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.

Author: Vitas Consult