First impressions count–especially at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As William Daley moves into his new role as White House chief of staff, all eyes will be on him. The pressure he will experience to perform quickly and effectively will be significant, especially in his first few days and weeks. It will be no less than he faced as Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase , responsible for overseeing post-merger operations.
To tackle the responsibilities of his new role and ensure that better results are delivered faster, he will have to act quickly. It will be critical for him to get a head start, ensure clear communication and rebuild his team. And those are steps useful not only for Daley in his new position but for all recently appointed business leaders in corporate America.
To make the most of the very short window between an announcement and a formal start, leaders must always quickly discern what matters, who matters and what to communicate–and in what priority.
One of the most important things leaders must do early is clarify and establish their organization’s vision and values. In his new role Daley has a rare opportunity to help evolve the implementation of Obama’s vision, values and priorities to fit the new political landscape. He should get in sync with Obama and then articulate exactly what is now expected of the staff in terms of behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and work environment.
As chief of staff Daley will have relationships with more people in more organizations than most of us can comprehend. He must discern which of those people are going to be most important and reach out to them immediately–especially those who will soon encounter collaboration and negotiation instead of the aggressive and adversarial approach sometimes taken by Daley’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel.
Establishing those relationships sends that collaborative message in a way that would be difficult to do later. Preparation breeds confidence. The more business leaders can prepare and jump-start their learning and relationships in advance, the better.
Furthermore, Daley absolutely must get clear on Obama’s and his own message and communication points immediately, then drive that message home through his staff.
There are going to be some who “get it,” buy into it and support it, some who don’t buy into it and who fight the change, and some who watch to see how things play out. Daley needs to empower those who “get it” and turn them into advocates, move some of the watchers into the supporter category, and get the ones fighting any change out of the way. The stakes are too high and the time is too short to put up with internal politicking.
It’s important to remember that he will be judged initially not by what he says, but by what he does–and by whether that is in line with who he really is.
Finally, he must build the team. It is a team that has a number of new players beyond Daley. He needs to reform this team under the ultimate leadership of President Obama. There are steps commonly used in executive transitions that certainly apply here:
–Get people aligned around the new imperative, what the administration is determined to accomplish over the next two years.
–Set milestones, so everyone knows what must get done by whom, by when.
–Identify some early wins to build back momentum.
–Sort out people’s roles to make sure the right people are focused on the right things with the right support (and the wrong people go off to do other things).
–Manage communication throughout.
These basic concepts apply to complex transitions in the private sector as well. It’s always important to take a hard look at an organization’s situation and culture to understand both its need for change and its openness to change. In almost every case, the executive leading the transition will be better off if he or she can get a head start, manage the message and build the team–fast.