MBA


Jan 12 was officially the 90th day for me. To be honest, I didn’t follow first 90 days to the extent I imagined – with a timeline etc. But certainly there were some key things that I leveraged which proved useful.

  1. Promote yourself – it is not to go around with tantrums but to actually imagine yourself in the changed job/role for one or two days before the switch
  2. Build network – understand people as much as the new processes and tools.
  3. Build learning agenda/plan – I think this is one area which has helped me immensely. In what could have been a case of drinking from a fire-hose, I now feel very comfortable with the new setup.
  4. Securing early wins – not necessarily a big win – but what I like to describe as “moments of truth”. In a relationship role this would be credibility building. Performing value-creation activities and communicating an image consistently. If the image involves few values – these moments of truths should highlight them.

I will leave you all with a final insight – Shut the doors!

Shut the doors on other options – the biggest deterrent to success is doubts, allowing buyer’s remorse to build and loosing focus on job-at-hand. It is related to what Watkins says as “promoting yourself”. I will say after ‘promoting yourself’, stay there. Especially for next 30 days, do not keep “testing” – any testing on whether it is the right job/role should be before joining! You will give yourself a best chance to succeed if you “accept” the change completely and put your wholehearted effort. You will find a similar point in “trust your boss”.

I can describe what I am saying above in an “emotions” curve.

The Emotions Curve [I preferred to embed – but couldn’t get it soon enough. Don’t have the time, for now, to figure out which widget/plug-in/codex to use. Please bear with me and click this link.]

This is so true for first job after MBA. The problem with the first cycle is that you will never know if the job was alright or not. This is no survey of all MBA pass-outs. Just, my honest observation from people I have interacted with. Please note the y-axis is not “success scale”. It’s an engagement scale. Staying involved doesn’t mean success and vice versa too. Also, engagement depends on multiple factors – some of which you can, and some of which you can not, influence. Going through emotions curve-2 is one of the things you can control.

The First 90 Days and the series end here! A lot of you, my friends, followers and mentors, have been encouraging me consistently and have liked/followed this series. My sincere thanks to all of you – only because of you I feel a lot energized everyday I write about this series.

The entire series:

(1)  First 90 days – prelude; This is about strategies for leaders in new roles/jobs.

(2) First 90 Days Insight-1: Trust your boss

(3) First 90 Days Insight-2: Be Sympathetic

(4) First 90 Days Insight-3: Be Decisive

(5) First 90 Days Insight-4: Where to?

(6) First 90 Days Insight-5: Shut the doors & Conclusion.

First 90 Days Insight-4: Where to?

Pre-read

(1)  First 90 days – prelude; This is about strategies for leaders in new roles/jobs.

The First 90 Days book elaborates a lot about matching strategy to situation. But really where to?

Here’s a thought:

Don’t take it to where you WANT it to go! Don’t take it to where it WILL go!

Take it to where it CAN go!

The “It” above can refer to organization or a team depending on if you are a CEO or a team leader. For now, I come somewhere in between :) and I have found it true till now. There are two aspects to “Where to” – First, to know where to; next, to take it there. To be aware of the difference between these destinations (WANT TO, WILL, CAN) is, in a lot of ways, a gift. The next takes skill. Successful people have both or do both well. Time will tell, if we can do both well!

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(2) First 90 Days Insight-1: Trust your boss

(3) First 90 Days Insight-2: Be Sympathetic

(4) First 90 Days Insight-3: Be Decisive

Pre-read

(1)  First 90 days – prelude; This is about strategies for leaders in new roles/jobs.

(2) First 90 Days Insight-1: Trust your boss

(3) First 90 Days Insight-2: Be Sympathetic

I wrote about this in the first insight itself that you can’t really postpone decisions in first 30 days. In the next 30 days, the problem is different. You know stuff but you don’t know enough probably. You could fall into the trap of indecisiveness and/or less communication.

The thumb rule is – you will never know enough. Especially, so, if you continue in this state. From whatever you know you will have an opinion. State it openly and confidently if in a brainstorming session or act on it if in a decision making situation. The catch is, be open to be corrected. But demand enough information before being corrected.

How many of us believe that Decisiveness and Flexibility do not go together? I believe they are a strong combination.

I must share (without specificity for obvious confidentiality reasons) an experience recently about how people reacted to such decisive remark in a brainstorming session. Few reacted with disdain and dismissed it. The official discussion took a more objective and constructive approach and I felt it led to meaningful dismantling of few myths. During the lunch/coffee people had thought about it and gave some excellent counter-arguments which I agreed on.

