How well prepared are you to start?
We are all seasoned starters. Starting is something that we do everyday, week, month, year – of course with different things but it is a competency that we all have unconsciously developed.
But just because we are familiar with starting doesn’t mean that we find it easy or that we are good at it.
The struggle often comes in the starting of things over which we may not have had choice to undertake i.e. significant life changes, restructures, mergers or the things we choose to undertake i.e. an expatriate assignment or a promotion.
This is clearly evidenced in our work with expatriate leaders and is a key area of focus in the book: Foreigner in Charge: Success strategies for expat leaders in Australia.
Even though undertaking the assignment is something they have worked towards, are excited about and are willingly undertaken – often the experience and outcome is suboptimal – partially attributed to the failure to Start Well.
What we find is that in the excitement of the situation and the individual’s and often the organisation’s haste for action, insufficient time is invested in the Pre Start and Arrival phases. These are the first two steps of the PALDER framework referenced in the book.
Little investment is made in clearly understanding of the desired outcome, its importance, what will be gained / lost in this pursuit; how to measure progress; what development / support is required and how to fast track?
Instead the energy is put into “doing things” without a planned approach. While this can satisfy the needs of being “busy” the reality is that being busy is not necessarily being effective or strategic. This often results in suboptimal outcomes; inefficiency as rework backtracking and reconnecting is required; potentially the need to change course.
For the individual the very real impact is damage to their reputation and, if significant enough (see example) their ongoing career prospects.
Personally for the expatriate this also has very real personal impacts which can create a negative spiral of frustration of traction – remember these people were often those who are being provided this expatriate development opportunity as they are seen by themselves and the organisation as being high potential. Lack of success results in feelings of lowered self efficacy and confidence. This can manifest as ‘imposter syndrome” where we loose perspective about how and why we came to be in this position and are terrified that we will be discovered as a fraud and wanting.
An alternative to this is taking the time to prepare (going slower to go faster). This allows a more effective pathway to “starting well”. Taking our clients through a structured process enables a great start. What is needed from the individual and the organisation is to value the planning as much as the action.
This is the period of time where the commitment is being made to a new undertaking. For expats this is the time where they are interviewing for the role, exploring the options. For others it may be the reflective time over the summer holidays where we have reviewed past year’s progress and are now contemplating what is it that we need or want to commit to / achieve in the coming year.
Preparedness for the role is vital in navigating this transition well. Preparation at this time also refers to the mental preparations of your partner and family, who are about to undertake this new adventure with you.
The key skill associated with this phase is “understanding history”. This includes history in terms of your own capability and how you assess your own potential, strengths and derailers against the new opportunity.
You will certainly have your own views but because we are human we may have biases and blind spots that cause our self assessment to be different to how others experience us. Getting the views of “critical friends”– who know you well enough to have an informed view but are willing and able to be truthful in their feedback can be very useful. The information will enable you to access / develop the knowledge, skills, resources, support to provide the platform for success.,
For an expat or someone transitioning to a new role it is also crucial in this phase to understand the history of the offered position and learning the mandate to be inherited.
CASE STUDY (from Foreigner in Charge)
Chris came to Australia as the new Country Head, having previously done a three-year role as the Head of the South Korean business. Originally from Texas, Chris was a bright, intelligent man who believed in his own capabilities.
He had been sent to South Korea to get experience in a very different culture and this was his first experience in a GM role. The South Korean business was considered quite small but geographically and culturally close to Japan, which was a major market for the organisation. Chris was successful in South Korea and was promoted to the lead the Australian business.
For a variety of reasons, Chris did not have (nor did he create) the opportunity to sit down with his boss to fully understand the Australian business, the organisational needs of that business and the mandate of the new role. He said that he previously had experience as a GM and having worked in the broader Asia area and was quite comfortable he could quickly pick up the business in Australia. In his first three months, his boss was also promoted and therefore it took at least another three months before Chris had a proper sit-down with his new boss. By this point, he had driven a change process he considered to be important, despite resistance from the local leadership team.
