WHEN NEW SENIOR EXECUTIVES TAKE OVER
There are three basic questions that must be answered at the start of a new management assignment: what do I want to achieve, what do I want to preserve, and what do I want to avoid?
Let the "achieve/preserve/avoid" mantra put a framework around your actions for the next ninety days.
The answers to these questions are not intuitively obvious. And the answers are likely to change as one moves up and down the chain of command. Be aware of the dangers of relying too much on past experience in other organizations to come up with solutions for problems in this new organization. Each organization culture is different.
Getting a clear road map for these three questions is important, and is best achieved by collaborative discussion.
Having such a collaborative discussion is not easy.
THE GOING IN MANDATE
Echoing a similar theme, Professor John Gabarro speaks about the importance of a new manager clarifying what he calls the "going in mandate." Gabarro is a Professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business and author of The Dynamics of Taking Charge, (Boston:Harvard Business School Press, 1987)
" In general management successions, the going-in mandates were usually not very specific about what actions to take. They focused on more general parameters, such as competitive position, market share, growth, and contribution objectives."
Managers often find that, in practice, they have less authority than they had been led to believe. The Achieve, Preserve, and Avoid framework can serve as a useful way to organize that important mandate. The greater the clarity at the front end of the assignment, the less the later confusion.
THE LONE RANGER
Gabarro stresses the importance of building subordinates into a cohesive team. Failure to value a team approach to decision making led to a management style characterized by Gabarro as the "Lone Ranger Syndrome." And the Lone Ranger Syndrome was associated with turn-around failure:
"Compared to the successful managers, (Lone Rangers) involved others to a much lesser degree in the work of assessing and diagnosing organization problems. As a result, their diagnoses of situations tended to be much more narrowly focused and incomplete. Finally, they made changes that were perceived as inappropriate or ineffective, either because the changes were based on partial or incorrect diagnoses of problems or because the changes were badly implemented by a management group that did not support them."
CHANGE COMES IN THREES
Gabarro studied seventeen management successions over time. Regardless of industry, size, or country, there was a tendency for management changes to come in waves of three, with the second change being the most dramatic and the last change being a refinement of the major changes that took place in the second wave. Indeed, this three wave cycle took place even among managers in the study who (at the time) believed that their first wave of action would take care of most of the major changes.
Gabarro believes the three wave effect is a natural consequence of how new managers learn as they try to master new situations.
Given that there are at least three waves of change in any succession, it is not necessary for the first intervention to strike at the most "important" problem. These are the problems where managers are most often urged to focus. But the most important issues are also the trickiest.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Reserve the most important problems for the second cycle of change. We recommend first cycle interventions focus on issues where there is a high probability of success. Your initial success then becomes a framework from which to build up for the next intervention. For example, in retrospect, President Clinton might have been better off FIRST getting the family leave bill signed into law and THEN tackling the issue of homosexuals in the armed forces.
Being the new outside manager in an organization is never easy. But there are guides that can help smooth the process:
Get Clarity Regarding the "Going In Mandate" from your boss or Board. Make sure that the Mandate is clear about issues for change, avoidance, and preservation. Most mandates are informal and only focus on issues of change. We are suggesting a more formal structure that involves three levels of intervention.
This Mandate may need to be re-negotiated once you have a better appreciation of what is realistic in the organization.
Try to meet with your boss two months after the new assignment to begin this re-negotiation process. After all, you want your performance to be evaluated based on realistic goals.
Focus on a Team Oriented Approach to Diagnosing and Resolving Problems. Remember, Lone Rangers are not effective turn-around managers.
Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody
STYBEL PEABODY LINCOLNSHIRE
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