Making it on the Executive Team
By John Milsom
As a new executive team member, deciding what to focus upon, and how to prioritise your time effectively, is a crucial judgement. This is true of executives moving between organisations, and particularly for those joining the ‘c-suite’ for the first time.
Often referred to as the “critical 90 day period” or “the first 100 days”, the aim of any new executive must be to understand the organisational situation and establish their credibility. Our experience of working with executives going through this transition indicates that those who do it best focus their energies on five critical priorities:
1. Determine your specific objectives. These should ideally be agreed in writing within the first month, or by the first Executive team meeting. It is critical to understand what others’ expectations of you are, and how your contribution will be evaluated. If necessary, offer your own picture of success and use it as a basis to secure agreement on a common vision.
2. Assess your own team. From above, below and around, and then make any changes needed. As quickly as possible, put in place a team that you are happy with, and that can help you deliver those specific objectives.
3. Understand the wider organisation. Get out and about, set up meetings, arrange both formal and informal one-to-ones, dinners etc. Find out who the opinion formers are, and where the challenges and opportunities lie. Identify individuals or groups with the motivation and ability to accelerate (or alternatively derail) your plans. Build an appreciation of key factors including organisational structure, culture, markets, capabilities etc. But, also recognise that acquiring a comprehensive understanding takes time and therefore, unless the ship really is sinking, major on gathering data.
4. Learn about the commercial drivers of the business, and build a picture of how your part of the organisation contributes or is affected by these drivers. Practical steps here can include:
- Understand the company’s financial position – the P&L, the balance sheet, cash flow and the financial structure.
- Review the key internal and external drivers – as well as the financials, get to grips with sources of sustainable competitive advantage.
- Request strategic level presentations from the managers that you visit – not just the numbers but covering areas such as the threats and opportunities presented by competitors, suppliers or as a result of changes in customer expectations, or legislation. Give them a template in advance if required.
- Meet key customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. For example, JV partners.
- Identify important, recent internal reports and take the time to read these.
- Build an understanding of the operational rhythm of the organisation. Make sure you get around the key operational meetings across the business in order to see how things get done, and how decisions are made.
- Identify the KPIs being used, and bearing your specific objectives in mind, ask yourself if they are the right ones.
5. Make it clear what you stand for and value. What are the three, four or five things that really matter to you and the organisation? For example, is it growth? Performance? Integrity? Make sure that you continually reinforce these in all of your interactions, messages and decisions.
By launching into your new executive role in this way you will develop your own organisational understanding, whilst also signalling your operating style to the key stakeholders around you. There will be no need to describe it – you will be role-modelling it. So be visible, consistent, positive and forthcoming. Take control of the levers of power within your role, because what you do during this phase will provide the foundations for your future success.