Parachuting in – Four Tips For A Safe Landing

600-Tips-for-New-Senior-EmployeesSince selling the technology business I co-founded, I have become the new managing director or CEO of five existing businesses. From corporate promotions, through to interim assignments on behalf of venture capital investors, the organisations I have taken on have varied from 10 to 400 people, and from almost zero to £50m in revenue.

I’m saying this because being both the newest and most senior employee in a business is a challenge, so here are my tips for making a safe landing:

1. Understand your authority

Don’t assume too much from your fancy new job title. Nearly always your ability to make decisions will be qualified in some way.

To complicate matters, your formal, delegated authority and your actual authority may not align perfectly.

In practice, you may have more, or less, authority than you have in writing. This needs to be nailed down before you are appointed, even as an interim.

Act outside your authority at your peril; ask permission too much and you’ll be viewed as indecisive.

There is little point taking on a project if you do not have the authority to fix things.

If other stakeholders (who may have caused the problem in the first place) are going to control events, and then very possibly blame you for the outcome, it is best to decline the job.

Equally, even when properly empowered, it is important to over-communicate with stakeholders in the early days to win their confidence and build trust in your judgements.

2. Show you mean business

Even on day one it is important that your new organisation realises you are in charge.

There are usually some quick wins to be had. In my experience, ahead of a change of leadership, there will have been frustration building up and there will be some obvious things to fix.

I have always been amazed at how open people will be with a new leader, especially if you ask them to be candid in the interests of the business.

The issues that you can deal with quickly tend to relate to people and to money. For example…

  • If lots of people tell you someone is badly underperforming, they probably are (but do get the evidence)
  • You will find out about any disruptive feuds, as people will want you on their side
  • Sit down with the FD; if costs look too high they probably are

Often, a rapid restructure can fix these problems and deliver a more effective operation on a cheaper cost base. Sometimes issues, which may have been running for years, can be fixed in weeks.

3. Set out your stall

The arrival of a new leader causes anxiety as well as excitement in the business.

People want to know what you will do and what you stand for. Remember that everything you do in the first few weeks will be in the spotlight, so make sure you are sending the right messages through your actions.

Every leader will have their ‘rules' and cultural standards. It is good to spell these out early on.

4. Take your time on the things that require it

Having delivered some quick wins in the first few weeks it is easy to believe that you are now an expert in the new business. However, judgements on the more fundamental issues of proposition, markets, competition, channel and products rely much more on domain knowledge.

It is important to spend a great deal of time listening extremely carefully to your team, and most of all to your customers, before you diagnose further problems and prescribe a new strategy.

This time may feel very unproductive to you, and sometimes to the people you are consulting, but it is essential. You are being paid to make expert judgements and in many areas of the business it takes time to develop this expertise.

So, by all means parachute in with a bang, but having secured confidence and a bit of breathing space with some quick wins, use it to listen and learn.

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