The Right Stuff

Learn the right stuff at the right time

Learning time is a precious commodity in a new job.  From day one, like most in a new position, you’ll want to start contributing. People will be pressuring you for your time and existing “alpha males” will be testing your authority by asking for your time.  Be conscious of what and who you say “no” to.

You have to decide what to learn and in what order or you’ll be quickly overrun with information.  You have to be systematic about this.  What do you need to learn most?  This can’t be accomplished via an adhoc set of adhoc go-with-the-flow adhoc meetings.  You’ll simply be dragged around by the nose – sometimes intentionally, sometimes because that’s human nature, or at least, the nature of business.

A high-level plan is:

  1. Get yourself known, connect, and build some street creds (started in blog 2, then blog 4)
  2. Figure out your situation and strategize accordingly (blog 3)
  3. Learn the right stuff at the right time (this blog)
  4. Establish conditions for success (this blog)
  5. Land early wins
  6. Assess the company’s alignment with strategy
  7. Assess your team and making changes
  8. Find and build supporters
  9. Find the balance between learning and doing
  10. Recognize that everyone’s in transition, not just you

(Revisit this list later as I’ll be inserting links to the appropriate blog as they pour out of my wetware)

My research shows that failing at anyone of these elements can become a death knell to your success.  “Death not come at once, it may be the death of a thousand cuts.”

Where to Start

There’s lots to learn so where to start?  You need to understand the culture, politics, and lines of communication, as well as learn the systems and processes, products, markets, what’s unique or what differentiates your product(s) and your new staff, peers and management.  You need to know what to know about your new organization and then learn it fast. The meter is running.

Learning in start-ups or turnaround situation is fundamentally technical: products, markets, projects, technologies and strategies.  In realignments and sustaining success, immerse yourself in to the organizational culture and politics.

As in the movie Contact, you need to find the information in the data and differentiate the noise from the important signals.  Perhaps easier said than done and definitely goes beyond what I plan to write in this series of blogs.  You either have the ability or you don’t.  In a past life, I was able to pickup and combine important signals, signals which literally represented a business-ending event had I not dealt immediately and successfully with it. Others heard the individual signals but thought it noise.

Establish conditions for success

While you may feel the primal need to give back 100% from day-one, avoid this instinctive act.  Admittedly, I too would prefer nothing better than to burn rubber from day-one right through to retirement.  However, doing so comes at the expense of being poorly prepared for the greater picture.  Even if you were brought in to turnaround a situation, where they want to introduce new ways of doing things, you still need to learn the culture and politics or people won’t accept the change you will propose.

From the company’s side, you may be expected to be past the tipping point very quickly, especally in a start-up or turnaround situation where the luxury of time is not on your, in the company’s favour.  For example, at one potential opportunity I crossed, I was told I’d be on the client site day-2.  You can’t do everything. You have to make some choices and obtain agreement with your new boss.

  • How much emphasis will you place on learning as opposed to doing?
  • Will you be offensive or defensive starting in your new role?
  • What should you do to get early wins?

You need to create a learning plan.  Exceptionally few managers do (have you ever met one who did?  I haven’t) and my research indicates that this greatly reduces the potential for transition failure.  A learning plan doesn’t mean heads-down for 12 months.  It may mean concentrated learning for a handful of weeks and then the remainder of the plan spread out over a year.  Again, while your mileage will vary, you need to get some traction out of your learning plan.

Depending on your situation, determine what questions need asking to aid in building your systematic learning plan.  For example, ask “How did the company get to this point?”  By asking this basic question, you avoid the risk of undoing something a revered former manager put in place, is working well and represents a source of pride for the staff.

By taking the time to learn what you need to learn, you will be able to make better decisions earlier and reach the break-even point earlier.

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