Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

Articles: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

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Tips For Lateral Additions, Transitions And Cultural Change

Harvard Business School Professor Michael Watkins has made the following observations from his studies of newly appointed leaders to corporate organizations. From these, I have extrapolated some observations and tips for partners and practice groups joining professional firms laterally.

According to Watkins:

  • Although newly appointed leaders tend to believe they are ready to manage their group from the moment they arrive, once on board they admit they wish they had been better prepared for their new roles and new cultures.
  • While there used to be a "honeymoon period" of six months, now the new leader is lucky to get as much as 60 days - and it often feels like a lot less.
  • New executives or leaders join without the relationships and knowledge they will need, so a honeymoon/transition would be beneficial. However, people expect change with new blood, so there is an opportunity for immediate action.
  • Setting unrealistic expectations is the worst mistake managers can make in their new roles. This often comes from the individual's tendency to oversell himself or herself in the courting stage of recruitment.
  • Expectations need to be ratcheted back to the possible through education and negotiation of goals and also the resources the organization has to allocate to achieve those goals. The new leader has to shape perceptions and manage relationships with senior management and colleagues.
  • The new manager should be thinking about and preparing for the negotiation and education process before accepting the new position.

Professional firms almost never bring in a lateral to be a managing partner or chairman. Only in the case of a merger or major acquisition would a firm leader be likely to come from outside. Nonetheless, practice group leaders sometimes enter laterally as do major rainmakers and the advice below applies to any partner entering an established firm. Applying the above observations to professional service firm lateral additions:

  • I am amazed at how sought after partners don't take advantage of the opportunity to ask all the questions that affect their roles, responsibilities, rewards and working environment before committing to a move to a new firm. That is the time of their greatest leverage and opportunity for attention.
  • Focus on building relationships from the start. Chemistry and internal connections at all levels are most important. Good relationships will assist through cultural whitewater and enable acquisition of needed knowledge.
  • Shaping perceptions is a talent and an art. First you need to identify perceptions and accept that perceptions are other people's reality.
  • While careful attention to client matters is always key, be cognizant of the short "honeymoon" period and work hard on integration and knowledge gathering from day one.
  • Clarify - really clarify - expectations on both sides, including timing.
  • Understand the culture before making changes. Change may need to be fast or slow if you are in a leadership role. As a leader or a follower, ask a lot of questions and listen to responses.
  • Seek out a coach if you need advice and support. Starting out right can make the difference between long-term success and failure. Early impressions endure.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot 2005.