I got asked yesterday what it’s like getting airdropped into a job with little visibility. The funny thing is, I can’t really remember when the last time I wasn’t in such a maneuver. It doesn’t matter what the company’s size is or your responsibilities in the company — it’s very rare to have the full landscape mapped out before you land in a new position. This is perfectly OK as long as you think fast and don’t panic.
Anyhow, I flubbed through my answer, giving a quick dissertation which has now become pretty formulaic, serving me well over the years. Then I thought I would share it with you just for grins and giggles.
I don’t classify myself as the brightest bulb in the pack, but I am pretty quick at joining the dots. I would caveat that my path isn’t the easiest as I could have just tucked in and hid in a large company, counting the $$$. But quite frankly, there isn’t a lot of satisfaction in that.
So assume I get offered a president or CEO gig, the first thing you have to ask is “if it’s going great, then why would I get the opportunity?” The answer is, you wouldn’t. Therefore, you can safely assume that whatever you are told during the recruitment process, there will have hair on it.
Once you land in the role, there will likely be some fundamentals to resolve and a lot of initial unknowns to wade through. Not to mention there will be an impatient and frustrated existing team to welcome your “immediate and obvious” changes.
So what’s first?
I’d say 100% of company problems start and stop with people issues. Lack of pipeline, not synthesizing the problem statement, large attrition rates, product overlaps, making the wrong product and having a flawed business model are just a few of the common initial challenges.
All of these can be attributed to decisions or deferral of decisions by individuals meaning well but missing the mark. So this means you have to bifurcate the issue into solving the surfaced issues whilst simultaneously solving the root cause issues and get team alignment.
Employees generally fall into three buckets on a 10-80-10 ratio: 10% prefer the status quo, 10% are driving for change and 80% will blow with whichever way the wind is strongest.
Instrument, Instrument, Instrument your business. It’s impossible to solve anything you can’t see and it’s even more impossible to measure progress if you don’t have a baseline. You can give your people an essential instrument by establishing an open channel for communication. This is imperative for getting the 80%ers to blow in the direction needed to drive the business forward.
Next you have to figure out the fundamentals of the market. It sounds stupid, but you have to work out what companies want to buy and how they want to buy it.
Map where you are today and plot a course for change. Start to test market this to your clients and also ensure you have a larger story beyond just what’s on the truck today as every client is looking to reduce their number of vendors. You need to be seen as relevant for their future.
Now comes the hard part. Internal repetitive socialization of the company’s direction and stripping away anything that doesn’t support this direction.
Great leadership IMO is knowing what NOT to do and stopping it. All too many times I have seen weak leadership trying to placate everyone and hedging, which is a guaranteed losing strategy.
This will polarize the 10-80-10, create unexpected attrition, introduce tension and friction and force change. With additional hires, it’s prudent (and likely nepotistic) to bring in trusted talent as the job will be bigger than you. They will also expedite the change. You don’t have to second guess them and they will amplify your strategy and help you get the desired results much faster. These initial hires are likely the most critical you will make.
Don’t hire Divas. Don’t hire exclusively for top skill but give a weighted measure to their teaming and cultural contributions.
The company’s board and your senior management should not be kept at arm’s length. Think of them as an extension of you. Ensure they are equally invested in the journey and feel part of the transformational success.
The last thing I’ll mention is the need for growth levers. These are all about creating a migration effect for your products and services. There’s a number of drivers some of which will escape me (an age thing).
My top five growth levers are:
Strength in numbers. Are you part of a community group or movement that has a vested interest in being in your corner?
Cross sell up sell. Make sure your existing customers are happy. See what opportunities there are to sell more of the same or additional goodies. You’ll be amazed how many companies forget to talk to or better still, love their customers.
Trumpet your USPs. Know your product and have faith in its unique value. Push these hard and test if the market can hear it. K.I.S.S – not every feature, just the rocking ones!
Wear your Dad’s trousers. Find a large strategic partner that will amplify your field activities and/or a partner community that can broaden your reach.
Personal the message to John. Don’t just go with the large “motherhood and Apple pie” message but target and hone the message so it’s relevant to John. It’s similar to your resume. If you write “Jack-of-all-trades,” it’s not going to get you the job. Employers want to know that the job they have advertised is literally your dream job. Take the time to personalize so they believe you.
There’s tons more, but suffice it to say, if you have the occasion to be airdropped into a job, don’t panic, don’t thrash, don’t drown. Instead, keep calm, instrument, measure, try and persevere. If you do this, I promise either you will be wildly successful or you will at least feel you have thrown everything at it.