What should you do in your first six months as a manager in a new job?
I would say there are three steps: Sponge, Vision, and Action
Soak up as much information as you can, both formal and informal. The formal side is to get all the numbers and understand your market, your costs, who are your best customers, what are the projections, which departments or products are profitable and which aren’t, etc. The informal side is to work out who are the key players, how the communication networks work, who is effective and who isn’t, etc. This is just as important as the formal side, and takes longer to get a handle on.
Part of being a good sponge is to do plenty of Management by Wandering About, seeing what really goes on, talking to the ‘real’ people at the front line (they’ll tell you the truth when they get to know you and when they see that you are a genuine listener with their future at heart).
You should also do a few days of Back To The Floor where you do the real front line jobs – choose the worst ones, the dirtiest or smelliest, so you get everyone’s maximum respect and also discover what things are really like. This will be SUCH a good use of your time!
If you can fix a couple of small obvious “quick wins” while in the sponge phase that would be great – otherwise it might look as if you are doing nothing.
One other good thing to do is visit a couple of your most important customers (internal and external) and find out what they think of the department, what they would like changed etc. After all, their views are the ones that really matter.
Leaders are expected to come with a vision, but it’s hard to have an effective one without really understanding the business, so this is one thing you need to evolve during your first few months. It will be based on your previous experience combined with really understanding the issues of the business right now. It needs to be exciting, and simple enough to communicate, and later it needs to have a plan of how you’ll get there, so that everyone can see what their part can be to help us all to get there.
My personal opinion is that you should consult and involve your managers in the creation and clarification of this vision, but in the end it’s your call to declare it and then make it happen. Anyone who doesn’t buy into it 100% is out.
If you don’t take some decisive actions towards the end of your first six months then you are finished. Observers (and that’s everyone!) will conclude that you are weak, or have no vision, and that nothing is going to change. Forces will start to strengthen against you. The honeymoon is over and problems are beginning to be your fault now, and yet you have done nothing to put them right. Tinkering is not enough, you have to get in there and create, and cut! Face up to some scary choices and make them. Kill some sacred cows and big beasts.
Don’t do step 3 before several months of step 1, however tempting it may be, because you’ll probably get it wrong. Make sure your actions are based on both the formal and the informal information you have gathered.
Maximum communication while you’re making the changes, both on a chair talking to the whole workforce, videos on the intranet, while MBWA-ing, through the chain of command, endlessly communicating.
Changes might be to people and/or systems, and should be targeted, so not just a big reorganisation for the sake of it (expensive and only the good people leave, getting other jobs easily) but targeting the bad areas and the bad people. Sometimes this is harder, but it must be done like this.
I hope this helps both those who are asked this at an interview, and those who are actually doing it. Good luck!
PS thanks to Jeremy-Hamilton.co.uk for the ideas of the quick wins and consulting your customers during the Sponge phase. Check out his blog too!