Turbocharge Your First 8 Weeks

You’ve just parachuted into a new company as an expected savior to a problem situation.  What do you do first? . . .

It could be that your predecessor jumped ship at an inopportune time and the structure below was too weak to pick up the slack. Perhaps external pressures from a shifting landscape placed new demands on the company and it was unable to up its game to meet them.  Or maybe the problems were always there, but at such a slow boil that they were allowed to grow and multiply until the pressure eventually burst the dam.  Regardless of the cause, you’re in the chair now and have to lead the team out of the woods.

Anyone who’s stepped into such a situation knows that your initial weeks are critical.  Not only for the obvious – you’re trying to fix a serious problem and the clock is ticking – but also because everyone in the organization will be sizing you up during this time.  They want to know, “Is he the one that’s going get us out of this mess?”  “Is he up to the challenge?”  “Can he bring something to the table that wasn’t there before?”  And whoever made the decision to hire you – perhaps the CEO or Board of Directors – will be making a judgment whether they chose wisely.

But those first weeks are incredibly valuable for the simple reason that you can bring an outsider’s perspective to the situation but with the access of an insider.  This is a unique position, because you’re forced to draw upon all your past experiences and map your new situation to them.  Although we do this all the time, during this period you carry no excess baggage and may draw insights that would otherwise go unnoticed.  And since you’re in ramp-up mode, you’re allowed more latitude to poke, prod, and probe, even in areas outside your immediate domain.  But this position wanes as time passes and you become more engrossed in the new situation and engaged with specific fires.

So how do you optimize those first 6-8 weeks to develop a crisp set of first impressions that can jumpstart your path forward?

  1. Understand your boss’ view of the issues.  It may be spot on or it may be totally off base.  More than likely it’s somewhere in between.  But when you eventually develop your own assessment of the situation and the way forward, you’ll have to reconcile between the two to fully support your viewpoint.
  2. Meet as broad a spectrum of people as you can.  If you’re the new CFO and you’ve been brought in to turn around the Finance group, don’t limit yourself to those within the group or even those with the most interaction with the group.  You need to understand the broader backdrop of the world in which you now reside, and those perspectives can provide useful insight.
  3. Listen Listen Listen.  You should be a sponge during this initial period, taking in anything and everything that people are willing to share.  Reserve judgment since this may impair the quality of your listening (after all, sometimes we hear only what we want to hear).  But as you amass views and opinions, they’ll naturally meld with your own experiences and those insights and conclusions will bubble up.
  4. Find the change agents.  These individuals are especially critical to your success.  Since you’ve likely been brought in to change the course, you’ll need a trusted handful of individuals to help you drive the vision.  They’re also helpful in that they’ll likely know where the bodies are buried and can provide you with some historical perspective around specific issues. These individuals will surface at various levels of the organization, but they’ll have in common the desire to air their opinions, contribute to a solution, and take ownership of the future course you set.
  5. Distinguish between talent, tools and techniques.  Problems can have deep roots and many branches.  Organizations function on the interplay of its people, technologies and processes, and it’s important to properly define problems and to assign responsibility to these three components.  The path forward also has to ensure the proper choreography and alignment between them.
  6. Validate your first impressions.  Once you’ve done all this you’ll begin to form your initial impressions about the root causes of the current predicament and the actions to be taken to lead the way out.  It’s important to articulate these clearly along a widening circle, both to validate your instincts and to socialize the direction in a manner that respects those around you and offers them the opportunity to suggest refinements. Number one on this list is your boss, as his or her buy-in is most critical.  They are only first impressions and will eventually evolve into a more concrete plan, but they are an important first step.

Diving into a pond full of alligators can be scary and challenging.  But it’s also invigorating knowing that you have the opportunity to impact the situation in a significant way and to shape the future.  Get a big jump right off the line and make sure you’re travelling in the right direction to ensure success.