In general, when leaders are promoted from within, they need to keep in mind that they can not control the context, can not make a clean break, and have no honeymoon.
Given these, they need to manage the context they inherit as much as possible, take control of their own transition, and accelerate team progress after they start.
For Larry Page moving into the CEO role at Google, this means starting now to secure the resources and support he will need, deciding what parts of Eric Schmidt’s legacy he will keep and what parts he will change, and evolving the stated and de facto strategies as appropriate.
Where one of the main transition management challenges for someone joining a new company is positioning themselves, the challenge for people like Larry, getting promoted from within, is repositioning themselves. Larry is not going to change who he is and his history with his colleagues. He’s not going to change his strengths. But he can change his behaviors, how he relates to others, his attitude, and the work environment he creates, including which strengths he leverages first.
Secure needed resources and support
Most of us are unbalanced. We are relatively stronger in some areas than in others. No one is suggesting that Larry is going to be a better CEO than Eric was. No one is suggesting that Eric was a better CEO than Larry was the first time or than Larry is going to be this time around. The choice made ten years ago was based on Eric’s relative strengths being more important for that stage of growth. The choice being made now is based on Larry’s strengths being more important for the next stage of growth.
PrimeGenesis partner Rob Gregory says that CEOs own three core processes: strategic, operational, and organizational. Larry’s relative strengths are in the strategic area, continually re-figuring where Google should place future product bets. He is relatively less strong on the organizational side, and perhaps even less on the operational side. Google needs Larry to drive that strategic product area even more than he has. Google also needs the organization and operations to be managed well.
Larry is not going to take crash courses to build his strengths in organizational development and operations between now and April 1. What he can do is make sure he’s got the resources and support lined up to compensate for his relative lack of strengths in these areas. Since his profile is different than Eric’s, this probably means moving people with different strengths to different positions. Those with strengths complementary to Larry’s need to play larger roles going forward than they did before. Larry needs to get these moves in process well before April 1.
Continuity and Change
In many ways, Larry went live in his new role the moment he was announced. While Eric is still running the day-to-day business, no one is going to make any decisions about anything that’s going to impact anything beyond April 1 without checking with Larry. They don’t want to risk his reversing decisions they make now as soon as he takes over.
Uncertainty is crippling. Not knowing what’s happening, who’s in, who’s out, or in what direction we are going is a major cause of stress. Since stress is cumulative, the sooner Larry can explain to people what is going to stay the same and what is going to change, the sooner people can settle into their new reality. The sooner people know the general direction of things to come, the sooner they can stop going to Larry with every decision, and the more nimble Google will be. This is why Larry needs to publish the new direction sooner rather than later, managing communication to inspire and enable Google’s people.
Evolving the Stated and De Facto Strategies
People joining from the outside have some small grace period during which they can ask “dumb” questions. Not so for someone promoted from within – and certainly not so for co-founder and returning CEO Larry Page. He will be expected to hit the ground at a full gallop and accelerate from there.
This means he cannot shut down, rethink, and re-start the core strategic, operational, and organizational processes. Instead, his should evolve them on the fly, starting with the strategies. a) Strategies inform everything else. b) This is where his own strengths lie. c) He can get started here now, not waiting until April 1, and then evolve the operational and organizational processes after that. Thus, this is where he can find his early wins.
Implications for You
General advice is generally useless – unless you can apply it to your own situation. When you’re getting promoted from within, look hard at:
- Preparing in advance, especially around securing the resources and support you’ll need going forward.
- Taking control of your own transition, especially around deciding what to keep the same and what to change.
- Accelerating team progress after your start by evolving the strategies first, and then operations and organization.
The New Leader’s Playbook
This is a good example of step 1 of The New Leader’s Playbook, Position Yourself for Success
Start by connecting your values and goals, strengths and communication. Know yourself. Know your audience. Know and deliver your message in your own voice. Leadership is personal. Your message is the key that unlocks personal connections. The greater the congruence between your own values, attitudes, behaviors, the environment you create, and the way you relate to other individuals, the stronger those connections will be. This is why the best messages aren’t crafted; they emerge. Great leaders live their messages not because they can, but because they must. As Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms in 1521,“Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Click here to read about each step in the playbook
Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step
The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2009). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.