Chris underestimated the communication channels that existed between Australia and head office. He also largely ignored the muttering and taunts being made to him about his change process. At the six-month mark, when he finally go to sit down with his new boss, Chris got a stern warning that he was leading the business ineffectively as he had never taken time to understand what the business really needed. He was told that leading in South Korea is considered to be the first step for a baby GM. While he had not made any large mistakes, he didn’t lead brilliantly there and the organisation was watching his performance in Australia to determine whether he would have a future international career.
Chris was shocked, and in discussions with his coach he realised the mistake he made was not getting a clear mandate from the international organisation as to what was needed in the Australian affiliate. His assumptions were based upon incorrect information and lack of detailed knowledge. Chris left the organisation four months later.
For expatriates this is the time when they arrive in the new location. For others in transition this may be the designated time of commencement of the new role or on a person level, the start day for the new undertaking.
While this phase is the one that is full of excitement it also often feels the most daunting. There are two key skills associated with this transition:
Self-management – Your ability to centre yourself while all the eyes are on you – whether it be on your first day and first week is very important. The ‘executive presence’ you exude, or not, will be the talking point in many lunch meetings and informal conversations.
Positive first impressions are critical. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Some of the helpful questions for you to consider are:
- What impression do you want to create?
- What do you want people to be saying about you?
- What do you not want them to be saying about you?
Clear messaging – To all interested parties and stakeholders it is critical that you convey a clear message about yourself and other important matters from the beginning. Preparation and deliberate wording is essential. As part of our work we offer frameworks and a new leader assimilation model to help master this activity. Thinking and work that is needed includes:
Clarity of Purpose – understanding and being able to clearly articulate:
- Why does this matter?
- What will it bring?
- What will it cost?
- What are the consequences of it not being achieved?
Planning – Recognising what needs to happen at each milestone so progress can be checked to see what may need to be amended on the way to make the achievement of the goal happen – faster, slower.
Scenario Planning – what are the things that could go wrong or cause problems? Identifying these in advance and planning for how they can be overcome provides confidence and also a plan should they eventuate. They also may inform some of the actions.
Feedback mechanisms – what is in place or needs to be in place so there is tangible evidence of progress? Whose view needs to be heard in relation to this i.e. key stakeholders?
How to fast track – Who can you learn from? Reinventing the wheel is not necessary in most situations. Take time to learn from those who have gone before – both in terms of what worked well and what did not. Another’s way may not be exactly the same or right for you but there is great benefit in learning from others. Using a coach is invaluable.
Sustaining and maintaining – Making sure there is enough fuel in the tank to last the distance so that the time refueling / repairing (reworking) on the way can be streamlined. We can get caught in the hurly burly of daily life and either fail to practice or appreciate the things that help us be our best self.
Colin arrived in Australia from London, having previously worked in Japan and the United States. He knew in advance that the business needed to enter a very urgent turnaround phase and that morale amongst staff was probably low. The reputation of the organisation had been battered in the public media and had even been written about in the international press. Colin’s arrival in Australia was signalled in the financial press as having been to ‘save the company’. Knowing that the broader organisation would be watching him very acutely given the state of the business, Colin opted to spend the second half of his first day walking around the building to meet staff.
He spoke to almost everyone in the building either one-on-one or in small groups, albeit for short periods of time. However, the feedback from staff at the end of his first week was glowing. The human resources director later recalled, ‘There is nothing I would have asked him to do differently in his first week. I can tangibly feel a difference in our morale by the mere fact he has gone and spoken to everybody. His ability to listen to stories and understand people’s concerns has made a palpable difference to the business already.
The great news is that we are all experienced in starting. High performance and success are enabled through using a planned and structured process to build the platform for starting well.
How well prepared are you to start?
If you would like to understand how you can be better prepared – start well by contacting us.