In my functional area, I could evaluate coworkers on their ability to do technical, functional tasks. In general management, I have to judge people on a much broader basis that includes dealing with their attitudes and internal character traits.
Making personnel changes
I made the sad mistake of waiting too long to make the required personnel changes. In retrospect, it seems as if we all suffered: I stewed at night and the affected parties sensed the tension. Other subordinates knew the ax was bound to fall and wondered what took it so long to fall.
On my second round, the personnel changes were made very quickly. The effect was incredible! In a matter of hours or days, the team was functioning like a Swiss watch. There was a sense of urgency, of purpose, of commitment. In a matter of hours we had a cohesive style and culture at work.
There is a lesson in this: even though we are parts of a team, of a finely tuned piece of organizational machinery, we must be aware of personal issues and clashes. We must listen to the non-verbal signs emitted—the "vibes"—for it is these which will determine how much time will be wasted in the futility of trying to change the immutable, and how much more can be achieved through the synergy of people rallying to the same cause.
Evaluating your team
I retained a respected management consulting firm within my first few months as GM to evaluate the management styles, "motivational profiles" and other qualities of all my senior management team. They used McBer tests and off-site team building workshops that were accepted and appreciated by all the team.
The insights I gained were quite useful in understanding each member of the team. It is a mistake to delay in terminating or relocating individuals who are unproductive or otherwise don't serve your needs. It's not easy, but in the end your job is easier and you'll be respected by others for strengthening the team.
The way to cope with the uncertainties of the first few months for me has been the process of stepping carefully: learn as much as possible from multiple sources, cross-check information, don't rush into decisions, counsel with all levels of management around you including peers and superiors, and be especially careful with irreversible decisions.
Most of the difficult decisions I have faced in the early months have been decisions about people: who to keep and who must be replaced. Get lots of input on these. However, over the years, I have become more comfortable that my initial instincts usually turn out to be correct. In hindsight, I fault myself for not moving more quickly on personnel situations that I felt were not going to work out.
Getting job descriptions
It may be helpful to ask new reports to prepare job descriptions of what they do. My experience, however, has been that job descriptions are needed but you need to be very careful asking for them! Depending on the culture within the firm you might be viewed as trying to limit people or use these descriptions as a device to decide who to replace. However, recognizing the need to be sensitive to how the request will be perceived, you to need to structure a formal or informal way to find out what your people think their jobs are.
Deciding whom to keep
Deciding who is a keeper and who goes should be done as soon as you are clear. The main measuring stick I use is to take a reasonable period to determine a person's skill set and personal profile. Then, if I find they drive me on the agenda we set together I keep them. If they need me to drive them, they either are at the wrong level (shouldn't report to a GM) or they can't do their job. These are for my direct reports. Lower down in the organization I view the same issue as a developmental one so the action plan is different; training and support are important to get everyone working at their best.