April 23, 2015

Your New Department - First 90 Days

Maybe you just took over a department? It's your first crack at dealing with ten or more individuals. You probably feel overwhelmed, like the new Director of Marketing in this image. But you're also optimistic and talented, like the new Director of Marketing in this image.

The first ninety days in this new job are the most important ninety days, make no mistake about it!

I took over a department at Nordstrom Direct, way back in 2001. On my very first day in the job, a pair of individuals entered my office, and asked me to fire a person. Within a half-hour, the person who these folks wanted me to fire entered my office, and asked me to fix the department. Who do you think I sided with? And what do you think those introductory statements said about each employee?

Make it clear to each employee you inherit that you are using week one to "evaluate and plan". You are not making any decisions that first week. You are getting to know people. Observe work habits. See who leads in meetings. Who gets along? Who hates other people? Who gets run over by other departments? Who produces accurate work, and who produces inaccurate work? Who produces, period?! Document everything.

Sit down with your Human Resources team, and ask for all performance reviews. Also ask for documentation about each employee ... stuff like interpersonal problems, office relationships, problems with the law, the whole nine yards. Some of it will read like an episode of Downton Abbey.

Then craft a plan.

Create annual goals and objectives for each employee. These are the goals and objectives you will use to evaluate each employee. Set expectations from day one, folks. Then, every Monday morning, produce a dashboard that shows how your department is progressing against your goals and objectives.

If you take over on a Monday, make sure you have a mandatory department-wide meeting the following Monday. Have somebody from Human Resources in the room - this sets a tone that you are dead serious about having a well-functioning department that works with honesty and integrity. It also prevents inaccurate gossip - you don't want the malcontents on your team to go out there and publicly lie about what was said in the meeting.

In this meeting, set expectations. Be firm. When I took over the most dysfunctional team I'd ever observed (Nordstrom 2001), I made it very clear what I expected. In my case, this is what I shared:
  • We are a family. We love each other.
  • When we disagree, we disagree internally. Publicly, we are a unified and confident team more than willing to defend the work of each individual in the department.
  • Say whatever you want in my office and get it out of your system.
  • We are here to serve.
  • We are here to generate a ton of profit (I then outlined goals and objectives and told everybody what work they would focus on for the next year).
  • We are going to work hard - no more three hour work days.
  • We pursue excellence and innovation.
  • Our work is accurate and trustworthy.
  • We do not have a political agenda.
  • If you are not on-board with this agenda, please go find a new job as soon as you can.
You'd think a message like that would be well-received.

You'd be wrong.

The message was received much in the same way a hive of bees would receive a dozen rapidly fired darts at their queen. Oh, the message created a buzz alright. One employee asked me to "make things like they used to be". Another quit. Then another. Then another.

After your first two weeks, you can begin the process of building the department in your image. Do not copy Steve Jobs, or your Mentor. Do it your way.

Pay attention to those who are not "onboarding", to use a term a former boss enjoyed using, and determine why they are not onboarding.

Each week, reinforce your message via your dashboard. Show every employee where the department stands against goals and objectives. Reward those who adopt your program. Overpay for talent now, because your compensation department will put the clamps down on you soon. Make it clear to everybody else that they are not meeting expectations. Hire folks who you trust, who are talented, and who implement your program.

Never waver.

Always communicate - and repeatedly communicate the same message. Your employees seldom hear what you want to communicate - so the same message said 137 times has a better chance of being understood how you want the message to be understood.

Once you get past your first ninety days, you've begun to put your program in place, and you'll learn quickly whether you are going to be successful or not.

But those first ninety days are critically important - the most important of any period. Make good use of your first ninety days.