigate some of the issues of unfamiliarity with the organization for the new executive.
The new leader could assume the reins with the latitude to keep or change team members as he decides. If the person was internal, he or she would have an inside network to ferret out the strong players and those who might need to be changed out.
Once, when I took over a new group of people, there were two I inherited. My boss said he would give them a severance package if I wanted. I was young and altruistic and told him I thought I could work with them.
I spent way too much time trying to rehabilitate them, which took time away from developing and promoting my agenda. The two individuals ending up leaving the organization within six months. If I had it to do over again today, I would not have kept them.
I have also witnessed organ rejection. When I was at Anheuser-Busch, there was a senior level person brought in with the mandate to upgrade the company’s technology. The larger organization was not willing to change and didn’t want to do work differently.
There was a very quiet but very intentional resistance and stonewalling that occurred throughout the organization. The most resistant people were the most senior. They felt they had done without technology this long, so what was a few more years?
One day, I met this senior-level person in the company’s parking garage. He was carrying a box with his personal effects from his office. He was a very capable person, but one with no base of support in a company with an extremely strong culture.
Making a significant change at a high level in an organization takes careful planning. The decision to make a change in the person may be the easiest, but ensuring that person is successful requires some strategic effort.
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