Ready… Set… Go!

How do you start a new role quickly, effectively and make an impact?
So, you’ve met with your new client/employer: got a reasonable understanding of their needs and expectations; agreed that there’s a good skills and values match; identified what you can bring to make a difference; and, signed up for a start date in a few days time: How do you get into the role and start delivering as soon as possible?

Here’s my simple New Start Checklist 

Get Ready……

1. Handover
If possible, I try and meet with the person who previously did this job, or a similar role (or if not in person, then a phone conversation, or e-mail request for them to do me some briefing notes) to add to my understanding of the role, the organisation, the people and the challenges.

2. Research
I will already have done some research to prepare for the initial interview/client meeting, but I’ll revisit and enhance this by: doing a search for recent news about the organisation, look at their website, find out about the key people I’ll be working with, and highlight a few first impressions as a guide to what’s most important right now.

Get Set…..

3. Message
I’ll craft a message for when I meet new colleagues, who may be thinking

“Why are you here?”

  • As a safe pair of hands during a transition; or
  • To bring a particular expertise to a specific task; or,
  • To deliver an urgently needed change; or…?

And to give them confidence in what I bring and how they can work with me – what’s relevant to tell them about my recent experience, career history, expectations, values and management style?

4. Reading
My reading list will vary by assignment, but will probably include: corporate strategy, departmental budget, performance indicators, structure chart, annual delivery plan, project brief…as soon as I can get access to them, preferably in advance of starting on site.

5. IT and Business Support
It’s not often possible to sort out IT access, laptop, user name, outlook (or equivalent) and phone in advance, so I try and book time with IT on the first day, so they can make time and support available. Its also useful to meet early on, any Executive Assistants or Business Support staff who can help with booking meetings, rooms and equipment and help you identify who to meet next.

….GO!

6. Objectives
If they haven’t done so, I’ll arrange a meeting with my manager (or client contact) in the first week to talk through draft objectives, and confirm level of authority and reporting arrangements. I think there are 3 dimensions: 1. a sense of the person, their pressures and priorities; 2. What you can bring to make a difference; and, 3. clarity about what, how and when. But, I prefer to keep these as draft objectives, for a short while, until I get to know the key issues.

7. Meet and Greet
I aim to introduce myself to all my immediate work contacts, in the first week, putting faces to names and places on the organisational chart. I use the de Bono trick of enriching the name and image of my colleague with an extreme or humourous association, to fix it in my memory. [Try not to use rude ones in case they ask! But here’s an example: Tom Smith in Finance >> Tom Thumb + Blacksmith = jumping around holding the sore thumb he’s just hit with his hammer, causing coins to fall out of his pockets.]

8. Diary
I’ll follow up initial introductions, by booking 1:1s over the first 2-3 weeks; log which days I will be at the client’s site (or not); and, ask my new colleagues to invite me to all the standing meetings and any other meetings which they think I’ll find useful. And then sort out diary clashes asap to prevent letting new colleagues down.

9. Milestones
By the end of the 3rd week, I’ll have a few early goals and key dates diaried, such as:

  • Feedback to client on learning and issues found
  • Update/complete objective plan
  • 100-day review of achievements so far
  • Briefing for colleagues

10. Ask, Look, Listen
The start of a new assignment is a great time to ask and listen. It’s tempting, as an experienced interim, having worked in my field for over 30 years, to make assumptions, jump to early conclusions, think I’ve seen it before and know the answers. I try and put that to one side and check my understanding, so that my learning, proposals and actions are specific to each client. Breaching unwritten ‘rules’ can get a new start off on the wrong foot, so I observe and ask about: dress code, where to eat lunch, hot-desking (v. territory), punctuality, e-mail norms, humour, etc.

Targets Don’t Work

One of the principal tenets of systems-thinking is that setting targets to drive improvements in performance doesn’t work, and I recently came across an absurd example that I thought I’d share. But first let me explain what I mean when I say that targets don’t work.

“If you give a manager a numerical target, he’ll make it even if he has to destroy the company in the process.” -W. Edwards Deming.

It’s not the numbers that bother me – I like evidence-based decision-making. Measures can be useful – as long as they really are measures that relate to the goals you are trying to achieve. But that’s not as easy as it sounds, and we often end up with targets which drive the wrong behaviours. A common example is setting a performance target to answer customers’ calls more quickly, for example 95% of all calls answered within 5 rings. Sounds reasonable, but people find all sorts of ways to achieve the target while losing sight of the true goal. How about answering the calls really quickly, but not actually answering the customers’ enquiries? Or, calling each other repeatedly, picking up and hanging up, to drive up the call-monitoring statistics! It’s called “gaming the system”.

Examples of failed targets include: The 4-hour maximum waiting time in A&E – which leads to patients being admitted, or referred for further assessment, in order to fall outside the target parameters, which results in those patients waiting even longer. The target for social landlords to do urgent repairs within 5 days – which leads to complicated definitions to avoid categorising things as urgent; contractors cancelling jobs to restart the clock, or recording incomplete jobs as finished. And so on….

I’d love to hear your examples. Can you top this one?

I was doing some work with an NHS Trust, to understand the demoralising impact of top-down controls, target- and standard-setting, and continuous process redefinitions. Bureaucratic management and scrutiny look a lot like mistrust and can result in people losing (or perhaps abdicating) autonomy, responsibility and job-satisfaction. There may be a grudging acceptance of the need to tick boxes and fill in forms, but that’s not what gets health-care  professionals up in the morning.  They want to care for others and be valued for the difference they make, but they get less and less time to do this, because they’re too busy coping with the latest initiatives and monitoring their ‘performance’.

One of the Trust’s measures shockingly showed that nursing staff only spent about 40% of their time with their patients. So in response, the management team set a target to increase this to 60% and introduced a new monitoring system to record this! Oh, the irony! (not to mention the lack of ambition – why is 60% enough?!).

A systems approach might include measuring contact time, if this is seen to be a valuable part of the service. And if it is too low, working with the nurses to identify what’s getting in their way; what are the non-valuable activities that are taking up the rest of their time, and finding ways to get rid of these obstacles. But actually, contact time is an input – is this what the desired outcome is? Or is the aim that the patients feel well cared for? in which case, what is the best measure? As I said earlier, I don’t think it’s so easy to set meaningful measures.

I did a bit of digging around to see if I could find a practical guide to a proven methodology, but no luck yet. What I have found are some common themes:

Meaningful Measures

  • relate to the desired outcome, not the processes followed to get there
  • include qualitative elements, not just statistics
  • are customer focused (not provider-driven)
  • describe what matters most, not what’s easy to measure
  • are not seen as targets to be achieved, but evidence to drive continuous improvement

If you have any other tips, or know of a useful guide for setting great measures, or illuminating stories about the impact of measures and targets, then please share.