Planning Your First Three Months In A New Role

Congratulations on the new role!

This posting outlines our criteria for a quality new role transition plan. (We draw from “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins: a recommended read).

In this book Michael Watkins sets out five fundamental propositions:

1. Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.
2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure, and to ensure that they reach the break-even point faster.
3. The over-riding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility, and avoid getting caught in the vicious cycles that damage credibility. As a vicious cycle takes hold, the organisation’s immune system gets activated and the new leader is attacked by clumps of ‘killer cells’, encapsulated, and finally expelled; it’s not nice, and it can get messy.
4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly. They are an indispensable development experience for every company’s high-potential leaders.
5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organisations.

In planning your transition and your first three months (100 days or so) in role the aim is to avoid the “triple dip effect” where the appointment of a new leader results in a decline in direct report’s performance, engagement and intention to stay. Corporate Leadership Council research dating back a number of years shows that, where a new appointee is transitioned smoothly into their new role this can be avoided and that where this does not happen the negative impacts on staff performance, engagement and intention to stay are both clear and damaging.

A well balanced transition plan should assist you in five main areas:

1. To gain deeper knowledge of the new portfolio – most especially to gain a realistic and informed appreciation about any present gap between the stated strategies of the new teams you will be responsible for and the current operational realities or de facto strategies. This will involve you in getting to grips with both initial perceptions and the underlying reality – which is, as you know, usually more complex and subtle than you might at first imagine!

At the end of your first one hundred days or three months, you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the long and the short term goals, plans and budgets associated with your new role?
  • How are business goals and strategies and individual manager’s goals aligned?
  • How do current performance levels compare against these plans? (Pay particular attention to who knows and who does not know the answer to this type of question).
  • Why are the time-frames for achievement set in the way they are? Who set them?
  • What are the relationships with internal clients and external partners like? How do we know?

2. To accept and deal with the real capabilities of the organisation and the people. Like all organisations, your new people’s capabilities will, indeed, vary. As a leader you have probably been brought in to change something. Some of your managers may relish change – but this is not universally true.

Within those first three months you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the key success factors for all the operations in my new role?
  • How much time will I need to understand [fill in the gap here] before I make change plans?
  • What are the stated and un-stated processes, accountabilities and systems?
  • Were there any “landmines” built into prior decisions and why?
  • What is the true depth of difficulty in [any under-performing] group?
  • What individuals hold real power?
  • What are the real lines of authority?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership and/or management team? Are both acknowledged by the members?
  • What is the actual role of [high profile leadership teams]?
  • What is the actual experience and professionalism of my people and people over whom I now have influence?
  • Do formal job responsibilities exist? Why? Why not?
  • What are the management philosophies here?
  • Is there real (or simply imagined!) alignment between these philosophies and the way that leaders/managers are rewarded?
  • How much emphasis is placed on managerial consensus? Why? Why not?
  • What resources are there outside the formal network that are contributing to the goals? How can they be brought into the network?
  • How will I strengthen and secure the leadership of my team to achieve agreed goals?

3. To discover and prioritise multiple expectations. Deeper investigation of many complex organisations tends to leave the impression that they are not adept at prioritising and often appear to wear out their key resources – often including, but not just, people – because the difficult choices have not been made. New-in-post leaders frequently “see” this very clearly. It is a very valuable “newcomer’s insight” but it can negatively impact your morale if you are not prepared for this experience. This is an area where a competent coach, mentor or buddy can make a real difference to your experience.

4. To navigate political waters and establish alliances with the right people. This is often seen as the most difficult challenge. An experienced mentor can help you to make sense of the subtle power plays that really are at work, often just under the surface. A key question for you may be: Do I have enough of the support I need?

5. To set an agenda for action that has buy in and generates a sense of urgency. In this area you need to first make use of your people skills. Your transition plan should enable you to make substantial connections with key people and from there to begin building out your network. Sources within this network will provide the data, information and commentary that you need to begin constructing an agenda for action.

Stakeholders In Your Transition (or “behind every successful transition lies an effective support network”)
The individuals surrounding you can serve as powerful sources of support and development during the transition process (and beyond). HR, with the support of your manager/s and, sometimes, the outgoing leader have an enormous opportunity to get even greater leverage out of these often overlooked existing assets.

From Flexible, Reactive Guidance to Intense, Focused Assistance
Many leaders succeed, in large part, to the extent that their support networks become active participants, rather than passive observers in their transition process. Each group in the leaders’ support networks plays a unique, yet complementary role in ensuring their transitions are as smooth as possible. An implication of this is that HR need to provide stakeholders with the transition support tools and resources that enable them to shift from reactive, passive observers to proactive, focused participants.

