Your first 3 decisions as a boss
You’re the boss now. Congrats! Now get to work…
When you first come to a leadership position you have to face very explicit challenges: job objectives, team expectations, quarterly goals, etc. Your boss could be very clear about these. What she or he may not be so clear about is how they expect you to tackle these challenges. Or, even worse, try to help you by setting out a basic agenda of procrastination with answers like “Don’t worry about that yet, focus on this instead”, or “We’ll see to it soon”, and “I really need you to see how things are done here first”. These are all very well intended but for the new manager, they could also be very misleading.
Decision #1: Engage. This is not a drill. This is not for show. This is you jumping off the plane into the battle zone. Your parachute is your “new guy” label and your boss’ trust and support. If you relly too much or for too long on it, everyone down in the field will see it takes you forever to engage or, even worse, that you are avoiding it. Use it too late or disregard the fact you need to gather first hand information and you’ll break something as you land: people will think you’re rushing into conclusions and steamrolling your opinions on others without knowing what’s what.
Expect to get the benefit of the doubt for a little while but don’t get too comfortable. You took the jump and you are free falling. This is the time to assess your surroundings. Don’t expect anyone will tell you. Don’t take as yours other people’s assumptions. Make your own mind about where you are and what needs to be done. Take the time to gather all the information you need from different sources:
- Meet with your boss to understand the current situation of the company and your department. Don’t focus on what he or she thinks you must do, but what he expects that you accomplish. The what and the how may change but not his or her expectations.
- Meet with your team. Learn as much as you can about them. Avoid asking them how they feel or what they think about the company or your department. Instead, ask them about their recent projects and previous experiences. Make specific questions about events in the past so you can see how they handled them and what they accomplished as a result. By describing the company through their role and responsibilities, you will have a much clearer perspective of the situations your team members are describing and their own part in them.
- Go everywhere. Visit all the company areas you can gain access to. Sit in some of the meetings your team members schedule with clients, internally or with suppliers. Listen. Don’t take over the meeting, take notes. Ask questions before and after. Offer support and ask your colleagues to assess the meeting.
For the first few weeks your mission is to understand everything as fast as you can. Make sure everyone knows you will be taking things in and observing in order to develop new strategies and ideas. Set a deadline in order to collect enough information to understand where you are standing and ask as many questions as possible.
Decision #2: Choose a side. Philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests opinions should embrace some degree of risk in order to be worth something. Own yours. This means it’s up to you to define where you stand, based on your observations and conclusions.
Make the effort to build your own sense of direction and purpose to support your decisions. You may be wrong. Dead wrong. And failure is hard to elude no matter how brilliant or experienced you may be. But in any scenario, if failure is upon you, let it be so because you made the wrong choice and not because someone else did and you just went along with it.
Choosing a side does not mean that you are choosing a fight. Every strategic decision separates opposing or conflicting actions: relaunch a product or kill it; hire more talent or re-organize the company; promote a person internally or hire someone from your competition; focus on project A instead of project B; etc. People in your company could question and challenge your choices, and the point is that you must have strong enough reasons to support them so others will choose to follow you.
Muscles without strength, friendship without trust, opinion without risk, change without aesthetics, age without values, food without nourishment, power without fairness, facts without rigor, degrees without erudition, militarism without fortitude, progress without civilization, complication without depth, fluency without content; these are the sins to remember. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Decision #3: Deliver, deliver, deliver. Once you have identified your key objectives and laid out a plan, define your main early deliverables. These are concrete things you plan to accomplish in your first 60 to 90 days. Many managers focus on either long term objectives or small-scale short term goals. Instead, aim to identify objectives of two kinds: quick wins and silver bullets.
Quick wins are easy to implement ideas that you brought in with you when you landed the job or specific solutions to problems you identified early on. Silver bullets are disruptive ideas that can generate meaningful change and growth. These are difficult to come by but are the ultimate goal of your reckoning process.
By the end of your first 90 days, you must have a clear idea of what needs to be done, how you’ll do it, and evidence that you’re getting results. Likewise, people around you should be aware that you can bring something to the table and that you’re taking on the challenge to create value with it.