The overriding prescription for your success as an executive onboarding into a new role is to converge into the team and organization before trying to evolve them. You can’t make decisions while you’re converging. You have not yet earned the right. Any idea you bring in and any decision you make while converging says you don’t value others’ opinions. However, you can guide others to the right decisions by helping them choose the right frameworks for thinking.
Per an earlier article, frameworks are the basic conceptual structures that people use to flesh out their ideas. In that article, I cited the example of judges’ instructions to juries, telling them how to think.
In most cases, whatever organization you’re joining already has a mission, vision, set of objectives and goals, strategies and plans. Together, those are the current framework for thinking and action within the organization. While, as a new leader, you don’t have the right to challenge any of those pieces, you most definitely have the right and the obligation to help people to follow them.
On my first day as head of marketing in a new company, the general manager told me my top priority was to shepherd the production of new television advertising he had already approved to go on air before Thanksgiving.
I asked to see the boards (hand-drawn pictures laying out the frames of the television commercials.)
It was immediately clear those boards were not going to result in valuable advertising. But somehow telling the general manager that on my first day did not seem like the best way to endear myself to him.
So, I asked to see the copy strategy.
The boards delivered the copy strategy’s benefit.
The boards had the copy strategy’s support points in word for word.
But the look and feel of the advertising suggested by the boards did not match the character statement in the copy strategy.
So, I asked, “Do you think this advertising matches this character?”
He replied, “You know, that had been bothering me.”
We scrapped that advertising, started over and ended up with advertising the built our market share +10 share points.
This worked because I was able to challenge the connection between the copy strategy and the work. I didn’t challenge the copy strategy itself. I never said I didn’t like the advertising. I just questioned whether they went together, knowing they did not.
Fit is not the same as congruence. Drive through that gap to guide choices. In the example above, the proposed advertising mostly fit the copy strategy. I leveraged the advertising – character gap to get my boss to decide to start over. His decision. Not mine.
Not everything everyone in the organization does is directly in line with the mission. That is how it should be. People do things that enable other things that support the mission. Sometime you can leverage that gap to guide different decisions. “Is this directly contributing to our mission?”
Vision is a future picture of success, by definition creating a gap with the current reality. Even if people are doing things that moves the organization in the direction of the mission, you can ask “Is this the fastest route possible towards our vision?”
Objectives are general in nature. You can always ask “Is this the best way to achieve that objective?” Anyone believing in continual improvement will answer “No.”
Goals are the quantitative side of objectives. You can ask “Will this deliver the goal?” If yes, you can ask “What would it take to over-deliver this goal?”
Strategies and Plans
Strategies are broad choices that guide plans. You can generally find gaps between them and ask if any particular strategy will produce a sustainable advantage for the organization or if the plans are the best possible implementation of any strategy.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not meant to be a trick to drive your opinions before you’ve earned the right to do so. It is meant to be a way for you to pressure-check organizational decisions before you get to make them yourself. These are just questions. If people change their minds, great. If not, you’ll get your chance to change the people.
Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #624) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.