Fast Starts Do Not Happen in the Absence of Gentle Exits
High performing new-to-role leaders hit the ground running when their previous managers and their new managers work together to prepare leaders for their new roles and carefully orchestrate a smooth hand-off of responsibilities. This will be critical for you.

Need tailored support to plan your own or another leader’s transition? Contact √itas Consult.

Engagement And Performance

Do you manage or lead a team? Do you know – and use! – the two simple questions that engage people in your team?


If you don’t, then I highly recommend a recent short, podcast from “The Look & Sound of Leadership”. It’s on “Engagement & Performance” and you will find it by clicking on this link: Engagement and Performance

THenschelThis podcast is by Tom Henschel, an executive coach to senior leaders and executive teams. Originally trained as a classical actor, Tom received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The Juilliard School, Drama Division. He was a professional actor for more than twenty years before becoming a trainer, leadership team dynamics specialist and coach. His practical, pithy and popular “Look & Sound of Leadership”™ series of podcasts – never more than 15 minutes long – are an excellent source of development and come highly recommended.

Tools For Talent Assessment

Moon_FotorResearch indicates that the most reliable approaches to the assessment of people use a variety of methods to learn about competences and potential derailers. When you use a range of complementary methods to assess leadership potential (for example), you are  better placed to come to some working hypotheses about potential, how to target development and concerning placement decisions.

The main types of tool available are:

Simulations: Where people are asked to work together or alone on the resolution of challenges that relate to the known demands of the future role. Simulations can include simple “in box” exercises where people have to assess email/mail and make a succession of decisions about how they will prioritise their time, delegate responsibility and deal with risks. There are more complex and extended simulations which evolve over a period and may attempt to replicate the challenge of a particular role or a team in the organisation.

360 Degree or Multi-Rater Assessments: These provide comparisons of an individual’s self perception with the perceptions of their behaviour that are held by “significant others” – invariably including the individual’s manager(s); their peers; their team members and possibly people they supply services to/partner with or have contractual relationships with. Results are provided on an anonymous basis. These assessments are normally conducted on-line.

360 (or 180) Degree Interviews: These are standardised interviews that may be undertaken by the individual or their coach or mentor and which provide data not dissimilar to the on-line multi-rater assessments but are usually conducted face to face or, sometimes, “virtually” using the telephone/Skype, etc.

Personality Inventories: These provide objective measurements of underlying personality characteristics – usually based on a self report basis. Access to these tools (and often to the more sophisticated and reliable forms of simulation) is usually restricted to those who have been thoroughly trained in their use.

Cognitive Ability Tests: These measure intelligence – a component part of some competencies.

Behavioural Event Interviews: Though strongly associated with job selection these can also be used to investigate how a person’s work experience relates to future role requirements.

Development Centres: Typically residential events where a number of the methods above are used to gather information that is then discussed in considerable detail with the individual in a feedback meeting or meetings.

Performance Assessments: Manager’s assessments of performance are useful particularly where a number of years of assessment data exists and that data has been “moderated” (or calibrated) to ensure that the ratings given by different managers carry the same value.

Need advice about assessment? Contact √itas Consult.

Talent Assessment

The objective of a talent assessment process is to reach a conclusion about each potential member of the talent pool in the following terms. Are they:

  • Ready Now for their next role
  • Will they be Ready Soon for their next role, typically meaning in two/three years
  • Will they be Ready in the Future, typically in around five years time
  • A Key Contributor – someone whom the organisation would find great difficulty replacing if they resigned
  • A person that should be included in the pool for Developmental purposes

(The words in italics are usually employed as the category heading in talent pools).

Notice that this approach sorts on the basis of time to readiness. However, the mere passing of time does not necessarily result in any person becoming better qualified for a given target role! More focused approaches to accelerating talent development have, therefore, begun to consider the critical experiences and learning support services that need to be made available to people in the talent pool.

Critical experiences

Art_FotorThe critical experiences may be particular postings, secondments or job moves that are known to be highly correlated with success in a given, future role. These experiences might be broadly defined (“living and working in a francophone country”) and be quite specific (“has managed a revenue account and grown income by a factor of x over a period of y”). Where this approach is taken the emphasis on “time to readiness” is often progressively overtaken and more attention is paid to “paving the way” to a given, future role (or roles) with suitable experiences.

