Newly hired HR execs Barbara Kallay and Brian WIll weigh in on laying the foundation for leadership success.
What was expected of you in the first six months, and what was your strategy to accomplish these goals?[columns]
Barbara Kallay: My role was new. In the broadest terms, it was to bring HR strategy and solutions and consistency across our multiple brands and business functions. My approach was being a sponge—soaking up as much information as I could—asking a lot of questions and learning the business. I made a list of key stakeholders and spent one-on-one time with them just understanding: What’s working? What’s not? What are your needs? Where can we help? Where can I help as an individual?
My first six months was learning the business, building organizational influence and relationships—and starting to deliver. You want to get some quick hits in your first six months. At six months, you should know enough about the business and key priorities that you can start crafting that into a short- or long-term strategy plan.
Brian WIll: I was expected to build relationships, which is essential. For me to be able to influence change within the organization, I have to have relationships. Coming in from the outside, it’s very difficult to make change happen. I spend a lot of face time with the people I work with—particularly the leadership team—getting to know them, understand how to motivate them, and understanding what their concerns and personal development goals are.
My strategy has been to show commitment to learn their business. I attend staff meetings; I’ve done a lot of one-on-one interviews with team members; asked to be part of teams that develop strategies, and I participate. Although I may not have a lot of knowledge of the subject, this has helped me build relationships.
What unique challenges do outsiders taking on senior management roles face in the first months on the job?[columns]
Barbara Kallay: Learning the culture. You’re bringing your experiences and functional knowledge, which comes with you as a package. What you can’t really prepare for is culture. Before you get in there and make decisions and take action, you really need to understand the culture. Is it a collaborative team approach, which values consensus? Is it a culture that operates fast and wants to make decisions independently? What are the values of the organization? Many times people who are not successful at transitioning to a new organization, at a senior level, didn’t take enough time to learn and adapt to the culture.
Brian Will: The biggest concern would be credibility. Sometimes, new people come on board and think they immediately have to make an impact to show they were the right hire. But it’s difficult to make that happen without first building credibility. Credibility can involve listening and asking a lot of questions, without necessarily jumping to conclusions. It can take several months, sometimes a year or longer, to really make the right decisions and have an impact.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently? What advice do you have for others taking on a leadership role in a new company?[columns]
Barbara Kallay: I probably would have started my information gathering sooner in the process—really doing due diligence and learning as much about the business as you can before you start on day one. The more prepared you are coming on board, the more knowledge you have and the faster you can assimilate.
Brian Will: You have to get to know your coworkers, not just professionally but personally. And let them get to know you. Most people don’t want to show that vulnerable side. But part of building trust within a team means being vulnerable with one another, so get to know each other and show them who you are.
As far as what I would have done differently, as a younger professional, I wish I had the opportunity to have a mentor. One of the things I’m working on with Momentive’s mentor program is providing coaching opportunities at all levels of our organization. If I had had a mentor, there are probably situations I might have dealt with differently, primarily when it comes to influencing within a corporate environment.