By Carl Robinson, Ph.D., copyright 2006
Bob started his new position as CFO with great expectations. He had an outstanding track record at three other companies including the last stint as CFO at a venture backed high-tech company. He was instrumental in helping that company become acquired. He was aggressively recruited into a new company but, after less than three months on the job, he was fired. What happened to this rising star and what could he have done differently?
Bob became overly self-confident, let down his guard and didn’t follow some time-tested steps necessary to ensure a successful transition into a new job or consulting assignment. For executives, “the currency of success is interpersonal intelligence.™ ” Technical competence just gets you in the door. Bob was technically outstanding; however, he forgot to pay enough attention to the interpersonal aspects of business. In this briefing I won’t dissect how Bob failed, instead we’ll look at some steps you can take to ensure a successful transition into any new role.
1. Establish crisp objectives. Before accepting a new position or consulting assignment, work with your boss or sponsor to establish the outcomes you’re expected to help achieve. This is absolutely essential because if you aren’t headed in the right direction from the start there is no way that you’ll be judged well.
2. Develop and agree upon metrics. With crisp objectives you should then be able to establish clear measures of success. You need to get agreement on how you are going to be judged because you will then be able to clearly demonstrate your value.
3. Determine priorities. Most executives’ plates are overflowing so it’s important to establish which objectives are most critical to begin tackling. Pay extra attention to those that your boss has determined as important. Too often executives begin tackling those items that they are most comfortable working on rather than those that are most important.
4. Find and meet key players. Now we’re getting into the interpersonal aspects of the process. Find out who can help and/or hinder any initiative you undertake, introduce yourself, get to know them and become a real person to them, not just another executive or consultant. Don’t wait for them to introduce or welcome you aboard. Reach out to them. It’s harder for people to roadblock someone who has taken the time to get to know them. Find out what motivates them so that you can use that knowledge to cajole, arm twist, subvert and influence them by appealing to their rational self-interest.
5. Understand and adapt to the corporate culture. For example, family owned businesses frequently have different growth objectives than publicly held companies. You need to adjust accordingly or be viewed as out of sync or worse still, as a threat. If you don’t adapt, you will be rejected from the organization just like any invading microorganism would be that enters into a living organism.
6. Begin doing something and create some small wins. Except in a turnaround situation, it’s important to create some early “small” wins of importance to your boss and other key players. However, don’t make the mistake of trying to do something grandiose. Get some traction and work your way through your objectives.
7. Establish and maintain regular communication with your boss/sponsor. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder in business… you’ll be forgotten. Worse still, he/she may form inaccurate opinions about you based on what others are telling them or simply due to lack of clear understanding of how you are doing. Regular debriefings about how you are progressing will help your boss feel confident about you.
8. Keep key players informed about what you are doing and how it affects them. Keep them in the loop.
9. Make visible course corrections. No one is perfect. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re simply not taking any risks. It’s counter intuitive for most people to understand that by acknowledging errors in judgment and making visible corrections you are demonstrating that you are self-confident and secure.
10. Make your successes visible by sharing and bestowing credit. Successful executives learn how to toot their own horn but they do it with finesse. Let your boss know when you’ve achieved any of your objectives… that’s what they are paying for. At the executive level it’s virtually impossible to achieve anything without the help of others. Since most people have difficulty tooting their own horn… if you do it for them… they will be forever indebted. For example, you could say at an executive team meeting. “I want to thank Debbie and her team for the outstanding support they gave in helping us get x project done on time and on budget.”
In summary, don’t go on autopilot and don’t wait for others to take the first step. Successful executives take charge of their destiny. They are proactive and don’t wait for others to tell them what they “should do.” Take 100% responsibility for making relationships work.