Learning support services

It is well known that two people can experience what appears to be the same occurrence and one will learn a tremendous amount from the experience whilst another very little. It is also evident that people learn in different ways and may be more or less active, pragmatic, and reflective or articulate about what they have learnt. Given this variety of approaches to learning it not surprising that a range of learning support services are now used to accelerate development. These services include mentoring, coaching, good management practices, journaling, action learning (for groups in a talent pool), assignments and so on.

Assessment for what?

Assessment serves three fundamental purposes in talent and succession management:

  • It helps to confirm potential by indicating what kind of talent has been nominated into the pool.
  • It helps target development by allowing you to understand the relationship between individual capabilities and business objectives. This enables you to select highly targeted development solutions for each individual and for them to be captured in a motivational (leadership) development plan.
  • It helps in making placement decisions. This facilitates the selection of just the right experiences, job challenges and assignments and in providing the most appropriate support to the individual.

Need advice about any aspect of talent and succession management? Contact √itas Consult.

Flight Risk In Changing Times

During times of significant organisational change the group of staff that employers most fear losing are the highest performing, high potentials that have been earmarked for accelerated succession. (The research evidence supporting this is available and reliable but I will not repeat it here).

Organisations that are sensitive to the dangers of arriving at the new and much heralded destination without the “right people on the bus” typically make use of what I will describe as differential communication with the “hate to lose” target group. This communication, typically one on one, needs to be very carefully managed, of course. Arriving at the new destination with very little of the needed outstanding human capital on the bus and having to recruit that capability (at significant expense) is not an attractive prospect.

Periods of transformational change invariably result in some redundancies as roles no longer needed are deleted. Throughout the workforce there may arise a sense of “survivor guilt”. “Why have I been retained and others, trusted colleagues, have been let go?”

To retain and re-engage survivors it is important to have the best quality conversations with each of the, now smaller, team. Trusted managers may be able to hold these or the business leader may feel it appropriate to step in. With the most able and talented a good deal of the focus will be on rebuilding trust in the organisation and seeking to gauge, understand and respond to perceptions of flight risk. Clearly, how the leader responds will be tempered according to your estimation of the performance and potential of the individual concerned and the needs of the organisation.

Out of these conversations – especially in respect to the senior leadership team – can emerge the beginnings of a realistic forward capabilities plan. This will naturally need to take into account the developing business road-map and, obviously, the new capabilities needed for success in the planned business future.

Need to manage flight risk during a major change programme? Contact √itas Consult.


What Is Talent? What Can Be Learnt Through An MBA?

The term talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton ‘scale, balance, sum’) was one of several ancient units of mass dates back to the Ancient Greeks and Biblical times, starting out as measure of weight, then becoming a unit of money, and later meaning a person’s value or natural abilities (Michaels, et al.,, 2001). The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This parable is the origin of the use of the word “talent” to mean “gift or skill” in English and other languages. (The Hebrew term for “talent” was kikkār, meaning a round gold or silver disk, or disk-shaped loaf).

We sometimes make a reasonable distinction between individuals who have natural abilities in an area (who some might called gifted) and those who have learned their skills and knowledge. Of course individuals are a mix of both natural abilities and learned skills.

Recently DDI undertook extensive research to investigate two associated questions:

  • Do particular degrees translate into developed leadership skills that can be rigorously assessed? Or, to express that a different way, do leader skill profiles vary by educational degree? And,
  • What skill advantages do MBA graduates exhibit?

DDI evaluated assessment data from 15,000 leaders across 300 companies and 18 countries and compared the performance of those with undergraduate business degrees and MBA degree-holders against a set of critical leader skills.

butterfly_FotorGiven that MBA programmes commonly give centre stage to the development of financial acumen, becoming business savvy, and establishing strategic direction it came as no surprise to learn that MBA degree-holders did better than undergraduate business graduates. However, MBAs performed worse than undergraduate degree-holders in coaching and developing others, driving for results, and selling the vision. DDI’s conclusion was that while an MBA programme “can strengthen many important leadership skills, it won’t necessarily produce strength in all of the skills leaders need to be successful”.

Thankfully, the skills where business degree-holders weren’t strong—compelling communication, driving for results, and inspiring excellence—are all closely aligned with the highly develop-able interaction skills imparted by leadership development programmes, such as those created by √itas Consult.

Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H. & Axelrod, B. (2001). The War for Talent. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Develop Your Career With Branding Practices

Brand differentiation is usually taken to mean ‘setting your product apart from its competitors as a basis for preference’. In career development it is certainly useful to know about overall leadership strengths and weaknesses as this influences the access the individual has to career opportunities. However, at leadership level access to career opportunities may be somewhat determined by a subtle combination of leadership capabilities with certain significant career competences that we may dub the “three knows”:Three Knows

Know how competences concern job related knowledge and work related skills that are reflected in employee, team or business unit performance. Know why competences are seen in the way in which leaders (and others) understand their own motivation and are able to identify with organisational goals. Know whom competences are about networking both within and outside the organisation.

Leaders with these “three knows” stashed in their toolkit are unlikely – especially in today’s changing organisations – to rely over much on career pathways. They are more likely to see career development as a network of ‘crazy paving’ that they lay themselves. They are also likely to recognise that career paths are increasingly likely to be diverted and interrupted and that their own career development may be facilitated by lateral and other moves. Leaders who are adept at managing their own careers also tend to recognise that learning and career development can occur at any age and career stage and that access to opportunities is influenced by family, personal and community roles and can be facilitated by work outside paid employment.

The way you present yourself to your employers, both current and future, plays a crucial part in career success and satisfaction. If you get it right, it can enhance your profile at work, helping you to win interesting projects, promotions and the respect of your colleagues. It will also increase your chances of being the successful candidate at job interviews or attracting clients to your business if you’re self-employed.

Open Learn provides free online learning from the Open University and their course, Personal branding for career success, will help you to pick your way through the concept of personal branding, developing and refining your own brand, and choosing tools and tactics that allow you to present yourself to current and future employers in an authentic and effective way.

You’ll consider your own values and strengths, identify the key skills employers’ look for and learn how to present and evidence those skills appropriately, whether you want to raise your profile with your current employer or are looking for something new. Presenting yourself online and in person brings different challenges and you’ll look at a variety of platforms and approaches in more detail.


Avoiding the “Contribution Deficit”

Succession management has always belonged on the Board’s agenda. Today’s leader shoulders a great responsibility for identifying and raising successors. Yet succession planning can appear, because it shapes the organisation’s mid-term future, to be a little ethereal. Just how wrong that view really is can be underscored by a rapid scan of the four year period from 2012 to 2015. In that span of years, 74 percent of the new CEOs appointed to Standard & Poor’s 500 companies were promoted from within. No surprise there because, since Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras published “Built to Last”, it has become widely (though not universally) accepted that there is absolutely no inconsistency between promoting from within and stimulating significant change. What might be surprising is that the 74 percent of internally promoted CEOs represents an increase from 63 percent during the 2004-2007 period. And 91 percent of those internally promoted CEOs had no prior CEO experience.

Succession planning is vital and must be done well. The risks of doing it badly are too well known to discuss: let’s take an overview, realistically, of a major challenge and a related calculated risk that organisations need to contemplate today.

Avoiding the “Contribution Deficit”

Over promotion is a well-known phenomenon with its own dangers but promoting a functional specialist into a senior leadership role before they are ready can create different risks. Many of these risks are directly connected to the “contribution deficit”. This is often seen in the new leader’s lack of confidence when engaging in debate about critical issues or their inability to hold competing options in dynamic tension. The results: significant limitations on the newly promoted leader’s ability to be a compelling adviser to the Board, CEO and wider leadership teams. Frequently, what’s missing is a combination of sufficiently broad knowledge about business drivers, understanding the actual and potential contributions of other functional areas, limited influencing skills or a failure to build and empower a strong team.

Taking Early Action: Whilst the Window’s Open

cropped-Window.pngThose organisations most skilled at developing succession-ready leaders identify high potentials early, so they have the most options for crafting developmentally focused assignments across the business. A failure to do so delivers problems that are often compounded by other features of organisational life.

A progressive narrowing of the window of opportunity typically plays an increasing part. The time to qualification and establishment in many professions has progressively lengthened as the need for a first degree plus a professional qualification has frequently been replaced by the requirement for a postgraduate qualification, plus a professional accreditation and, possibly, an MBA. Naturally, the accredited professional then needs time to soundly establish their performance within their function. Significant life choices are made at about this time, creating future responsibilities that will factor into mobility decisions later. Reduced employee willingness to accept global movements at the invitation of their employer also serve to restrict the organisation’s scope for manoeuvre, whilst familial senior care responsibilities can limit options in the last decade of working life.

Taken together, these – and related – pressures conspire to quite narrowly define the individual’s and the organisation’s opportunity to identify, assess and work with together to prepare for future organisational leadership. The calculated risk is critical, the quality of the evidence base available frequently needs to be significantly enhanced, but doing nothing is usually the worst possible option.

Need to plan, implement or evaluate succession planning and talent management? Contact √itas Consult.