Moving up to Leadership
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Moving up to Leadership

How to approach the first 100 days in a new position ― lessons for business and politics

Sunday 27 August 2017


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One of the subjects I teach at HEC Paris is how to take on a new leadership or managerial position. This is a theme that resonates with all levels of management ― from a newcomer reaching their ‘holy grail’ of management positions, to the CEO of a CAC40 company ― and across all sectors, whether luxury, banking or the French Navy (though the latter presents some special characteristics!)

During this eventful time in politics with the arrival of new faces in the government, I thought it would be worthwhile summarizing some tips from the business world, which may, you never know, inspire the members of our new government headed by Emmanuel Macron.

#1: Remain alert in order to measure risks

‘Nothing is impossible.’ I'm always hammering this idea home to my students, but to ensure the best possible chance for success, we must be aware of the risks we take.

When taking on a new post these risks are inflated: we leave behind a familiar, fully mastered environment with established relationships and proven expertise. When changing sectors, transitioning from an operational to a managerial position, going to work in another culture or geographic area, or with other processes, a multiplier phenomenon occurs, one that has been fateful to many managers with little interest in caution or due care.

Everything is possible, but the greater the changes in parameters, the greater the risks. Managers must identify and measure these risks and pay special attention where they are concerned.

#2: Listen and understand before taking action

When taking on a new position most of us have the same reflex: action! We seek to prove our worth, what we know, what we can do and how to leave our mark.

Except in truly urgent situations (conflicts, imminent bankruptcy etc.), I advise participants in HEC's Executive Education programs to take time to listen and understand. Even the best manager cannot fully understand a new environment in a few weeks. Worse still, managers may attempt to reproduce what has worked in past experiences, leading to potentially disastrous results in a context in which they know practically nothing.

It may not be a very flattering image, but managers must instead act like ‘sponges,’ wringing out contextual elements from the past in order to absorb new ones, although without calling their own identity into question.

#3: Rely on the best and most knowledgeable individuals!

New managers must rapidly identify individuals who can help them get up to speed as quickly as possible while also unifying a team. It is therefore useful to pinpoint those who know the history, have witnessed changes and can guide the manager through the mysterious workings of processes, relationships, the organization and the business.

It is also important for managers to form the best possible team. Admittedly, this may present a challenge, but you cannot lead alone or in poor company, and these choices are often crucial factors for success. Moreover, having a brilliant team who always pushes you further is a good way to ‘maintain operational conditions,’ as they say in the military!

#4: Be wary of your areas of ‘non-interest’

All of us, if we are totally honest with ourselves, are aware of our strengths and weaknesses. This is not a source of risk when taking on a new post, since this awareness makes us alert as soon as we touch on one of our weaker areas.

Areas of non-interest, on the other hand, are extremely dangerous! We are naturally inclined to do what we enjoy, and do so with gusto, but we tend to put aside what does not interest us. Yet, when taking on a new post, we cannot be sure that these areas of non-interest do not include things which are critical to our immediate and future success as a manager.

At HEC Paris, we have developed an analytical tool for objectively determining these areas of non-interest, incorporating the company's cultural factors as well as the aggravating impact of strengths and weaknesses.

The result of this tool must always be kept in mind, since human nature is such that the gravitational pull of what we like always leads us in the same directions, whether we are young managers, CEOs or... ministers!


#5: Get into winning ways – quickly

New leaders must rapidly demonstrate that they understand what the job is all about and what is expected of them. The best way to do this is to identify quick wins. This much-used term describes achievements which:

  • Show that a manager has begun to understand what is expected of their managerial role and their teams
  • Do not present conflicting interests between the management and the teams
  • Do not require dramatic, far-reaching, long-term changes
  • Have a quick, visible, quantifiable (figures!) impact
  • Are not expensive to implement

Barrack Obama handled this aspect very well, whereas his successor has probably not mastered it with the same talent. It is not unrealistic to imagine that our new ministers could refer to these examples.

#6: Introduce substantial changes at the right time

Studies have shown that structural, organizational and staffing changes made too early give rise to a new wave of change within 12 months. This situation is not ideal because it is accompanied by a loss of productivity, anxiety about the changes, frustration and a lack of motivation on the part of teams.

Except in urgent situations (serious conflicts, cash-flow insolvency, major quality problems), it may be wise to wait a little while before introducing structural reforms: the results will be even better, drawing on a stronger base of knowledge, analysis and conclusions.

And you can count on your quick wins to send the message that you are successfully settling into your new position and are capable of taking action!

We will now see how our government proceeds. My only wish is to be able to include more ‘politicians’ in the examples of leaders who have successfully transitioned to new posts which I cite during my courses at HEC Paris Executive Education!

HEC Paris, a leading global institution

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