Getting calls from past colleagues in quest of new jobs is a normal occurrence these days. I typically do ask the real drivers to such aspirations if it’s just another bad day in office. Some of these calls provide good intel if the calls are from competitor mates. One such call recently turned into an interesting insight. My ex-colleague explained the reason for his turmoil. He has a new CEO and I promptly asked: “how’s he?” My ex-colleague explained that the new CEO is attempting to change almost everything from people to structure to process to technology … his question was, “till recently we were the most happening company in this industry and it seems like in the last year or so nothing is good! How can things become so bad overnight?”
Organisations should budget for some collateral damage is expected with every leadership change. Few resignations have to be expected. After all, not everybody is going to like new leaders. In today’s work-world, most people change jobs every 2 years but can’t digest when new people are to lead them every two years in the same company. Our preferences seem to be to accept the way we work differently in a new place than having to adapt in the same place.
The new leader also has to go through the same change which he/she inflicts on others. S/he wouldn’t know when to press the button or to keep quiet. The first 90 days book subtly suggests being observant than action. It’s difficult being a leader when you are unwelcome which is quite common during turnaround situations. Once when I landed in a similar situation, I had a resignation that greeted me on day one. Some of my reportees were pessimistic if anything can be changed even before I had arrived.
Insider Vs Outsider
In my view, leading turnarounds is a far easier task than succeeding a business which has had a successful track record. During turnaround situations, your bosses back you up as they are only interested in bottom-line results than collateral damage. In sustaining success, the organisation expects you to retain the goodness of the past (people, structure, culture, process) while delivering improved results. The logic is that if the previous guy could produce in the same context, why can’t you repeat/better the same. This gets compounded when the new leader comes from within the organisation.
Starting from “I was your peer”; “you took the lift when I was taking the stairs”; and “don’t you know my track record?”; to “let’s talk about how you will take care of my interests”; – the first few weeks are a bargaining battle. Lots of posturing happens and suddenly the leader feels lonely in a united successful team.
Leading a Succesful team
Once when my boss chose me to lead a successful team as a successor from within, I had a nightmarish beginning. It actually started with him giving the brief about the leaders I was going to lead. He started by saying “Rita has been with the company for ten years and she is the cat in her industry domain”; “Nathan is one of our finest sales leads, he actually does not need a job as he comes from an affluent background”; “Sirin is from NYU and she is the best HR person we’ve ever had”; “John, as you know, is the best Operations head we’ve had”.
He summed up the brief saying that my predecessor macro managed them and they are used to their space. I suddenly felt I was becoming a burden to these self-made leaders. When I asked in frustration what he expects me to do to earn my salary besides signing the attendance register. I was then rightly directed to the so-called easy to win battles — the market place.
He said, “Kamal, you are a sales guy hence the best way to impress your team is to display to them what you do best. Impress them in the presence of customers where there are no mind games nor baggages. Don’t spend too much time convincing your leaders on their careers or your relationship intent with them. It will take them some time to come to terms with a new leader. Nobody will waste their time if you can make them successful so have trust that time is the best healer."
My boss was right. Within three months, we started enjoying our collective success. Nobody left the organisation for the next year and it was the most successful four quarters the biz unit ever had.
One of my reportees once politely gave me a piece of profound advice during a similar change. She said, “Kamal, I know you are here to build the tomorrow but is there a way you can build a bridge from the past to the future as well?”
From that point onwards, my mindset to change vanished and I started to look at Talent as they are. I rang up my helpline who is one of my former boss living in Singapore who related to my changing fatherhood (my second one had just arrived)