Congratulations, you’re the boss! Now what?

Taking a strategic approach to your first few months in a new post will lay strong foundations for your future success.

New leaders need to lay the foundations for future success

Congratulations on your new role! You’ve worked hard, made the right impressions and earned your promotion. Whilst it might not feel like you are under pressure as soon as you step into your new office, the early days in your new role are critical to your future success. A recent study has shown that 50% of new appointees fail within the first 18 months as a result of decisions taken, or more often not taken, in the initial critical three months of the appointment.

There will be many tasks competing for your time when you step inside the door for the first time, and your chances of success will be vastly improved if you are able to prioritise which challenges to tackle first, and in what order. Of these, there is one task which absolutely must be addressed first.

The first priority for newly appointed leaders

Influenced by a popular leadership book, ‘From Good to Great,’ by Jim Collins, many would say that a new leader’s first priority is personnel, or as Jim Collins describes it, ‘getting the right people on the bus.’ However, a new leader your highest priority is in fact to properly understand the specific challenges faced by the organisation.

Your organisation needs to know where it is going (vision, mission and strategy) before you put together the correct blend of women and men required to take it there. Getting the right people on your bus has to be secondary to this priority.

The challenges facing an organisation at any precise time depend on its situation and the business imperatives confronting it. For example:

  • Start-up: Assembling the capabilities (people, financing and technology) to get a new business or initiative off the ground
  • Turnaround: Serving a business or initiative widely acknowledged to be in serious trouble
  • Accelerated Growth: Managing a rapidly expanding business
  • Realignment: Re-energizing a previously successful organisation or one that now faces problems
  • Sustaining Success: Coming in on the heels of a highly regarded leader with an impressive record of accomplishment.

(Michael Watkins – ‘The First 90 Days)

‘The right people’ for each of these scenarios will differ as regards experience and capability, not to mention attitudes, personalities and operating types. Therefore to ‘get the right people on the bus’ before you do anything else as the leader of an organisation is almost a contradiction in terms. A new leader has to determine the future vision and strategy before putting in place the key members of a team.

The second priority is to understand the challenges facing you as a new in-post leader

The challenge of getting the right people around you is compounded when you then overlay the complexity of your own background. As a newly appointed leader you will face one or more of the very different challenges that result from the following situations:

  • Promotion to a higher level
  • Moving from a different business function
  • Moving from a different organisation
  • Moving from a different part of the same organisation
  • Moving to a different geographical location

Every new in-post leader has to overcome the differing, immediate barriers presented when occupying a new leadership position. This is where a highly customised transitional programme can really help, allowing you to ‘hit the ground running’ and become effective quickly. This is now more important than ever because shareholders expect positive financial results in a short space of time.

Finally – in reality – you will probably inherit some direct reports as part and parcel of your new job. It takes time to assess these individuals and to come to the conclusion as to whether they should be ‘encouraged to see their careers elsewhere’, demoted, moved sideways, promoted or developed as they have potential.

Driving the organisation forward

As a new in-post leader you will have to satisfy the expectations of many stakeholders and there is no doubt that the way you put your team together will be a critical factor in your success or otherwise. Your probability of success in getting the team will be enhanced if you are clear about your direction and vision.

Once your direction is well-defined, you can then concentrate on building the team. This should be much easier once you have defined your vision, as you want people around you who share your vision and excitement about the organisation’s future. Financial constraints might dictate the size of your team initially, but this can be a good thing, as it necessitates a thorough and rapid assessment of existing and potential team members.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it right straight away. Early recruits might not prove to be the best choices, and might need to be replaced at a later time. It pays to have an awareness of who might replace them at any point, should you or they decide things aren’t working.

Investment in new in-post leaders – improving your chances of success

Getting the team around you is, of itself, no easy task. Your job as a new in-post leader is significantly helped if your organisation already conducts thorough, regular analysis and auditing of its top women and men. All too frequently, organisations limit such investments to recruitment and selection and miss the massive pay-off to be won by being ahead of the game. Using insightful diagnostic tools such as psychometric profiling can be of enormous benefit in this respect, and if it isn’t something already undertaken, then it’s worth looking into.

In summary, don’t be tempted, even under pressure, to rush into re-organising people and teams before you are ready to do so. To paraphrase a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”.

Talk to The Leadership People today about your upcoming or recent appointment, and ask how we can help you lay the proper foundations for future success. Get in touch >>

*Study by leadership IQ, a global leadership research company