For many of us, career progression means taking on more responsibility and eventually leading a team. Becoming a manager for the first time can be intimidating. Suddenly, you’re responsible for your own work and success—but that success is achieved through the contributions and talents of a number of other people! Whether your team is big or small, there’s one thing you should do the second you take on your new title: start a listening tour.
While it may be your first instinct to jump into the role and start to put your mark on things, the best leaders know that shaping a team takes time. And your own management style truly can not be best developed until you deeply understand what your team’s goals, objectives, and needs are.
It can be easy to dismiss the idea of a listening tour, especially if you are promoted from your same team into a leadership position. You may think that you have a great understanding of the work, team culture, and exactly how your peers operate. However, your new role has completely changed the team dynamic, and many of your relationships will now need a recalibration as you operate from a new place of leadership on the team.
If you’re completely new to a business or group, then the listening tour is even more important. Starting out with a blank slate and engaging with people individually and in groups become the foundation for your leadership agenda and set the expectations for how your team culture will evolve.
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OK, So What is a Listening Tour?
A listening tour is as simple as it sounds—but it takes a lot of active planning to effectively execute. Within the first 30 days of settling into your new management role, you will want to set up some individual one-on-one time with all of your direct reports. This effort is essential, even if you feel like you know these colleagues as peers. Take this time as an opportunity to open a new chapter of communication, setting new boundaries and objectives in your work relationship.
These one-on-one meetings can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour (more than that, and the energy will start to wane). You also want them to have some structure because they’re serving the dual purpose of creating a first impression for your team on how you will perform in the role while also giving people a chance to communicate their needs to you.
Spend some time thinking about a few key questions you would like to ask to get people talking. What was the most impactful project they worked on last year? How would they change the business in the next 90 days if they were in your shoes? What are the things about the team that should definitely continue? What motivates them? How do they like to receive feedback? While you don’t want this conversation to be an interrogation, you will want to have thought through enough decision pathways to carry the discussion in a few different directions.
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Your end goal for these meetings should be to have both extracted some great insight about the colleague as an individual contributor and also to be gathering ideas about how you could start to support your team in reaching new goals. This early focus on receiving people’s ideas and being attuned to listening will pay enormous dividends as you begin to settle into this role.
It’s also OK to start to socialize ideas you may be forming—you have great instincts for management; it’s why you got the job! What you want to avoid, however, is using these meetings as a platform to present a pre-structured plan. The best way to begin to present these is through open-ended questions that invite good commentary and consideration. “I’ve been thinking about some ways we can modernize the data and visualizations we use for client reporting. What are your thoughts on how our client reports work today?” You may even be surprised to get feedback that is highly aligned with your ideas, or, even better—you may start to get a deeper view that better shapes your plan.
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What To Do With What You Learn
Listening tours are effective for new managers if they’re prepared to do all of the follow-up work that results. Oftentimes, these one-on-one meetings will be a forum where your colleagues feel comfortable now sharing with you challenges they’ve faced or things that they’re hoping you can solve. It is important to start to build trust with your team by letting them know what you’ll do to act on what they share. That doesn’t mean you need to have an immediate solution for everything that is brought up, but you should be taking copious notes and ensuring that you wrap up these meetings restating any expectations or deliverables that may result.
The next step of leveraging these meetings is going over all of your notes and ideas that surfaced and reframing them into some shared team issues. Did everyone raise the need to rethink the weekly meeting structure? Tackle that first! Some quick wins that are meaningful to a large share of the team can make a big difference in getting buy-in for other ideas.
Now, you’ll also be more prepared to engage your new boss, being able to appropriately represent the voice of your team. While you’ll want to be thoughtful and have discretion around what you share, nothing is more credible than pointing to the conversations you’ve had with your colleagues about priorities, goals, and challenges. You’ve now set yourself up to have a strong start in your new management role.