25 Oct 2018


As soon as you have joined an organisation you'll need to learn the ropes quickly and form a plan of action. That can only happen through an intense period of observation, asking the right questions and, perhaps most importantly, listening. 

Words: Alice Hoey

As a new leader it’s likely you’ll have been tasked with some pretty big objectives – perhaps reversing a downward slide or realising the potential in a team that is failing to live up to expectations. To have a hope of achieving these goals you’ll need to find answers to some fundamental questions. What are the key problems seen as internally and externally? What is proving effective and what isn’t? Who is driving the team forward and who is holding it back? How well do the existing processes and behaviours fit with your own values and ideals?

The quicker you can get clarity on these and other key areas the quicker you can formulate a plan and the quicker you can start seeing results. In short, a swift and effective initial assessment of the situation will greatly enhance your chances of success.


The first thing to keep in mind is that every organisation is unique, with a distinct character and culture, modus operandi and its own people. Even if you have worked in a number of different organisations before or have held a variety of roles, you should never make assumptions about the organisation you are going to. Instead, try to bring whatever experience you have to your new situation while keeping an open mind.

As we’ve already seen, thorough research and preparation before you start a role is essential, but that shouldn’t mean that you go into the job with preconceptions or rigid ideas about how things are and what needs to happen. You can only make decisions based on the information you have, so from the moment you walk through the door you will need to watch, listen and digest to ensure you have what you need to move forward.

Asking lots of the right questions in the early days is vital here, because while people will want to help you they won’t necessarily know what is useful or new information. Rather than expecting people to seek you out, be proactive and use the early days to really dig down and get to grips with how the organisation and its people work. It’s far easier to ask questions at the beginning of a tenure than further down the line when people will assume you know the lay of the land.


Listening might seem an intuitive thing, but actually many of us could get much more from our interactions by improving our listening skills. Really hone in on what the other person is saying, rather than allowing your mind to pre-empt them or to think about your possible reply. Making eye contact during a conversation shows the other person that they have your undivided attention, while nodding indicates that you’re digesting what they are saying.

There’s also a skill in taking in the other person’s non-verbal communication, as silences and body language can give us valuable clues about how they are feeling and what they are not putting into words. If you sense, for example, that the other person is uncomfortable sharing their worries with you or talking about a particular issue, you can try to reassure them and put their concerns to rest. Empathy is important here, so put yourself in the other person’s shoes and do your best to see things from their point of view. Try to find some common ground.


From this process of listening and evaluating you will start to build a picture of the mood at the organisation and the reasons behind it. You will also have a better understanding of the mix of personalities around you, perhaps identifying which of your employees are most forceful in their opinions, who wields most influence and who could be useful ambassadors for your ideas. You will get a better sense of which issues need to be prioritised and how your strengths could be used.

While time will be a precious commodity in your first days in the job, making assumptions or rushing into snap decisions based only on advance research or superficial information can be counter-productive. Take time to thoroughly evaluate the situation by talking, listening and digesting all of the information available and you will be in the best possible position to make a plan that everyone can get behind.