Overall, the discussions certainly made me wiser. I believe vice versa is true too, but I can’t be the judge.  For me, I understood about some nuances of the business I was getting into and got closer to few people.

Pre-read

(1)  First 90 days – prelude; This is about strategies for leaders in new roles/jobs.

(2) First 90 Days Insight-1: Trust your boss

One of the concepts I liked from the ‘First 90 Days’ book is the “STaRS” framework.  Every business situation can be categorized into one of these: Startup, Turnaround, Realignment, Sustaining Success. Each situation needs a unique approach because the priorities and challenges are different. For example, quick decisions are critical in turnaround versus realignment. In realignment and sustaining success scenarios measuring success is not easy as against startup or turnaround. What is considered ok performance could have been worse and what is seen as good could have been better! In turnaround the focus is on dropping dead-weight, in startup it is on building solid team and so on and so forth… While I am at it, ensuring key personnel in organization go through STaRS situations grooms them. In fact, its one of the four ways selected people can be groomed:

1. Give cross-functional exposure

2. Expose to different geography

3. Prepare for career crossroads

4. Increase breadth of exposure to STaRS business situations

Hmm… makes a lot of sense! Anyone who has gone through all of this will be a lot wiser!

By the way, the insight I wanted to register was related to STaRS – Keeping my promise that you don’t have to read the book, I wrote a bit about it.

Unless you are in a turnaround situation, you are likely to encounter pockets of excellence in your new organization or group especially in a realignment or sustaining success situations. Consciously look out for these islands! General tendency is to be skeptical  or create a completely fresh setup. More often than not, if you are sympathetic to what is being said – you will realize there are interesting stuff that exists which can be leveraged or built upon. Some of this holds good for a new bride or groom – you enter a new system which needs to be respected. Understand first. Later, tweaking can be done for peaceful co-existence.

So, be sympathetic – this will help you spot more of those pockets of excellence!

Pre-read: First 90 days – prelude; This is about strategies for leaders in new roles/jobs.

MW makes two points relating to initial 30 days. First, he says refrain from taking ground breaking changes and focus on learning in first 30 days. Second, refrain from key decisions before forming your informal network.

But that is easier said than done. You will have to make a call on few things. Steve Jobs says follow your instincts you will one-day be right. But this is about following standard framework when possible. We will use Steve’s dogma when pushed to it :-)

Remember, you are walking blind (and naked) in the first 30 days. Blind – because you don’t know the environment; naked – because you don’t know the informal network and alliances; In most cases, it is not possible for you to make the right decision just by yourself. So trust your boss’s decision. He/She is aware of the environment and current situation, certainly more than you. And, remember, your win is important for his/her win too. So the decision will be more grounded.

What if that does not work, what if you believe your boss is not making the right decision. Try telling what you feel. Mostly you should get a reasonable logic or may be they will brainstorm from that angle. This is also a great way to know about the environment. In the brainstorming, you will get to know key details about people, their preferences; system, its behavior; and strategy. Besides, you already took a call to take this job/role and this is not the time to judge. If you fail, you can always change course later or, perhaps, even change role/job. Given the choices you have made, you will give yourself a best chance to succeed if you trust your boss.

#BaldevSingh suicide allegedly due to depression in job change made me to write about the book I read on “critical success strategies for new leaders”. Mr. Singh had taken over as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s Director of Corporate planning and marketing few weeks before his suicide. Before that he was Executive Director Flight Operations and the Chief Test Pilot.  If you thought he just wasn’t capable enough to handle job change, read this: Sqn Ldr Baldev Singh did early schooling in Bangalore at St. Joseph European High School and later joined St. Joseph College. He joined the National Defence Academy in 1970 and graduated from the academy in December 1972 and was commissioned into the Indian Air Force in June 1973 as a fighter pilot. He is a Qualified Flying Instructor and holds a diploma in Aviation Flight Safety from the Naval Post Graduate College, Monterey Bay, California, USA. He was 58 when he moved to the new role.

By the way, whether his death had anything to do with job change or not, I had realized reasonable enough value in the book that I wanted to blog about it. The book “First 90 Days”, written by leadership transition expert and Harvard Professor Mr. Watkins, gives Dos and Don’ts when moving to a new role/job.

