Congratulations on your promotion! We couldn’t be happier for you. We know you are excited about exercising your leadership at a higher level. And we’d like to share with you some information we think will help you with your new challenge.
Start by considering what skills this job requires and how they compare with the ones you have. We’re sure you’ve got the self-confidence to make this kind of candid self-assessment. If you’re short on experience in one area (most leaders are at some point in their careers, as you know), be sure you’ ve got someone who’s strong in it.
How well do you know your organisation?
Make sure you get down where the action is, talking with people at all levels, asking them questions, and listening to the answers. You’ll learn much of value about the realities of the business, and you will establish the personal connection that is a hallmark of a great leader.
Get a good handle early on about the beliefs and behaviours of the people under your direction. Your own behaviours have a great deal to do with your success so far, Jane. You’ve insisted on boundary-less thinking, you’re open to opinions that differ from yours, and you’ve practiced and led the honest, inclusive dialogues that bring reality into the open. You have also placed a high premium on getting things done, winning, and attracting the very best and most diverse talent.
Are you among like-minded people in your new job? Does this business have an execution culture, one where people get things done because performance is recognised and rewarded? Do people embrace reality and engage in constructive debates? Or is the place full of political gamesmanship, butt covering, and denial? If so, start creating the social software you’ll need to change the culture.
We know you believe that people are your organisation’s most important assets, but your stewardship of the people process is what will convert that belief to reality. Make your people process second to none. Your success will be determined by the number of “A” players you have and the extent to which you can harmonise their efforts. You need to know at least the top third of the people in your unit in terms of their performance and their growth potential. You need to be certain that appraisals are honest and direct, and that your people get the feedback, coaching, and training they need to grow. And because compensation is the ultimate driver of performance, you must ensure that your compensation system rewards the doers.
We encourage you to compare your people with those of the competition, to ask whether the performance bar is high enough, and whether people have the necessary discipline to win consistently.
Getting the strategy process right is crucial to your longer-term success and that of your organisation. Are business leaders driving the process, or has it been delegated to nerdy and isolated planning types? Does the plan have the right information to allow an accurate assessment of your position versus your competition? Is it sufficiently detailed so that your people can see how they will achieve both growth and productivity improvements? As you know, if you don’t identify, debate, and resolve the critical issues, the business stalls. Also, are resources allocated in proportion to opportunities, or does every opportunity get some resources and none get enough? Is the plan straightforward, concise, and easily understood? Remember, you want everyone in your business to have a good grasp of it.
You have a budget, but do you have the action plan the budget should represent? We see countless cases where the numbers are assembled painstakingly and presented expertly but have little to do with the reality of running the business. A one-year operating plan sets forth a template for achievement. It synchronises all of the organisation’s parts and links them with the strategy and the people processes. It nails down your team’s commitments by tying performance explicitly to incentives, so that leaders exercise all the discipline and imagination they can muster to deal with the ever-present unanticipated events.
Jane, we can’t stress strongly enough the importance of your personal involvement in these three core processes. You must be in charge from the start of each cycle, to the reviews, and to the follow-up steps you take to make sure the things that are supposed to happen do, in fact, happen. This is how you acquire both the knowledge and the authority to run the business as an integrated, reality-based whole. It is how you ultimately assure that all three processes are linked.
It will be hard at times to know how you’re doing. We hope your organisation gives you the feedback and coaching you will be giving your own reports. But even when that’s the case , we have found that a leader needs a confidant, someone outside the business to help her keep her head straight. This person should be someone wise, an individual who will be candid with you and help you to keep asking yourself whether you’re growing, learning, and making the tough choices. And take care of yourself. The new job can be stressful, and you need to live a balanced life. Don’t let yourself get too low or too high. Consistent behaviour is a sign of a contained ego, and inspires confidence in you from those around you.
Above all Jane, remember that you’ve earned your leadership by your commitment to the work you’ve done. Keep that intensity of involvement and deepen it. Some people grow in their jobs, and others swell. The ones who grow are passionate about their businesses. They’re never too busy being big honchos to pay attention to the important details and stay close to their people. They’re never too high and mighty to listen and learn, to be as curious and inquisitive and open to new ideas as they were the first day of their careers.
This is probably more than you wanted to hear from two old friends. But we take great delight in your progress, and we know you have the talent to do a lot more.
Larry and Ram