Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Leader! Get Those Priorities Carved in Stone!

VIEWPOINT: Agreeing the ground rules is key to leading change, according to Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, in this seventh in his series of articles for IEDP:
I had a call from my old friend Charlotte the other day. She’s one of those corporate trouble-shooters who get sent to problem parts of an organization when the going gets too hot for everyone else. Is she a leader? You bet. But talking to her about her last challenge made me think just how poorly prepared many of us are when we take on one of those tricky assignments.

Here’s what Charlotte told me about her recent experiences. “Often the problem for me is that I’m only called in when others have failed to do their job. So the number one issue, especially if you are sent to clear up a mess, is to be certain that the firm has given you all the tools you need to turn things around.”

“don’t ever let the initial euphoria stop them from getting some very basic rules agreed”


She went on to say, “If you aren’t sure just how far you can go (and don’t have it in writing) then you’ll never achieve anything. My belief – based on a great deal of ‘combat’ missions – is that you need maximum autonomy (and authority) to get a job like that done well. You can’t build respect and develop and engage employees if you – as the leader – are unsure of what you can and cannot do. Hesitation and prevarication aren’t options out there on the battle front.”

Charlotte’s belief is that the biggest trap any manager moving into a new job can fall into is letting the initial euphoria (of their so-called promotion) stop them from getting some very basic rules agreed between them and their boss.

As she explains, “time and again I hear of newly appointed managers who were so excited by their new promotion they forgot all the basics – that’s a recipe for disaster.” She continues, “sure, have that bottle of celebratory champagne, but next morning sit down with your boss and get the rules agreed. AND get them in writing. If they aren’t carved in stone they aren’t rules at all.” She adds, “without that you can’t do the job you are being asked to do.”

So what are Charlotte’s rules ?

“Any manager heading into a new assignment needs to have at least these clear from day one,” she stresses. “Not just clear, but agreed in writing before they begin.”
  • What are my short-term goals?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • What is the time frame for reviewing, correcting and revising these goals?
  • What is the report-back relationship and how and when does this happen (weekly, monthly etc)?
  • If my personal compensation is related to performance, what are the parameters?
  • Is the budget for my group agreed and what autonomy do I have in using it?
  • What is my expense approval threshold?
  • What are my limits on hiring new personnel?
  • What are my limits on dismissing existing personnel?

She concludes, “There are more than this, but get these basic ground rules agreed and you will at least know where your limitations are. This saves a lot of grief and hand-wringing later on.”

Charlotte tells me that she is consistently successful because she and her boss both know the rules. “This way there are no ambiguities, nosurprises. I know where I stand and the company knows what it has asked me to do and the parameters that have been set.”

My question: Is that how the rest of us work ?

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Connect with him via Linkedin. 

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