Look, Listen & Learn
PALDER is a proven framework to support executives making transitions. “P” refers to Pre-Arrival, specifically the actions and thinking required in the preparation phase of the transition. “A” is for Arrival and the thinking and actions needed to ensure the best possible start. Essential elements for these phases are establishing a clear mandate and deep awareness of your strengths and development needs. This is explored in our article on Starting Well.
In our coaching work, the reflections and actions we encourage our clients to work on in these steps help answer the first of two critical questions: “What do you need to focus your time and attention on?” Once this critical “what” question is answered, you can then start to consider the equally critical question of “How should I go about achieving what is required of me?”
Answering this second question effectively requires a broad and comprehensive appreciation for the organisational, market and environmental contexts. It also requires a clear understanding of the needs and expectations of the key stakeholder groups including your direct team, the broader organisation, customers, competitors and relevant industry groups and associations.
Conducting an effective situational diagnostic is the focus of phase 3 of the PALDER framework. This is “L” for Look, Listen & Learn. Many new appointed leaders underestimate the importance and value of taking their time to complete this due diligence to understand:
- What they have inherited,
- What is expected from them by the different stakeholders and
- How to best achieve what is expected, before they start to make decisions.
Regardless of background, there is benefit from understanding the many different perspectives, needs, opportunities and challenges of different stakeholder groups so this can be used to inform thinking and decision making.
The challenge is compounded by the fact that most of the stakeholders are waiting to see what you will do and how you will do it, so the process of “Look, Listen & Learn” needs to be well planned and efficient so it can be completed within a relatively short time-frame of 4-6 weeks.
It is best planned and executed in six parts:
- Understanding how you personally need to operate and behave in your new role
- Understanding how to work with, report and communicate with your new boss
- Understanding how to work with your new peers on the leadership team
- Understanding your customers and market
- Understanding and assessing your direct report team
- Understanding the organisational culture
In each of these six areas, a newly appointed leader benefits enormously from taking their time to consider and identify:
- What it is that they need to know,
- What do they think they already know and
- Closing any gaps.
The intention is clearly to get a sense of what is it that the different stakeholder groups need the newly appointed leader to keep doing, to stop doing and to start doing in order to achieve their mandate.
If we take just one of these stakeholders, the new boss, there are a number of critical considerations and questions the newly appointed leader will benefit from formally exploring and agreeing, even if they have worked together in the past, including:
- What do they expect in terms of frequency of contact and updates?
- What is their preferred means of updates and reports?
- Do they wish to establish a regular or ad hoc operating rhythm?
- What level of formality and style of communications do they prefer?
- How do they want to support and help you in the role?
- What are their expectations of you in your first month, quarter, year etc.?
- What else do you need to know about them to work effectively together?
- What do they need to know about you?
The answers to these questions will enable you to determine how you can best work with your new boss and set yourself up for success.
Michael was promoted to Country Head for the Australian subsidiary of a US multinational. He had previously held the role of Head of Finance in the same business and reported in to both his predecessor at a local level and the Regional VP Finance based in Singapore.
Michael was driven, highly analytical and considered in his approach. He had been hoping to be given the opportunity to lead the local business for some time. He knew how critical it was to have a clear mandate and set of goals in the new role and made this a priority once he had accepted the appointment. In fact by the time that he started, one month later, he had not only had a series of discussions with his new boss to define the mandate and goals for his new role, he had also completed a detailed analysis and benchmarking of the key performance ratios within the business against other similar sized subsidiaries within the Group. On day one, he already knew the major changes he needed to make to take the business to the next level of performance.
In his first monthly business review with his boss, he shared his findings from the financial analysis and benchmarking and how he proposed to drive significant efficiency gains through a radically different go-to-market strategy. His new boss commended him on the speed and clarity of his plan. He then asked Michael five questions that Michael could not answer:
- How do your leadership team feel about these initiatives?
- How will our employees react to this shift in our go-to-market strategy?
- How will your customers react to these initiatives?
- Has anyone else in the industry tried this type of approach and if not, why not?
- Are you sure you have the skills and expertise in-house to drive this?
Michael had been so confident in the logic and quality of the analysis that he had completely overlooked the contextual considerations of his plan.
During the Look, Listen & Learn phase we encourage all newly appointed leaders to keep four principles or practices in mind:
- Don’t just honour the past ensure you understand it and what can be learned from it. Whilst we all know how important it is to honour the past and not be overly critical, many overlook the learning to be gained in terms of what worked, what did not work and why.
- Seek to integrate data, information and perspectives from as many different sources as possible including direct reports, other employees, customers, thought leaders, industry associations etc. This will ensure you know enough about the context for your decisions so you will make more informed and practical decisions.
- Make time for reflection and consideration. The ability to reflect is a key accelerator to building one’s awareness. Making sense of what has happened in the past, what is happening now and predicting what is likely to happen in the future all benefit from this practice.
- Be open to reconsidering. It is easy when you are a newly appointed leader to feel pressured to make your mark quickly and decisively. However, just because you have been selected for the role, it does not mean that you have all of the skills and knowledge required to do it from day one. Some of your early judgements, decisions and priorities may prove to be less than ideal as new information and perspective comes to light. You will be perceived as arrogant and inflexible if you are not willing to reconsider some of your early decisions when new information becomes available.
When we finally get assume the role we have worked towards and developed ourselves for over many years, it is easy to rush in to taking actions and decisions. Great leadership transitions however are rarely rushed because they take careful planning, broad engagement of all relevant stakeholders and considered reflection to help make the right choices and decisions. If you take your time now and do the right things in the first 2-3 months in the role, it will serve you for many years in to the future.
How able are you to Look, Listen & Learn?
If you would like to understand how we can help you understand and develop your strategies in this area please contact us.
More information on PALDER can be found in our book Foreigner In Charge: Success strategies for expat leaders in Australia.