By Sam Aruti
So, you’re starting a new job, maybe after sitting on the bench for too long. You have to make a great impression, but exactly what do you need to do and how do you need to do it?
All you know is that you need to do it soon. The position you now occupy may have been open for a while since your new boss was methodical in filling the role. Finding just the right person takes time. But, now you’re it.
There are three ways to start: You can spend time figuring out what you just got yourself into, or go right in and “fix” everything or continue “business as usual.” The right answer is a combination of all three, naturally; it all depends on what you just inherited.
Experience should tell you that if there is no current crisis (if only we could be so lucky) then the right way to get your feet wet is to become an observer and a student of your new environment. In other words, stop and listen. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken yet. This is a time for meetings to understand what is good and bad about your new organization and formulate a go-forward strategy. Spend time with your direct repots and their direct reports, find out what they do, what their skills are, what they think is right and wrong. Since you are the new person, they may not trust you yet, so keep the groups small and make it personal. And don’t have managers in with their reports!
Once you have a sense of what your team is feeling, then it’s time to talk with your clients. Look first for the business unit leaders and get recommendations from them as to which of their people you should talk with. One school of thought is to do your internal client’s business for a day. There is no better way to learn about issues than to experience them first hand. Lastly, talk to you new boss. Now that you have some data points you can have a better, more detailed discussion on what your focus should be.
I recommend asking the same questions to each group you meet with. In his book The First 90 Days, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Watkins suggests that you ask six questions to everyone you meet. The one that is most relevant is, “If you were me, what would you focus attention on?” The questions you ask should provide you with a starting point for prioritizing the things you need to do and the things you want to do. For example, in a Wall Street Journal article Carol Hymowitz quotes Kevin Sharer as asking the following questions (to the top 100 executives) after he became the CEO at Amgen:
- “What do you want to keep?”
- “What do you want to change?”
- “What do you want me to do?”
- “What are you afraid I’ll do?”
- “What else do you want to ask me?”
The questions you ask need to give you the knowledge that will enable you to create the strategy that will make you successful. We need to take lessons from wherever they come, including from critics. For example, Steven C. Parrish, senior vice president, corporate affairs at the Altria Group, Inc. (parent of brand names Kraft Food and Philip Morris), recently presented some lessons learned as the Philip Morris Companies started to shift away from the rest of the cigarette industry. Among them were these:
- Listen to critics, as most have legitimate concerns about the organization that you are inheriting. Realize that it took them a while to become critics and now their views are pretty much irreversible. Changing people’s minds is a slow process; it is about showing results not talking about results.
- Commit from the beginning to act on what you learn. Even if you have to change the look and feel of your organization, do it.
- Don’t try to win arguments about debates that occurred in the past. Asking people to change their views about the past is the same as asking them to admit they are wrong. Show them the future so they can focus on what’s important.
But, what if there are problems when you enter the organization—problems that can’t wait months to be resolved? Remember, they looked long and hard for you because you had something they needed in the organization. This is when you get your hands dirty and become an instant part of the fix. In other words, go deep toward understanding the issues. Attend meetings you wouldn’t normally attend and work closely with the hands-on folks. Use the phrase, “At my last company we did it this way” sparingly because it gets old really fast. This is also the time to use all of your expertise and experience to analyze the situation and make decisions. Remember some of your best decisions are made before you have all the facts because you instinctively know what needs to be done. Take copious notes so that when the crisis is over you know how to prevent if from happening again.
This is also a great time to see what process and/or procedures are in place and how they affect the outcome. For example, when I was in the first month of starting a new job, there was a network storm that brought down a remote office. After the team was able to resolve the issues I documented what I saw:
- There was no change control; nobody knew what had been modified that might have caused this to happen.
- The person fixing the problem was a single point of contact and there was no evidence of cross training going on. If this person had not been on site that day, who knows how long the network storm would have existed.
- There was a lack of monitors in the infrastructure so tracking down the network storm was about guessing which circuits to disconnect.
- And my personal favorite, the network monitoring console hardware had been powered off.
You can bet that after this incident there were some changes made and made within days. The documentation I created that described the problem, the solution and the changes that were going to be made were published to the affected office, my managers and my team. In other words, let everyone know you are doing something and that the problem isn’t going to happen again.
So, that leaves us with “business as usual.” There are many things that could be said about this but then I suspect that your predecessor would agree that it really isn’t the right way to go. If the people that hired you wanted business as usual, would they have hired you? Understand that you are bringing ideas and methodologies that you have picked up over time. Now is the time to leverage them and create synergistic solutions. Everything that gets fixed isn’t necessarily a problem, however: Creating efficiencies or cost effective solutions for things that aren’t broken can contribute as much as fixing broken processes.
Your first hundred days will tell your new company what you are all about. It is also the best time to introduce change because that’s what you were hired for.
Sam Aruti has held several positions, from system administrator to managing director, in the financial services sector over the last 20 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.