By Heidi Pozzo
You’ve worked hard and done well in your career. Your efforts were noticed and you just got promoted to a C-level position. Depending upon the size of your company, you may have focused internally and in one area of the business. Or maybe you are taking the next step with a different organization. As a C-level leader, you are now expected to have both internal and external views, lead and motivate your people, understand the breadth of the organization and create value for your investors.
In this article, I’ll outline perspectives and areas of focus that you need to consider as you embark on your new role. Perspectives change significantly when you get to the top of a company. And in that role it can be lonely as the number of people in the company you can talk to shrinks for a variety of reasons. This article will help you think through what you need to do to be successful.
Take time to get to know the business
You’ve been in the business for years. Of course you know what it is all about. The reality is, until you get to the senior most positions, there are a number of factors that you may not have been privy to. It could be investor pressures, or customer pressures, or HR issues, you name it. Maybe capital is constrained. And you may not know the inner workings of each of the areas of the business. There will be a number of forces that drive the business that you must understand to make appropriate and successful decisions.
If you are new to the business, it is critically important to take time to understand both formal and informal structures in the business. How well you manage politics and communication channels will determine your long-term success. Just because you were successful in your prior company, doesn’t mean you will be successful here. Take time to listen and observe.
During your early days you should:
- Understand and describe the company and its operations to anyone
- Understand your markets, your customers and where you are positioned
- Understand and speak to your financial position
- Understand your stakeholder’s perspectives and expectations
Have respect for the legacy of the company and your predecessors
As a leader in a new role, it is important to establish trust, respect and credibility. A lot of good things have happened in the company that you now lead to get it where it is today. It is important to see those things and recognize them. For many people in the business this will be important. Acknowledge the good stuff. You are building on what has been done before you.
You may find some things that need to be changed. Most people do the best they can at the time with the skills, capabilities and information they have. Markets change over time and so will the business. What made sense at one point in time may not today. People don’t want to hear that what they have been doing in the past is wrong or doesn’t make sense. Rather, it is ok to acknowledge that the needs and expectations in the past that drove those things were valid at the time. The needs and expectations have changed and a new direction is now needed.
Whatever you do, don’t trash those before you. It’s a tough job and you likely won’t have all of the information to understand the context of the time and situation. Look forward and set the tone in a positive, upbeat manner.
Set the direction/establish priorities and make sure everyone knows
What you do in the early days will set the tone and culture in the company. And everyone will be watching you. Be deliberate in how you work through getting to know the business, the people, etc. If you are working through in a controlled manner, people will notice and expect that once you have your arms around the business. Any priorities you announce will indeed be priorities. If you are constantly shifting from one thing to another, cancelling meetings, etc., people will get the sense that priorities are not priorities, but the flavor of the moment.
During this time it is critically important to understand expectations from key stakeholders and ensure that your priorities are aligned with their expectations. Additionally, your people will also be watching to see how well you listen to them and whether you see them as important and integral to the success of the business.
Once you decide your key priorities, having effective communication channels is imperative to ensuring that everyone knows and is focused on those priorities. You should be getting out to discuss priorities and progress against them with everyone in the company on a regular basis. When having these conversations, you need to help people understand why they are important and how they can contribute. With your direct reports, you should be covering progress against the priorities weekly. By bringing attention to the priorities and expecting progress against them, people will know that is where they need to focus their attention.
Construct your team thoughtfully and carefully
One of the early tests of new leaders is how their teams are constructed. Having a cohesive, balanced team as to skill sets, capabilities and perspectives is important to the success of the company. The team should be engaged, high performing, on the same page and focused on accomplishing the priorities. The team should be able to debate and share differing perspectives respectfully, but support decisions once they are made.
Whether you are internally promoted or come from the outside, it is important to take careful stock of the capabilities of each team member. From an external perspective, everyone will have a clean slate. From an internal perspective, you will have a bias based on your old role. It is important to understand the role of each person and not to summarily dismiss a perspective that you didn’t agree with previously. You need all perspectives to be successful.
The people in the organization will be watching how you handle this process. It will inform them as to how you treat people, what level of performance is appropriate, how you set priorities and expectations, and how you hold people accountable.
Your people are your greatest asset
Your people are your greatest asset. How you treat them will set the conditions for the success of the company. A lot of material is written about walking around and talking to people, communicating broadly and listening, along with the importance of engagement. You need to do these things.
The way people feel everyday when they enter the work environment has a huge impact on productivity and engagement. Having reasonable working environments is important, whether it be lighting, desks, clean areas, well maintained machinery, etc. You’d be surprised at the difference simple things like a fresh coat of paint and decent lights can make in the morale of your people.
You should also understand the holistic view of your compensation and benefit plans. Do they support the health and wellness of the people? Are there known salary structures and approaches to merit increases? There should be no surprises in how people get paid or how their health and retirement is being supported.
In high performing companies that support their people, the senior most leadership has a strong understanding of how each of these components is structured and are not relegated to someone in HR. If you aren’t familiar with how this all works, you should get familiar with it really fast. If things aren’t where they should be, it may just become one of your top priorities.
Build appropriate relationships
Given your new role, you now need to build new relationships with your board members, your peers at key customers, other businesses in the area and industry, etc. Having strong professional relationships is important to your success.
Board members will have varying perspectives based on their backgrounds and will help you round out your thinking and perspectives. They also evaluate your performance, so ensuring you are aligned on expectations and performance is important.
Developing relationships with your new peers at other companies will help you think more broadly, understand the market and overall economic environment. At some point, you will need confidants to discuss issues you are dealing with and what has worked successfully in the past. Having advisors and peers that can help you think through the right steps is important.
Control your calendar or it will control you
On any given day, you will have more people wanting your time and more topics that demand your attention than hours in the day. Learning how to be efficient, prioritize and delegate will be incredibly important to your success. This will mean in many cases that you need to say no. That is ok. Push for people to get to the point, provide prep materials ahead of time if they want a decision, and make meetings shorter to force efficiency (or not at all). If you don’t actively manage your time, it will be a series of urgent and unstructured activities.
Don’t forget to build in time for thinking and reflection. You will have a lot coming at you and you need time to digest and focus on strategic perspectives. While there may be a temptation to let things go that help you with maintaining stress and family ties, don’t. Seeing your family and getting exercise will help you with your perspective and health. Make sure you are carving out some time for them.
Figure out how to get the real scoop
As a top leader in your company, your information will be filtered. You can learn a lot from walking around and talking to people. Surveys of engagement, etc. can also shed light on the internal pulse. Outside advisors that work within the company can also provide perspective. It is important to understand the biases that are applied to the information that is being communicated to you. Even with an open door policy, there will always be a slant to a particular perspective. It is important to find a series of perspectives that collectively give you an accurate view of the pulse of your company.
Call to Action
Congratulations on your promotion! There is a lot of hard work ahead. If done well, it will be incredibly rewarding for you and satisfying for the company and your people. Being thoughtful in the early days with your priorities, people, time and relationships will help you get off on the right foot. What steps are you going to take to be successful? What support do you need along the way to keep you focused and effective?
Copyright 2017 © Heidi Pozzo LLC
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Heidi Pozzo is a strategy and performance improvement consultant. She has helped transform businesses by connecting the people in the company to the strategy, resulting in significant increases in earnings and business value. To find out more about her services,
or call 360-355-7862.