Marketable or Makeover (Part Five): How to Avoid Failing at the Finish Line

How to Avoid Failing at the Finish Line…

Think of the last time you received an attractive job offer. Jubilation? Euphoria? Exhaustion? Relaxation? Those might be some of your very natural and human reactions. However, as Alexander Pope observed several hundred years ago, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread…” [See Source.]

In other words, perhaps merely receiving the offer is not the end of the journey when starting a new job. As far as optimizing the offer before you accept it is concerned, you might wish to review The Perils of Inadequate Preparation. But even after negotiating and accepting the offer, the work is actually just beginning.

We call that next step On-Boarding. And it can take various forms from a rather superficial plan on a napkin to an exhaustive, 100-day plan. This plan can govern every minute of your first days on the new job. [Download your complimentary Barrett Group 100-day Plan Guide here.] Our career consultants help clients decide which approach is most appropriate. However not having a plan for your On-Boarding is foolish.

Take the first discussion you have with your new boss about setting performance targets. These will define how you are seen in the organization. Which could be a stunning success or an abject failure or somewhere in between. And undoubtedly impact your short and longer-term compensation, not to mention your promotion opportunities.

So you better put some thought into the framing of those targets.

Most positions have a set of KPIs for which a given role is responsible. However, executives can often influence these to some extent, and/or reinterpret them in favor of the role occupant. One must be reasonable in this process and ensure that the specific KPIs are in alignment with the overall company objectives. There is usually significant scope for discussing “key” versus “secondary” performance indicators.

For example, ROCE (return on capital employed) is a secondary performance indicator as it is influenced at the numerator (capital employed) and denominator (which level of return, i.e., EBITDA, EDIT, NI, etc.?). An additional example revolves around cash. Most companies would not mind having more cash. Increasing marginal profit levels can certainly increase cash available though it involves a large number of dependencies. Borrowing, or adding equity are also options, but so is reducing working capital (e.g., decreasing inventories, collecting receivables faster, and/or paying suppliers more slowly). Which strategy is easier to accomplish in a given situation?

Even “return” is open to interpretation. Should it be a profit measure or a cash flow measure? Should it be an absolute number or a ratio of sales, and if so, which level of sales (gross sales, net sales, etc.?). Sales, service level, consumer satisfaction, marketing performance, manufacturing, logistics, purchasing, and inventory management. Every function within a company can be evaluated in multiple ways. The savvy incoming executive will at least attempt to reinterpret KPIs to his or her role’s short or long-term benefit before agreeing to a performance measure.

But KPIs and targets are just one of the many opportunities incoming executives have to fail at the finish line. There are many more.

Not taking adequate account of key stakeholders is another fatal step.

To help clients avoid rushing in and being foolish, the Barrett Group has evolved a structured approach to On-Boarding that suggests stages including a Discovery Phase, an Hypothesis Phase, and an Execution Phase, all supported with numerous sub-steps and guard rails to help keep incoming executives on track.

The one piece of advice we hear repeatedly from executives is that they generally wish they had planned their careers earlier and in more detail instead of simply letting them happen. Of course, 20:20 hindsight is a bit unfair, still in the context of On-Boarding in a new role, it would be capricious at best to ignore the opportunity to plan ahead.

As part of the Discovery phase, for example, it may be advisable to create an organizational chart that is personalized with data on specific roles’ incumbents who might well be moving on at some point. Consider targeted roles carefully—the scope, the stress, the rewards, and if necessary, stepping stone jobs the client may need to achieve in order to be eligible, for example, in acquiring certain experience or skills to qualify for the targeted role(s).

Organizations are fluid, too, so we advise clients to keep an ear to the ground. New divisions may be opening up. Spin-offs may be planned or acquisitions, mergers, etc. Even as the targets move, the client can probably plan a general direction such as marketing, operations, finance, or, indeed the CEO slot and begin the practice of collecting intentionally.

Collecting what?

Information, impressions, opinions, skills, experience, interactions… anything that will help the client form a more cogent argument as to why he or she should be promoted in the targeted direction. This includes finding allies and individuals with shared aspirations. For example, suppose the company is large enough to have a business intelligence or research function. Many executives may call on this function for many reasons. Having a good connection to this function can be extremely helpful both in collecting information about what others are researching but also in sending informal, third-party messages, i.e., influencing without being seen to self-promote. Human resources, accounting, many of these cross-functional service units can serve a similar purpose, so keep a good relationship with everyone, if possible.

Then there is the question of politics.

The importance of this invisible force varies from company to company, but there is always some degree of affinity, enmity, or indifference active across an organization, whether between functions, units, or individuals. No one piece of advice will suffice in this complex web of relationships. Listen, watch, offend no one if possible, and consider paying it forward, i.e., helping people who ask for help or require assistance. This willingness to assist will almost always redound to the giver’s credit. “Givers gain,” as they say.

In this context, patience is certainly a virtue up to a point, however, if promised promotions do not happen or opportunities take too long to mature, remember, there is an enormous market out there for capable executives and it is virtually always hungry for talent. And the Barrett Group can not only help clients On-Board optimally but also Off-Board and find that next opportunity if required.

So why rush in where “angels fear to tread” when you could have an experienced career guide at your elbow to help you optimize that hard-won professional opportunity and avoid missteps? Call it insurance, or prudence, or, better yet, just call the Barrett Group.

Peter Irish, CEO
The Barrett Group

Read next: Marketable or Makeover (Part Four): The Perils of Inadequate Preparation

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