Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Transitioning into senior management – Part 4: multiple paths to the executive suite – 3

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 24, 2011

This is my fourth installment in a series on transitioning into senior management (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 158, 159 and 160.) This is also a direct continuation of Part 3 in this series where I discussed some of the issues arising when a senior executive is recruited from outside of the organization. My primary objective in this posting will be discussion of issues involved when senior executives are recruited from the inside. And as a start and transition point I would begin by noting a couple of possibilities as to why this decision might be made one way or the other.

• There is no single reason why an executive officer would be brought in from the outside, but certainly one of the commoner reasons is a perceived need to bring in new blood – new ideas, perspectives and approaches. Appearance can be deceptive, but a company that primarily or exclusively searches outside its own ranks for new leadership is signaling that it is looking for change, and I add here that if they do this through a retained recruiting firm, this gets to be quite expensive.
• When an executive officer is recruited from the inside this conveys a message too. Their new promotion/hire will start out knowing that organization, its processes and mission, and its culture from the inside. Once again, appearances can be deceiving but at the very least, this organization appears to be less concerned about bringing in new ideas and approaches, than it is in maintaining continuity, and generally where it sees itself as holding unique knowledge or values.

These only touch on a few of the possibilities so if you are a recent recruit into an executive position, decisions as to the hiring process that brought you in and decisions to hire you may mesh with them or be quite different at least for primary reasons. But in any case, I would advise thinking in terms of how and why you were brought in, and the way you were to help you more effectively start in your new position.

• Even if you were recruited from inside the organization, it is still a best practice to approach your new job as if you were a new hire with a significant learning curve ahead.
• Even open organizations with easy, widespread flow of information and perspective can be somewhat insular within individual departments and services, and with cultivation of local cultures and in-group norms. As an executive officer you may very well find yourself facing a cultural and mind-set diversity you have not had to deal with before.
• Middle managers rarely have to deal with the board of directors, and there are other participants you will in all likelihood finding yourself working with who you may not have ever even met before. I will be posting a series on boards of directors in this guide, and on working on and with them. Even a recruit from the inside will face significant New.
• Yes, the CEO reports to the board and other C level officers more usually report to the CEO but it is common for a CIO, for example, to present to the board on the current status and planning of information services as a part of the executive suite’s initiatives for keeping the board effectively informed. Other C level officers, of course, can be and are at least periodically called upon to do the same and certainly where board members request relevant updates as a part of their due diligence.
• And as a C level officer, you have to look at the organization as a whole, and at its overall strategic position and options.
• And you have to find a common language and understanding with all of the other departments, and silos where there are internal barriers to deal with.

If I were to summarize the core concept of these points into one simple statement, it is that an internal hire into the executive suite can face much the same challenges as a recruit from the outside would in terms of facing learning curves. It is just that the internal recruit does not necessarily see the potential areas of difference and newness, because they know the physical facilities and so many of the people already, and because they have come to take insider knowledge for granted. Established insider knowledge may be real and of real value but you should start this new role in the business assuming it to be incomplete.

I am going to focus on the non-CEO executive in my next series installment, and the CXO responsible for a specific functional or other organizational unit within the business as a whole. My goal will be to highlight some of the issues and challenges faced when confronted with the need to manage a specific part of the organization (e.g. information technology, marketing and communications or finance and accounting) while simultaneously taking a larger perspective approach – where there can be conflicts of need.

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