Joining a company as part of the senior leadership team can be a challenging but rewarding experience. As a new executive, it’s important to have a clear strategy and plan of action to ensure a smooth transition and to make a positive impact on the company’s performance, yet you likely know very little about the company and need to tread lightly before making any major changes.
Here are seven critical steps executives should take when joining a senior leadership team:
1. Understand Your Role: Make time to understand the history of the organization, the current business situation, and broad expectations for your role. The actions you take will be different if you are faced with a turnaround versus standing up a new business or product. Clearly understanding the type of situation you’re in will inform your transition and help you focus your efforts.
2. Understand the Company’s Culture and Values: The first step for any new executive is to gain an understanding of the company’s culture and values. This will help you to align your goals and objectives with those of the company and to build strong relationships with your colleagues. Take the time to read the company’s mission statement and values and observe how people interact with each other in the workplace.
3. Build Relationships with Key Stakeholders: As a new executive, it’s important to build relationships with key stakeholders, including the CEO, other senior leaders in different functions, and possibly board members. Schedule one-on-one meetings with each person to get to know them better and to understand their priorities, concerns, and perceptions of your function and team. If they ask about your priorities, make clear you are still developing your plan and see their input as important perspective to consider. Your focus should be listening, almost exclusively. This will help you to build trust and credibility with your colleagues, which is essential for success.
4. Conduct a SWOT Analysis of your Functional Area: Conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis is an important step in developing an initial strategy for your functional area. A SWOT should help you to identify priorities for your team and company based on a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as potential opportunities and threats in the market. Use this analysis to develop a clear understanding of where the company stands and to develop a plan for your first year in the new role.
5. Develop a Strategic Plan: Once you have a clear understanding of the company’s culture, values, and a functional SWOT analysis, it’s time to develop a strategic plan. This plan should outline your vision for your unit that fits with the company strategy. Be specific about the most important goals and the steps you will take in your first year to achieve those goals. The plan should be clear, concise, and actionable, with specific timelines and milestones. More than 5 pages is too many. A slide deck should be under 15 slides.
6. Communicate Effectively: Effective communication is key to building trust and credibility with your colleagues. In your conversations, learn the most used communication tools – how often are collaboration tools (Slack, Teams, etc.) used vs. e-mail, direct text, or video chat. Are PowerPoint decks often used or are shorter bulleted documents the best received communications? Be especially clear about how (and how often) the CEO wants to hear from you. Ask the CEO directly how they would like you to inform them about any communications you receive from board members. Be transparent and open with your team, your peers, and the CEO. Be willing to listen to their feedback and concerns and make sure your plan reflects their input.
7. Ask For Feedback: After six months in your new role, getting formal feedback through a robust and thoughtful 360 Feedback process will deepen your understanding of how successful you’ve been in integrating with the team. After receiving feedback, share insights and any action plans with your new colleagues. This will help show them your commitment to continuous improvement and how much you value their input.
Joining a senior leadership team reporting directly to the CEO is a great opportunity to make a significant positive impact on a company’s performance. By understanding the company’s culture and values, building relationships with key stakeholders, conducting a SWOT analysis, developing a strategic plan, communicating effectively, and asking for feedback, you can set yourself up to succeed and make a significant contribution to your new company.
Dale S. Rose, Ph.D., is the President and co-founder of 3D Group. He is an expert in leadership development and assessment-based human resources solutions. He recently co-edited The Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback and authored the study, Current Practices in 360 Feedback, 7th Edition