The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you build trust with employees when you’re the new boss?” is written by Perry Yeatman, founder of Your Career, Your Terms and CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.
I’ve been the “new boss” more times than I can count in the past 30-plus years. And each time, building a positive working relationship with my new team has been a critical early step to getting things done. Building deep trust and loyalty is a long-term process. But, there are some things you can do to speed things along in the early days. Here are my three “must-dos” when you’re the new boss:
Listen and learn
No one will trust, respect, or listen to you until they first feel they’ve been heard. And, they each likely have something valuable to share. So whenever I start a new job, I sit down with each of my direct reports one-on-one—and later with the team as a whole—to find out what they think is working, what they’d change if they were in charge, what things they’d stop, and what things they’d start.
Probing questions like these will help you learn what your employees think and how they feel, what they hope for, and what they fear. With this information, you’ll have a much better lay of the land, which is key to both deciding what changes should be made and to understanding how the team (individually and collectively) will react to those changes.
Be open and transparent
Since people can’t trust you if they don’t feel they know you or understand where you’re coming from, share a bit about yourself with them in exchange for their willingness to share their thoughts with you. I often talk about my background, my prior successes (and sometimes my failures), my reasons for taking the job, my hopes for the team, etc. If it seems appropriate, I may also share my early thinking about my vision or aspirations for what we can do together.
When possible, I’ll host the first big team meeting at my home and do the serving myself (with my husband’s help) in order to create a personal and informal atmosphere. My goal is to get them excited about the future, even while foreshadowing that there will be changes and challenges ahead. If I’ve framed the discussions properly, using the insights gleaned, they will walk away from these early talks more motivated than scared, and with enough information to begin to independently assess their likely fit (or lack of fit) within the new team.
Deliver an early win together
Every person has something they’d like to change if they could. So, once you’ve established a working rapport, find the thing that they want changed and that is consistent with where you think the team needs to go, and make that happen. It can be big or small. It can be individual or collective. The point is that you’ve listened, taken action, and made something positive happen for them that they couldn’t do without you.
A Northern Trust executive recently shared a story about how she bonded with her first sales team, even though she had no sales experience. Her early win: getting them all laptop computers so that they had the information they needed when in front of clients and could work on the road. Your early win could be a process change, a new practice, or a physical thing—like providing free coffee or new computers. Delivering “early wins” for your people helps put credit in the trust bank fast. And if you do it together, it creates a foundation you can rely on, even when the tough stuff comes—as it inevitably will.
Beyond this, of course what you say and do every day will ultimately determine how great the trust and loyalty you earn. But, even if you’ve been brought in to really change things up and you know some people will have to go, I’ve found this simple, three-step approach really helps get you off on the right foot.