Disclaimer: A lot of things said are common sense. But unless this is your 5th job in 10 years, you are less likely to intuitively do these things right. From personal experience, I can confirm I have had my bumps. Moreover, it brings a structured framework/approach to the transition and I am sure you will find it useful. Fyi – Author has claimed many executives/HR after reading this book have made First 90 Days as structured transition kit in their organizations.

And by the way, I am moving to a new role within my company. The next 90 days are the first 90 days for me! So keep watching this space as I write about my insights from my “trial” run in the next 90 days.

First step: Follow this link to browse a 20 slide PPT that tries to summarize the framework. [Well I thought I would create this PPT but its been crazy settling in the new job, new location, new BU, new people plus finding place to stay, school for my son and managing to disengage from current commitments including school fees, gas transfer and what not! Add travelling from one corner of the country to other for celebrating Diwali with family! So I figured if you are curious enough you would read the first comment in the amazon link I gave earlier on the book name. If not, here it is again: First 90 Days. On my part, I will not assume you have read the book or any reviews or any excerpts when I publish insights! Deal?]

I will certainly publish the PPT later. So here you go: The PPT is and is not certain things:

The PPT is not a step to convince you about the framework. For that read the book. This is a clear step by step guide assuming you are a “BELIEVER”.  I have also tried to sequence steps and put a timeline (hhmmm… what’s with us Project Managers in sequencing and adding deadlines). Author has not given timeline explicitly. This is just an attempt by me.

It’s hard for the incumbent to move to new, faster model.

Google chairman Schmidt opined like this about Microsoft in an interview with salesforce.com CEO Benioff. I thought that was so true. I could think of several such examples – salesforce.com itself is a good example of leveraging this advantage against “not so nimble” giants that occupied the CRM market. Google with the internet, facebook with social network, makemytrip/monster over traditional facilitators are all few case-in-points.

I had read many cases during my MBA about how IBM which stood the test of PC still lost some ground to newer players who leveraged offshoring like Infosys; How GM, Ford lost ground to Honda, Toyota; The point is that as companies age, they develop processes that fit the existing model. The people selection and development and other systems also comply with the incumbent business model. These processes become the huge ship that can’t turn quickly when they spot the iceberg (assuming they do spot it!). With time, when a new need emerges, a new entrant leverages a new model to effectively satisfy the new need. The incumbent then is unable to swiftly change their model to stay relevant. The people, processes and systems not only create friction to change but also groupthink makes company happy with status-quo. I have to note here the concept called “Theory of Business” – the idea is to stay relevant to the market i.e. to spot the iceberg. But that does not address how a company stays nimble with its people, processes and systems.

But then is it really true? Does a company become less agile as it ages? I wondered. Well, tell Steve Jobs that “It’s hard for the incumbent to move to new, faster model.” Following responses are possible: Smirk, Slap or rolling on the floor laughing out loud. :) From an existing company he kept giving new products that, as someone put it in TechCrunch, were not just hits after hits but were home-runs after home-runs. First the iPod that took good care of the “incumbent” Sony. You could argue that iPod and iPhone are in fact the case stated by Schmidt. Just that it’s an existing company that entered a new market. But take PC market. First with Mac, Apple defined the edge of computing, usability and even form factor with iMac. With iPad they are defining the next evolution of personal computer. After I come back from work when I hop onto fb, twitter, linkedin, google reader, youtube and my internet reading list why would I switch on my laptop again? To call a desktop a personal computer is so stone-age Microsoft! Let’s think for a moment. Why couldn’t a new entrant come up with a tablet and surprise the PC market incumbents, to name a few – Apple and Microsoft? Not with Apple, because Apple defines the evolution and not the new entrant!

This is what leaders do – they don’t just have market-share, they define the market. Now what does it make Apple so successful in staying nimble even as it ages??? Certainly, it’s a worthy topic for a research paper. Let me speculate on this a little bit and please share your thoughts:

  1. Have being nimble as part of the strategy itself – then your people, process and systems or more comprehensively the 7S of McKinsey will be designed towards nimbleness – huh…It’s so easy to lay down these terms know. That is why MBA is easy but businesses are not!
  2. Keep the radar on – to check if the assumptions of the business (theory of business) are relevant for the current changes in the society, markets, customers, products and technology.
  3. Depending on the industry and the company strategy keep a portion (more for say hi-tech, pharma as against say construction) of the company focused on innovation. Focus on the five tenets of innovation development: read this article I wrote.

Obviously the list is not complete. Let me know what you think your company is doing to stay nimble. Or is it really hard for the incumbent to move to new, faster models?

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