Recently, a fellow female executive and I were having lunch. She said to me, “You’ve transitioned into executive roles at a new company. How do you ensure your success by developing trust with your new team and motivating them through the transition?” My first thought was the well-known quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Over the years, this quote has really stuck with me, either as a direct report onboarding my new leader or as a leader transitioning into an existing team. Anxiety and lack of trust are at high point during this period, and it’s a leader’s job to set the tone and ease the team through the transition. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Introduction Letter: A few years ago, I was transitioning to a new company and a former employee shared with me a letter a peer had received. A new HR executive was joining my previous company, and while she was announced to the new team, she wouldn’t arrive for another six weeks. To help ease the anxiety, she sent the team a heartfelt letter explaining why she was choosing to join the company and how she was so excited to meet her new team. She included pictures, details about her family and some of her work history. My new position as the general manager of digital commerce had just been announced, and yet, I wouldn’t be joining the company officially until after the new year. I thought, ‘Great idea!’ I created my get-to-know-Sam letter, complete with “fun facts” to share with my new team.
  2. Strengthsfinder 2.0: Over the last 10-plus years, every time I onboard a new team or bring in a new team member, I provide them with a copy of Tom Rath’s “Strengthsfinder 2.0,” which includes the online test from the Gallup Organization. I always ask the team not to read the book right away (sorry, Tom Rath!), but rather just spend 20 minutes taking the test. When they receive their results, I ask them to send them to me and their manager. In turn, I email them my results. During our first meet-and-greet, we discuss their results, their current position, and any other topic they’d like to touch upon. I use this tool and invested time equally as a way for me to better understand how the team “ticks,” but also for them to get to know me. After I’ve met with everyone, which I try to prioritize to the first month, I set up a team-building exercise where the team guesses whose strengths set belong to whom. I always find it funny which strengths get associated with me — the person they know the least! Finally, I provide everyone with a grid that shows what our team looks like based on our strengths results. To many of my former employees, I might actually be known for the amount of emphasis and time I focus on managing and leading to the team’s individual and combined strengths. Why? According to Gallup, if a manager ignores you, you’re 40 percent less likely to be disengaged, and if a manager focuses on your weaknesses, your chances of being actively disengaged are 22 percent. However, if a leader focuses on your strengths, you’re 1 percent likely to be actively disengaged. One employee told me this is how they knew I cared.

    Strengthfinder 2.0

    Strengthfinder 2.0

  3. The First 90 Days: I was introduced to the book “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter” by Michael D. Watkins a few years ago, and have since bought it for my all my new direct reports shortly after their offer letter has been signed. “The First 90 Days” reminds us that we don’t walk into new organizations (or new positions even in the same organization) and have all the answers. We must take the time to be thoughtful and listen to the what and why of how things have been done before. By doing so, we not only avoid repeating mistakes, but we also show how much we care. The book also includes exercises and questions to help you put together a 30-/60-/90-day transition plan. It’s easy to get distracted early on by all the requests for your time and input. Ask yourself: “What are my leader’s expectations?” “What does success look like?” By working through and leveraging this plan in collaboration with your leader, cross-functional partners, and direct reports, it can help you maintain focus.

What tips do you have for leadership transitions? I would love to hear from you.

Sam Norpel is an accomplished eCommerce executive and digital leader with a proven track record of developing omni-channel marketing strategies and driving purchasing behaviors through the use of digital techniques, including emerging platforms. Sam is currently an eCommerce and digital marketing consultant, providing strategic guidance and thought leadership to her clients. She is an advisory board member of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle, a Building Brave mentor, and the former GM of Digital Commerce at The Vitamin Shoppe.

During her 20+ years of experience, Sam has worked with many leading brands, including The Vitamin Shoppe, David’s Bridal, Lands’ End, Calvin Klein, kate spade, and Chase Bank. Sam possesses a unique blend of strategic ingenuity and hands-on technical skills used to develop innovative strategies amplifying both brand and commerce. Sam is a graduate of the University of Delaware, where she received her B.A. and M.A. She also took MBA coursework at Drexel University, College of Business Administration. This fall she began the University of Wisconsin’s Certified Professional Coach Program. Sam resides outside Philadelphia, PA with her family.