Cleaning house is often times the first primary action a new leader takes upon his or her arrival; to fire or not to fire? If you’ve been recruited to fix, grow, turn around, or realign a team, there’s a strong chance you’ll be faced with this question shortly after you walk through the door. It’s not an easy question to answer. Turning over a team is physically and emotionally draining. Yet, leaders are expected to make these difficult decisions in relatively short order.
The question of who, or whom, to let go requires a number of considerations. Board expectations, executive management, the financial condition of the business, and company’s culture are all considerations when faced with this decision. No matter what the circumstance, taking away an individual’s job is something that should never be taken lightly. The reality is that many lay offs, reductions in force, or single terminations are decided upon from afar. But in cases where you are making these decisions locally you need to be prepared to act with confidence and compassion.
If you haven’t been specifically directed to change out a team, you’ll still need to evaluate your players to determine whether or not each individual will be able to make the transition. You must recognize that the addition of you, the new leader, suggests changes have already been made, and more are likely expected. Your personal style, philosophy, and work ethic are all new ingredients to this workplace recipe. Will your team be able to transform? Who will embrace the change and who will resist? Remember all eyes are on you and your ability to lead change. Resistors to the changes you plan to bring will become distractions, obstacles, and in the worst cases will strive for the workplace equivalent of a coup d’état. Your team’s alignment with your visions is critical. The sooner it happens, the greater the chance of you will succeed, and your company progresses.
A recent article in Fortune magazine, titled Should a New Leader Clean House?, author Geoff Colvin presents strong evidence that cleaning house produces better end results than those produced by leaders who attempt to work with the existing team. The existing team is responsible for generating the existing results. In many cases, a new leader is brought in to change those results, change trajectory, change outcomes. Of course the focus is on the leaders ability to produce positive change. The key is whether the probability of effecting positive change can happen with the existing team, or if the new leader needs to clean house first in order to start with their own team.
Noel Tichy, University of Michigan business professor, and former leader of General Electric’s Crotonville, NY training center, suggests “you need your own team.” Your plans, ideas, and values will likely be realized by those excited to join the team versus those trying to hang on. Reluctant followers ultimately become poison to the business killing results, morale, and the culture.
Finding the right path is up to you…the leader. It’s not an easy decision, nor should it be. You need to evaluate each member of your new team to determine their abilities and capabilities as they relate to embracing the transformation you’ve been hired to produce. Attitude is far more important at this stage that aptitude. Perhaps the single most important piece to this puzzle is to ensure you have your boss’s support no matter what direction you make…keeping or cleaning. Without his or her support your future starts out on shaky ground. While this may be an uncomfortable discussion to have with your boss you need to have it…preferably during the interview stage, but if not then, immediately upon your arrival. You’ll find alliances, allegiances, and “witness protection programs” in nearly every organization. Knowing who they are, where they are, and the latitude you have to deal with them will determine your early and latter stage success.