In a recent posting regarding mentoring your boss, I referred to the phrase “hit the ground running” and why it has always struck me as a humorous and not always wise concept.
While I understand the admirable motivation of a new manager to demonstrate her or his determination to begin doing their job at full speed ASAP, the phrase ignores a far more powerful reality for a new manager nicely captured in this phrase: “it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that will kill you”. For this reason, I generally counsel that my manager clients try to “hit the ground learning“.
Demonstrating from the start that you put gaining wisdom ahead of acting quickly, I believe has several great advantages that will serve you well down the road as a new manager.
First, it demonstrates that you respect the knowledge and experience of your subordinates and wish to get their view of things. True, you will need to separate fact from opinion but that is a critical skill you will need if you are to succeed as a manager at all.
Second, it foreshadows a management and decision-making style for your subordinates to observe that is thoughtful, data and fact centered, and inclusive of other points of view. Those hitting the ground running and changing things in a hurry often come across as driven by gut feeling, their own pre-determined opinions, and indifferent concerning what others think. Even in those instances where you have prior experience and/or knowledge of your new organization — or have been given marching orders from above to change some things — taking some time to test your assumptions and learn will serve you well.
Third, discussing things with your subordinates allows you to take the measure of your new team. Who are the most creative thinkers? Who are the most realistic, clear-headed thinkers?. Who are the natural problem solvers, leaders, and of course cynics? Does anyone strike you as a potential obstacle to some of the things you may be considering? It is hard to go wrong gaining these insights as quickly as possible.
Finally, since almost every new manager will end up wanting to change some things, a learning period that engages your subordinates offers you the opportunity to lay the foundation for consensus building that will make implementation of your changes a lot easier.
So how much time should this learning phase take? That is up to you. It is a judgment call. I favor trusting you instinct concerning when you have enough wisdom and data upon which to act. Remembering that you are being paid to get things done and for making the sound decisions that this requires, the best managers instinctively seem to know when it is time to get on with it.