Are you preparing to fail?
Almost fifty percent of new finance leaders are flagged as underperformers according to recent research from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB).
Regardless of whether it’s an internal promotion or a new recruit, accounting and finance leaders making a transition into a new leadership role often fail to perform to a standard that meets the key performance measures of the role and organisation.
They struggle to make an impact as the celebration of the appointment quickly gives way to the reality that they hadn’t fully grasped the challenges they were about to face.
And despite demonstrating the skills needed for success elsewhere they have difficulty applying them quickly to the new role and environment. In many cases, they still 'survive' without making the desired impact.
It’s easy to dismiss this as the ‘normal challenge of learning a new role’, but part of the problem comes from a lack of transparency from their new employer about the challenges and problems they are about to face.
This can be driven by an employer’s genuine lack of understanding of the challenge, or simply a fear of potential candidates being put off by the scale of it.
Recruitment interviews tend to emphasise the opportunity and potential for growth the new role offers, at the expense of effectively communicating the issues and problems the new leader will face, or the quick wins that will help them make an initial impact.
The reality is that the new leaders can make an impact pretty quickly as long as they are given the right insights.
Impact of the surrounding environment
As an underperforming leader comes up to speed, the adjustment and learning period can have a dramatic impact on the team and surrounding stakeholders.
Direct reports can become frustrated with the lack of clarity or the need to support upskilling the leader. Peers and other key stakeholders lose confidence, and in some cases, the previous incumbent may be required to straddle two jobs as the new leader comes up to speed.
Preparing to succeed
Over many years of supporting new hires into senior positions, there has been a clear connection between early clarity and fast achievement.
As Brett Houldin, CFO & COO of QSRH explained in CFgrOw; “make sure it is very clear, that what you’ve been brought in to do, you know”.
While a simple concept, knowing exactly what needs to be done can be ambiguous after a tiresome recruitment process and discussions focused on the candidate's capability to deliver in the role or career history. Often clarity about business opportunities, key talent challenges and how to best mobilise new ideas is left untouched.
In more CEB analysis, the top three activities related to effective transition related directly to clarity.
As you will see above, this includes:
- Creating a shared vision across the organisation
- Mobilising the team to function as high-performing
- Identifying highest-impact opportunities and setting the optimal strategic direction
Setting yourself up for success in each of these areas can be dramatically improved by spending a small amount of time and energy before you move into the role.
What can you do to prepare for successful transition and fast impact in these areas?
1. Out of interview process engagement with the line manager
After the role is offered and accepted, spend time with your direct manager over a coffee, or at minimum a call, to gain a deeper understanding of the “lay of the land”. What is really impacting the achievement of goals? Which team members are aligned and achieving? Who is lagging and why? What can be done by your function to a) satisfy the needs of your new manager and b) allow your team to quickly close the gap in achieving strategic goals?
2. Team ‘get to know you’ sessions.
While it may not be the acceptable in some environments to prepare a deep analysis of each member’s perspective, goals, challenges and development opportunities, you can certainly pick up obvious pressure points in grabbing a coffee with a few of your new reports or members of their team. Simply asking, ‘how are you feeling about the future’ and ‘what are you working on at the moment’ can help provide awareness of opportunities and team dynamics.
3. Leverage the insights of third parties close to the team.
Often your new peers and stakeholders across the organisation will have a view of your new department. This could include the reputation of team members, their relationship with the wider business, and their effectiveness in achieving results.
If you are external hire, an effective recruiter will often have a close relationship with the organisation and hold insights that can relate to the fastest way to make an impact, or potentially what hasn’t worked in the past.
4. Learning your business
Many accounting and finance leaders are not proactive enough to do this, but it can be a huge advantage to explore the business from the perspective of a customer or operational function. Depending on the industry, exploring the customer journey, understanding competitors and looking at how business operations connect together can help the numbers speak much more clearly once in the chair.
When building your 100-day plan, using this knowledge will allow you to quickly find the right areas to investigate further when you are in the chair, and find “low hanging fruit” to make a fast impact, building confidence with both your team and the business stakeholders you serve.
Where can managing this go wrong?
Assuming you can come up to speed quickly without insights
Each role has complexities that are likely to be different to what you have experienced in the past, no matter how seasoned you are. Once in the role, you will be thrown into taking on the day to day function and other pressures that can present time challenges to find impact areas and learn about your team.
Your new manager is not prepared to invest time before you start
In some cases, managers do not provide their new leaders with even an hour of time to talk through opportunities and challenges. They assume this has been digested within the interview, often without ‘colour’ and insights that aren’t explored in detail during the selection process. Being unavailable isn’t a great way to set the new leader up for success.
Not tapping into emotional insights
Functionally, there are often challenges for your team reaching their goals. These barriers can be associated with technology, skill gaps or lack of clarity. While the black and white problems may be obvious, being able to appreciate the anxieties, resistance points or other emotional responses to the current state of the department will make your ability to react quickly when in your new chair much easier.
What is obvious is that preparation and time invested into building clarity of about your new function will dramatically increase the chance of performing in the transition phase and beyond. In fact, the quickness to adapt not only drives performance but also positions you very well for new progression opportunities within your organisation.