Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Transitioning into senior management – Part 3: multiple paths to the executive suite – 2

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 19, 2011

This is my third installment in a series I have been thinking about writing for quite a while now, on senior and executive management best practices (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 158 and 159.) And my focus here will be on the context of leadership and on the organization that a senior manager takes responsibility for.

When a business founder develops a new organization, they can seem to be starting with a clean slate to work from in building an organization and its corporate culture. But even here they carry with them the momentum of their own experience and they have to accommodate the needs of the members of their founding teams, and their background-driven expectations and approaches. In this, a founder CEO’s goal should be on building their businesses to succeed and last, and not on changing or reforming their colleagues to their viewpoints on everything. But that, in a fundamental sense simply raises issues for a different posting, and for later in this series.

I will also discuss leadership in the context of mergers and acquisitions in a separate posting. For here, my focus will involve leadership in a more established, ongoing organization with its own history, culture and momentum. And I start by raising a point that may seem out of place, but it is one where I have seen numerous new and first time senior executives challenged.

• Humility can be one of your most important resources and one of your greatest sources of sustaining strength as a new executive.

You have reached a corner office, but you still work with and depend on others for your success, and for the success of every initiative that you propose and seek to follow through on. Listen at least as much as you speak, and certainly as you move into this role. You may have had a solid grasp of what was done, how it was done and why in your area of responsibility as a middle manager, but now you have to understand and work with the larger context of the entire organization. This obviously holds for a president and CEO, but it also holds for any other C level officer on the executive team as well. Most members of the executive team may still focus their day to day efforts on one functional area within their organization but they have to do so with an acute awareness of the impact of that service on the entire organization, and in shaping and realizing its overall strategy and policy.

With that, I turn to two scenarios that I will explore in at least a bit of detail here:

• Moving into the executive suite as a new hire from the outside, and
• Moving into the executive suite from inside of the organization.

Moving into the executive suite as a new hire from the outside:
When you move into a senior management position you know that you are moving into a new business environment with its own distinctive corporate culture and its own established table of organization and processes. Even if you are brought in as a new President and CEO, it is generally advisable to learn your way around and get oriented before attempting to make fundamental changes, and certainly for corporate culture – unless, that is you are facing a significant change management challenge and have arrived with an express goal of addressing and rapidly remediating toxic problem areas. Even then, success is going to require buy-in and cooperation in day to day decisions and actions throughout the organization and that means conveying an awareness that you listen to and respect the people you work with – even if you are demanding that they make some significant changes.

But most of the time a new hire is brought into a business or organization to take a C level position under less challenging circumstances. And then, sudden and dramatic change can breed resentment, resistance and push-back and confusion. Do not move into your new office dreaming of putting your mark on the organization or of in-house empire building.

Meet your immediate team and really get to know your organization and at multiple levels through the table of organization. I would not claim to be a perfect example here, but I will cite an example from my own work experience to take this out of the abstract. I took a position as chief information officer (CIO) for a business once, with an understanding from my pre-start research and from my interviews and meetings, that their phone and computer-based customer management center was not working. I moved into that area for my first three weeks on the job and took a desk in the general work area, not to oversee and tell people what to do but to meet people, listen and share thoughts and learn where the real issues where, operationally and day to day. Then I worked with the managers for that area to find resolutions that would meet their needs in fulfilling their tasks and meeting their quotas. This worked, and by the time I found my way to my official office, I was a known presence and I knew the people I worked with. And I had established a sense of mutual trust where I was initially seen as a possible source of misunderstanding and complication. My efforts have not always worked as well but they did there, and precisely because I was able to meet with and work with people I was responsible for, directly.

• Be creative in finding ways to start your new position effectively, and not just for you but for the people who report to you and for your business.

I am going to continue this discussion in Part 4, turning to the scenario in which a manager is advanced within an organization to a senior executive position.

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