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Two Months Into a New Role

Motivation
Changing Company
New Manager

20 April, 2021

Nahi Ojeil

Nahi Ojeil

Vice President of Engineering at Commure

Nahi Ojeil, VP of Engineering at Commure, tells of his efforts to reduce the anxiety of the team he recently took over.

Problem

As someone who is currently two months into a new role -- and a new company too --, I am still focused on reducing anxiety caused by my arrival. It is a rather natural response; anxiety happens when people are coping with the unknown, and in this particular case, I am the unknown.

Rather than ignoring the problem and let it evolve into a more worrisome issue, I tried to understand its causes and address each of them.

Actions taken

No balls should be dropped

People in most cases fear that in the transitions, many balls will be dropped. To tackle that problem, the first thing I did was to explain how I would do my onboarding. I shared with the team in the greatest detail what I was planning to do in my first thirty days. Thirty days later, I did my own evaluation and told them where I thought we were. It was only my interpretation, and I wanted them to help me with their feedback. I wanted to be very transparent about where I was heading and have that echo through the organization. I wanted them to know where I was in my thinking so they were not left guessing.

I would be particularly meticulous in my plans about all the things I knew little or nothing about. That would help me minimize -- or even eliminate -- the number of balls being dropped.

Bigger picture

I would also spend a lot of time painting a broader picture for them. Initially, that picture was a bit fuzzier, but it is becoming crispier week after week. People would start to see contours of the bigger picture and were able to dis/agree and see for themselves if what I was doing made sense. Over time, the picture would get clearer, but I had to begin with what was available and refine it as my actions unfolded.

Building excitement

I spent a lot of time interacting with people, either in one-on-ones or in smaller groups. That personal interaction helped me build motivation and excitement for what was coming ahead. Also, have the team become aware of the bigger picture they were part of, helped me build that excitement. I wanted them to feel comfortable being part of a journey that would lead us to our common goals.

I strongly feel that motivation and excitement are built by making people feel valued and included. Instead of working things my way without any consultations with the team, I would listen to them, appreciate their feedback and have them be part of the journey.

Lessons learned

  • In every team, a lot of things are implicit, and there is a web of assumptions around even the most basic things. If you don’t know how something works or how some decisions were made, feel free to ask and be explicit. Start with the most basic things and make them explicit. Assumptions are rarely correctly understood and may lead to serious misunderstandings.
  • As someone who has just joined the organization, you don’t need to have all the answers. It’s more sensible to be transparent than to create a distorted image of reality. Two months in, it is okay not to have all the answers, and it is okay to admit so, as opposed to pretending that you know everything.
  • People want to trust. They want to believe that someone new will make things better. No matter how pessimistic people are, there is something about humans that makes them lay hope in newcomers. There is an implicit assumption that this person will do some positive things. I never experienced a situation where people didn’t believe that I would do a good job. The challenge then becomes how you could leverage that hope early on and make sure to sustain trust.

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