Assuring Success in a New Leadership Role
Michael Couch and Associates Inc.
Transitions: “break points that thrust one from a state of certainty to uncertainty; from knowing to not knowing; from the familiar to the unfamiliar”
John Van Maanen, Organization Careers: Some New Perspectives
Ensuring a successful leadership transition starts before the public announcement of your new job and continues into the first few months in a new role. The honeymoon period is often shorter than you think. The critical path to success is rapidly identifying what is most critical in the short term, while simultaneously laying the foundation for long-term success.
Research has shown that 4 out of 10 executives fail in the first 18 months in a new position. The causes of many of these derailments can be traced back to the first 90 days and are often due to:
- Not coming up the learning curve fast enough
- Failure to build an effective team
- Failure to establish clear expectations with a new boss
- Failure to build positive relationships with peers
- Not following through and achieving results
How do you fight the odds and vaccinate yourself against the transition challenges? I have found success in my work with new executives by building an overall plan for success in the new role.
The process works best if you start a few weeks before you arrive on site or, in the case of an internal move, before the official start date. The overall plan should be built from components that address the common causes of derailment including:
- A Learning Plan
- Build the capabilities that you need for success
- A Leadership Plan
- Build your new team
- A Relationship Plan
- Establish a positive working relationships with your boss and other key stakeholders
- A Business Plan
- Achieve results with short- and long-term action plans
- A Success Plan
- Create an overall action plan of S.M.A.R.T. Goals for the first 90 days
Read on for details on each component.
The Learning Plan
Objective: Build the capabilities that you need for success
The foundation of the Learning Plan can be set before your new job begins. The Plan is based on an honest, objective assessment of your personal strengths and vulnerabilities. Once you have an objective picture of your capabilities, you can compare it to the requirements for the new role and then develop a plan to address opportunities.
The requirements for the new role will need to be confirmed after you start but there’s no reason why you can’t take a shot at it before you arrive. You are most likely leaving a boss, a set of peers, and/or a team that are a great source of feedback. They may even have been around you when you went through a previous transition. Ask them for some help as you move into the new role.
- What do they see as your strengths? What did you do well in previous transitions?
- Where could you improve?
- What suggestions do they have for you as you move into the new role?
If you are starting a new role with a new company, you have also been through a selection process that gathered information about you. Ask for feedback on what the people in the selection process saw as your strengths and development needs.
- Why were you selected over other candidates?
- What gaps did they see in your capabilities that made them think twice?
Also, think back on past transitions that you have been through.
- What went well? What makes you distinctive or unique? What contributed to your success that you should try to repeat this time?
- What didn’t go well? Where did you struggle? What should you avoid in this transition and how?
Use the feedback and ideas from above to a picture of your present strengths and development needs.
Within the first few weeks of the new job, you need to develop a detailed understanding of the competencies (behaviors) that will be critical in the new role. The best way to gather this information is through planned interviews with key internal and external people. Your new boss is an obvious contributor but you should also include peers, subordinates, customers, vendors and others.
Compare your strengths and development needs to the mission critical competencies. See any gaps? Don’t be surprised if you do. Success in a new role always requires new and different skills and behaviors. Watch out for overused strengths. They are actually more likely to cause failure than a missing skill.
Using this background information and feedback, create a Learning Map that outlines how you are perceived now and a clear description of what you want to look and act more like. Think about the critical situations that you will be facing. What you will do differently when they occur? Make sure that you Identify who or what are the keys to your success in those situations.
The Leadership Plan
Objective: Build your new team
Before you can make much progress in a new leadership role, you must have the talent on your team that is capable of handling the demands of the business now and in the future. The challenge is to do a thorough assessment but to move quickly to get the right people in the right roles doing the right things.
Spend time one-on-one with each player. Challenge them, ask questions not about what they would do but what they have done, and listen. Ask other peers about your team members and their capabilities. Gather evidence of their performance/engagement (What have they accomplished and how consistent is their performance?) and their potential to grow (Are they learners; Are they flexible and comfortable with change?). Focus specifically on talent in pivotal roles – roles that are critical to your success and/or the success of your new business or function.
Then make the tough decisions and determine where to best invest your time. Take these actions in this order to get the best return on talent.
- Exit the marginal players quickly and compassionately, especially if they are in pivotal roles
- Lock in High Potentials by providing challenges, feedback, coaching, and rewards.
- Make sure the High Potentials are in the pivotal roles or are back-ups to those roles.
- Make sure that solid players stay competitive and are engaged.
- If someone is a questionable fit in a role, implement a plan to confirm his or her capabilities and then decide.
The Relationship Plan
Objective: Create a plan to establish positive working relationships with your boss and other key stakeholders.
Relationship with Your Boss
Align yourself with your boss and making certain you understand what top goals s/he really wants you to achieve. At the same time, confirm how s/he wants to communicate. Carefully plan for a series of critical conversations about the company’s situation in the market, his/her expectations, and your personal development. The goal is to achieve consensus on your transition plan and long-term goals. Set an agree upon specific times to discuss progress and corrective actions.
Relationships with Key Stakeholders
Identify other players in the organization with whom you will need to interact to be successful in your new role. Do they need to be involved in decisions or just informed? Do they have information or influence that your function requires? Plan for one-on-one time with them to understand their comfort zone and develop a plan to work effectively with them.
The Business Plan
Objective: Outline short- and long-term action plans to achieve key results.
Before You Arrive
During the selection process, you have discussed the expectations for the new role. Go back over those discussions and notes to begin formulating your understanding of the strategy for the new role, function or business.
Leading a New Business
- How will we grow?
- Where will we grow – specific products and markets?
- How will we compete?
- What capabilities will we need to achieve success?
Leading a New Function
- Ask yourself the same questions as above but consider the impact they have on your new function.
- Does the function play a mission critical or supporting role in the business?
- What demands does the business strategy place on the function?
Convert these to a set of specific and time-bound objectives.
The Success Plan
Objective: Combine the output from the Learning, Leadership, Relationship, and Business Plans to an overall Success Plan.
Develop a First Week, 30, 60, and 90 day Personal and Team Performance Plan with S.M.A.R.T.*goals linked directly with strategic priorities of the organization. Confirm them with your new boss and review them with your team and key stakeholders for their input and support. Make sure you follow-up as planned and communicate progress regularly.
The Success Plan should be a living document that is regularly updated based on new information, feedback, progress reviews, etc. As the Plan changes, keep your stakeholders in the loop.