While starting a new role is exciting and poses a fresh bank of possibilities, it’s not always an enviable position when you step into someone else’s shoes. This is especially true when you’ve got to build new relationships with your predecessor’s team.

So, how do you hold down the fort and steer the ship through stormy seas? What are the best ways of supporting your new team?

Back in March 2022, during our affiliate community, Customer Success Collective's Customer Success Festival, our attendees put these dynamite queries surrounding management transitions to the CS leadership pro, Mike Lee, Director of Customer Success at PublicInput.

We know that in many organizations, customer success can often fall under the CMO's responsibility, but even if that's not the case, there's plenty of great advice on leading teams.

Let’s see what sage advice Mike had to impart.

How do you keep the team motivated with so many leaders resigning and going to other companies?

Mike: When I come into an organization, it's important for me to let my team and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) know that I’m there for them and that I’m there to help them.

When I’m in this situation, granted, I do come in with a certain level of experience. But my job here is to make sure that my team can take something from this if they leave. It goes without saying, I don't want them to leave, but if they do make the decision to leave for another company, I want them to go for something better. It’s my job to help my team grow, so you’re in a position to make that move, and I have the experience to do that.

That's how I like to keep my team motivated. But it isn’t the sole reason. Yes, I want to make their lives easier, but I do it because I want a better world for customer success teams. That's what I come in with, and it seems to work.

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Would you build your team based on their individual results, or how well they function together?

Mike: I'm a team person through and through. If I were to look at a snapshot of somebody's individual results, it can mean a lot of different things.

This is how I work: I like to see a long period of time, to see how people work together, and how they grow with each other. Obviously, where there are performance issues, you have to take that up with the individual and see how you can help them in that area. But outside of individual performance, I think team togetherness is extremely important, especially when you have teams working together to build processes and so forth.

In a nutshell, I'm more of a team-type leader.

How do you handle individual low performers within a customer success team?

Mike: One of the difficult things as a leader comes down to understanding.

Do you have the right people in the right positions? Sometimes you don't, and you have to be honest with the individuals and be honest with the team. Your team will know who the low performers are, but if you continue to permit these individuals to keep inadequately performing, this can send the wrong message and influence the rest of your team’s motivation.

So be honest with these team members; there are problems that need to change, and this might not be the right position for them. You want your team to know you’ll help them move, to help them find a role that works better. Of course, this is a last-case scenario if your attempts at coaching don't work.

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How do you approach coming in as a new Manager of Customer Success with team members who might be on an improvement plan? How do you get them back on track?

Mike: I've actually experienced this, and it's very important that you understand:

  1. What the improvement plan is, and what it’s based on
  2. That this is based on someone else’s opinions
  3. The data databank may not be entirely accurate

So, my big rule is: don’t come in biased.

Obviously, you want to be aware of someone on a performance plan because it signals a cause for concern. Your new role is to understand that concern, but realize it could well stem from a lack of leadership. Poor leadership can cause performance issues in individuals too.

A new leader may come in and be able to coax better performance out of this individual, or just reach the team member in a way that the previous manager wasn’t able to. While you understand that there's a performance plan in place, you’ve also got to make your own judgment on that and then execute it.

If the problem continues, of course, you’ll need to extend this performance plan. But, my advice, would be to try to reach out to that person and understand, that maybe, it may have purely been a disconnect between them and their previous team leader.

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For Customer Success Managers who’ve experienced a leadership transition within their team, what are the best ways to provide feedback to the new team leader?

Mike: This is really a good question. I think my own team would chime in as I say this from the very beginning, “You're not going to hurt my feelings. We're professionals here”.

If they were to say something along the lines of, “Mike, what you're doing just doesn't align with the values of what we're doing”, or perhaps, “I don't understand this, it doesn't seem like it’s going to work” – I want my team members to come to me and tell me this.

I'm not going to be mad, I'm not going to hold a grudge. You're not going to hurt my feelings.

I say this as someone who wants to step up and help the organization succeed. So, if you come to speak to me and say this, I want to treasure that. If you’re transparent with me, I'm going to be transparent with you; that's exactly how I operate.

Got insights on leading teams? Need some advice on connecting with your new marketing department? Join the conversation with a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel!