How New Leaders Categorize Their New Employees

Photo by Dreamstime
Photo by Dreamstime

It’s a pretty common phenomenon for new leaders to turn over most, if not all, of their team when they take over. It happens all the time!

It’s a primary reason while you’ll see senior leadership take way too long to change out an ineffective leader – the fallout really sucks.

Let’s take a look at how most leaders take a position. It usually happens one of two ways: Promotion or Termination. The old leader gets promoted up or gets canned, and then the organization finds a new leader (internally or externally) to come in and take over. Either way, the team has a new leader.

Next on the agenda? Change

Now, 99.9 percent of the time, this next thing happens: Change! The new leader comes in and feels pressure to make a difference, to do better, so they make changes.

Then, this happens – Crappy Communications! Most leaders are not equipped or trained at how to communicate as a new leader, and don’t negotiate with their team on how the team likes communication, so they fail at this part.

Change + Crappy Communications = Employees leaving and having really bad attitudes about the new leader.

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How a leader categorizes their new employees

Here’s how a new leader categorizes employees of a new group they take over:

  • The Converts – These are the people who are going to forget about the old leader as soon as the person leaves the parking lot. They quickly fall into the “new” line of thinking. What’s funny about these folks is that many times, their thought process switches 180 degrees depending on what the new leader likes, thinks, prefers, etc. These folks will be the ones who stay around and thrive – they are corporate survivors in the truest form – and some will see 10+ leaders come and go in their careers.
  • The Zombies – These are your victims. They only support themselves, and their life is bad because bad things seem to only happen to them. They are just waiting around for the next bad thing to happen to them. These will be the first people who get terminated under the new leader, which simply perpetuates their Eeyore-like belief that everything in life is against them.
  • The Militia — These are the employees who fight blindly to keep the vision of their old leader alive. These folks are passionate, so the new leader will try and convert them to the new vision because if you can get them on your side, they make great soldiers. But some will leave and/or get fired because they just refuse to give up the rebel flag!
  • The Double Agents – DA employees fall in the middle between converts and the militia. They really don’t want to be on one side or the other. They really want to find another job but don’t want the new leader to know. They want to watch the new leader fail, but at the same time, need that person to think highly of them to ensure their next position and a possible recommendation down the road. These folks are the ones who surprise the new leaders because they think they’re on board, then get a two-week notice dropped on their desk out of the blue.
  • The Insider – This is the most dangerous employee to a new leader. The Insider is an employee who has connections and influence and will funnel information on how the new leader is doing to higher level folks in the organization. Successful new leaders find this person quickly, and convert them quickly – it’s key to survival!

3 things new leaders should do

How does a new leader stop a mass turnover of their team? I like to see new leaders do three (3) specific things:

  1. Communicate the new reality quickly. I like to see new leaders do this within the first week of taking on the new position.
  2. Team transition meeting. Third party facilitated, this meeting allows employees to share their fears of a new leader, share the history of the collective group, and allows the team and new leader to negotiate how they will communicate with each other.
  3. Individual meetings. New leaders should set up a meeting schedule to meet with all of their direct reports weekly in the first 90 days. Making sure everyone is on the same page is critical.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


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