It is both exciting and intimidating to start something new. Recently, I took on a new role with an extensive operating mandate and new accountabilities. I strongly believe how one approaches the first couple of months in any role can make a huge difference and may even determine success or failure. It certainly is a time for opportunity to make an impact. As I reflect about what I have learned over the last 90 days and think about the difficulties and challenges I faced, I was thinking what advice would I give myself or anyone taking on a new role. The following recommendations jumped out for me:
• Get organized to manage information overflow. Taking on a new role, especially if it is a large organization or complex context, can be overwhelming. The amount of people you are meeting, the volume of information you get exposed to or different subject matters, may make you feel like you are drinking from multiple fire-hoses. Therefore "getting organized" is key. We all rely on our own different and diverse information management systems, but a structured and disciplined approach can make a huge difference. Also, it is important to stick to a protocol allowing you to consolidate the information flow into categories, which facilitates the identification of strengths and key opportunities as well as assess strategy execution, challenges and weaknesses. Develop your own information management approach early!
• Listen, learn and talk to the experts. Regardless of your level of expertise, experience or seniority, it is critical to overemphasize listening, learning and talking to as many folks as possible during the first 90 days. I have learned such a tremendous amount during my transition and I was impressed about the level of expertise, skill-sets and capabilities across the organization. It is important to not limit learning to the technical aspects of the new role but also to understanding cultural dynamics, organizational behaviors and leadership styles. Avoid coming in with "the" answer at all costs, don't be afraid to ask more questions if you are unclear about a topic and appreciate the organization's patience with you. Utilize the transition as a catalyst to foster and reemphasize continuous learning across all the teams!
• Avoid confirming preconceived notions. Sometimes it is easy for an experienced leader to fall into the confirmation bias trap. I have observed leaders looking to confirm preconceived notions and/or observations with data points, anecdotes or observations. This can be very harmful since it may not accurately reflect the environment. A colleague of mine recently reminded me that two anecdotes are not necessarily data. While instinct, experience and expertise are critical, keeping an open mind to understand the current environment, contexts and dynamics may even be more critical. Don't conclude too quickly!
• Identify opportunities for change and early wins. As much as the first couple of months are an opportunity for learning, it is also a time for identifying the key opportunities for change as well as executing early wins. A fresh perspective, a different point of view or simply a constructive dialogue may unearth the unexpected. Most importantly, experts know what the challenges are and what it takes to move forward. It is important for a new leader to foster alignment and create a coalition around the case for change, as well as, encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity. During a transition, things change for everyone. Encourage everyone to see the opportunity in change!
• Leverage transition for acceleration. Successful leaders have a bias for action. A transition can be a unique opportunity to create a momentum shift, challenge the status quo and encourage folks to think outside the box or rethink old paradigms or ways of working. However, balance is key, strong leaders can encourage and even accelerate their teams into actions and improve execution without destroying existing strengths and capabilities. Action not for action sake, but rather positive action, action to move forward, to improve, to make things better, to achieve, to succeed – to win!
A great read by the author Michael Watkins "The First 90 Days" describes a virtual cycle of transitions and provides a good summary about what types of "traps" to avoid when transitioning into a new role. While every situation is unique and very much depends on the environmental context, there are several proven approaches to think about. As we all continuously embark on new adventures, I am reminded about a quote I read on a billboard somewhere: "Transitions themselves are not the issue, but how well you respond to their challenges!"