Arriving into an executive role is fraught with risk. Know your context. Hit the ground learning, not running.
Three months of interviews, a killer presentation, and you’re now in your freshly painted office eager to prove hiring you was a brilliant decision. You’ve given your “I’m going to spend my first months learning the business, getting to know people, and reaaaalllly listening” speech because that’s what your headhunter told you newly arrived executives say.
Three weeks in, your boss asks, “So, have you got your 90-day plan done yet?”
So much for listening and learning.
You were hired because of your successful track record. The more stories you told, the more they wanted you. Now they want you to do it here. The mythical mandate to repeat past successes by slapping formulas onto this context is a dangerous trap most leaders don’t see. At first blush, it’s easy to assume the way you turned around the supply-chain, built the sales force, or accelerated product development would work the same here – why wouldn’t it? The urgency behind your boss’ request for a 90-day plan fuels your anxiety to get moving and prove yourself.
Don’t take the bait.
We watched a promising executive with an industry-wide reputation for building brands come into an organization, received like the second-coming, crash and burn because the iconic brands she’d built in her career were for very different consumers than the brands of her new organization. The more she tried to contort the organization into her misapplied views of consumer brands, the more they resisted, eventually driving her out.
Here are four things to avoid the mandate trap and ensure you stick.
Extract wisdom, not recipes, from past success. Ask yourself what principles underlie past successes with similar business challenges to the one you now face. Look for patterns across what worked well, and what didn’t, to find insights that might apply now. Then, read this context with very fresh eyes. What does it need? What about your leadership must adapt? How might your wisdom apply? Avoid the temptation to call your favorite consultants, hire past teammates, and start a windstorm of activity that looks impressive but will likely stall. Take whatever time you need to thoroughly understand this context before you start changing it. Tell your boss you’ll have the 100 day plan as soon as it’s ready…which might be in a few months.
Get disconfirming data. Most executives arrive with a plan for how to assess the organization and a set of hypotheses about what they will find. The obvious problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and may miss critical elements you need to know. Go out of your way to disconfirm hunches with data that may refute your beliefs as a “checks and balances” that ensures you uncover what you weren’t looking for.
Don’t let your diagnosis become an indictment. Don’t let your diagnosis become an indictment A classic pitfall of executive entry is allowing the diagnosis of one part of the system, even though accurate, to become an alienating indictment of another part of the system. It looks something like this. An executive enters the organization, having been told “our systems are outdated and we have no documented processes. And now we’re falling behind the industry and need to leapfrog into the 21st century.” The executive starts calling in outsiders to help mount the revolution. With every rock turned over, new levels of inadequacy are revealed, with increasingly louder gasps of shock from the executive and his new posse. The unspoken insinuation signaled to the veterans is, “How on earth have you people made it this far with this cobbled together set of nonsense?” The veteran employees – proud of the committed culture they’ve been part of, feel dismissed and indicted. Not surprisingly, their commitment to helping the new executive disappears. Worse, if angry enough, they may even sabotage him.
Don’t let your halo become a noose. Arriving executives enter with some degree of halo effect. This intensifies when arriving behind a fiercely disrespected departing leader or selected by a beloved predecessor. You arrive with the status of organizational savior to broad belief your presence equates to the promise of a secure future. That is, until they discover you aren’t perfect. I’ve watched countless executives enter organizations under heightened anticipation for the greatness they will bring. Then a slow, low-grade buyer’s remorse sets in as inevitable imperfections appear. Their natural proclivity to compare you with past results deals an irrational blow to their confidence in you. The predictable pattern follows as they withdraw support, sometimes irrevocably, as your unaddressed development needs become the magnified distraction of the organization. Oblivious, you redouble efforts, further broadcasting your warts and obscuring your gifts. Your best defense is a learning plan acknowledging areas to adjust, and allowing people to see you understand the organization has as much to shape in you as you have to change in it.
The arrival into an executive role is fraught with risk. Having a plan to learn, narrow your focus, get reliable feedback and avoid the tripwires of your own shortfalls and biases will go a long way to help you succeed in the role you worked so hard to get. Hit the ground learning, not running.
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This article was written by Ron Carucci from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.