The most effective executive onboarding almost always involves a well-timed pivot from converging to evolving. One of the advantages of getting promoted from within to follow a successful leader is that you can get started on a lot of things before your official day one in the new job. One of the disadvantages is that you go live in a number of ways the moment your promotion is announced. And all this has to happen against a backdrop of honoring your predecessor.
As I’ve said throughout this series, executive onboarding is the key to accelerating success and reducing risk in a new job. People generally fail in new executive roles because of poor fit, poor delivery, or poor adjustment to a change down the road. They accelerate success by 1) getting a head start, 2) managing the message, 3) setting direction and building the team and 4) sustaining momentum and delivering results.
When getting promoted from within, a well-timed golf swing provides a good analogy.
- Start by getting your grip and stance right. (Or get your message and core team set.)
- Don’t hit the ball. Instead, let the ball get in the way of your swing. (Or make day one just one step in your transition.)
- Strike two balls – the little golf ball first, and then the bigger ball called earth. (Or set direction and build your team first and then sustain momentum and deliver results through that team.)
No one will do anything different until they a) believe they must change, b) can picture themselves in a brighter future, and c) see how they can be part of the solution. External reasons why people must change work better than internal ones. This leads to a message of building on all the good things the team has already done to stay ahead of the coming changes in the world and achieve even greater heights.
Set Core Team
Almost inevitably, a few of your former peers will want you to succeed; most will take a wait and see attitude; a few detractors (potentially including those who wanted the promotion for themselves, don’t share your vision or don’t appreciate you as a leader) will want you to fail; and all will wonder what the change in leaders means for them personally.
Start by encouraging those who want you to succeed. Let them pull the watchers along with them. Invite the detractors in. If, after a short period of time, they do not provide evidence of their choice to be part of your team with their words and actions, help them find a different team that better suits their needs.
As newly crowned Henry V said to Falstaff, “Presume not that I am the thing I was.” You’ve changed. You’re a new leader building a new team with the differential strengths you need to achieve your brighter future together.
Deming told us “every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets.” Intel’s Andy Grove defined a point of inflection as “an event that changes the way we think and act.” When that event occurs – most likely a change in your environment or ambition – change your system to change your impact and effect. This means changing your strategy, organization and operations all together, in sync, all at the same time to avoid breaking the system as you accelerate results through a point of inflection.
And, to be clear, you are at a point of inflection. If you don’t see it, someone else somewhere in the world will inflect your business for you. You won’t like how that story ends. This is why you have to work with your new core team to co-create a new direction.
Build the Broader Team
In the end, culture is the only sustainable advantage. Culture is the combination of your behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment. Each area has several dimensions. Your culture must sync up with your strategy. If they don’t work together, Drucker told us what happens, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Thus, you can’t change your direction and your strategy without changing your culture.
But you can’t change your culture too much too fast. Instead, figure out what it needs to be, where you are now, and then map out the cultural dimensions to evolve, one at a time, step by step, over time.