Build, integrate, handover and take new challenge!
by Georgina Popescu
I do not know if this is a general treat of my generation (I am from the vintage of ‘70s), but I always liked to seek new things to learn and explore. Even before switching to managerial positions, enlarging my understanding of the roles and expectations of various activity areas within the organisation was a crucial part of doing my job. I believe this had to do both with the need to integrate my work in ‘the big picture’ and the desire to avoid redundancies (or gaps!) in order to optimize results.
As a first time manager, when my then-boss entrusted me with the creation of a new department within a large bank, I set out an ambitious objective. My aim was to organize the process while motivating and empowering the team members in such a manner that, within three months from our kick-off meeting, they would be in the position to deliver almost anything on their own, as if I were not there. Of course I would stay on for a longer period of time, at least until we achieve stabilization of the new area we were supposed to build. However I wanted them to work as autonomously as possible, as this would allow me to focus on those managerial undertakings that had to do with political power balance within the organization, integration of the new process, establishing awareness and finally recognition of our team’s competence and results. And along the way, my other favorite priorities – travelling to understand better the local specifics, training and personal development of staff, within the team but also beyond...
The first adventure was cut short a little too soon in my perception, as I was offered an almost ‘mandatory’ promotion… don’t misunderstand me, it was not THAT kind of ‘mandatory’… purely once in a lifetime opportunity, which could not be passed. The decision to accept was also kind of a team decision and the carrot was a unique mix between an exceptional boss and the invitation to build another new area, on a higher level. Still, as the results seemed really great at that point, I decided to approach with similar simplicity the next journey. And so on…
In my opinion, the first phase of a managerial itinerary is building – process and team. No matter if this means to start from scratch or take over fully functional existing ones, it is a step no captain can skip, as sailors know very well… no matter how calm the weather looks when you start, you need to know that you can depend both on the ship and on every member of your crew when times get tough – and they always do!
I consider this phase as ‘delivered’ as soon as the team is able to operate efficiently on ‘business as usual’ mode, independently of my involvement. It can take from a couple of months to almost a year, depending on size and complexity, and it needs continuous fine-tuning and maintenance afterwards. For this purpose I usually recommend to focus on your own behavior: be fair and square with everyone, and make sure you are the first one to respect the new rules (which should be established in a transparent, credible and functional way!). Do not encourage people to jump ranks all day long, however keep your door open and listen patiently to all those who have good reason to address you with their concerns. Make sure your team can count on your support whenever duly needed. Finally, do not hesitate to recognize and timely address bad influence hubs, no matter if they threaten to contaminate the people or the processes.
The second phase, or better said focus area, is the integration of the construction into the bigger picture. This may overlap sometimes with the first, especially if the building phase takes a long time. As a manager, you need to ensure process feasibility for all the stakeholders involved, as well as position your team properly – power balance, remuneration, recognition of expertise, dependability of results. As one of my former bosses used to say, the first few months are crucial from this perspective – you should aim to achieve a quick gain (success story with notable impact) and a constructive lesson, and make sure they both spread through the organisation, in order to build trust and motivate the other stakeholders in future co-operation. The recognition should then consolidate over time, with due care towards both exceptional results and proper communication.
The last phase, just before steering the wheel to a new challenge, is the successful handover to the next manager. Ideally, this should happen smoothly if the building and integration phases includes a succession planning that gains acceptance from the main counterparts – the team and the higher managerial ranks. If this is not the case, then you will probably need to make the best of what you have, meaning you should not leave (too many) untied ends and loose cannons… if you care about reputation in the long run!
If you successfully went through all those three phases, you should now be ready to… start again!
And because this is the last episode of the Manager’s Mirror series, I will conclude it the same as the first episode – by extending what I shared today to all professionals out there, managers or ‘not yet’… While I believe specific expertise in the area you are about to embark upon is paramount in order to achieve best results within reasonable time, I also incline to recommend expanding your knowledge with every new challenge approached in your career. Step one would then be to build (your new expertise and support network), step two to integrate (into what you already know, into the team, into the future…), then handover to the next ‘former you’ and move on to the ‘future you’ – on a different (hopefully higher) level!
One positive aspect of this approach is that once you prove yourself reliable, result-oriented and loyal to a complex organization that you are compatible with, you can keep on learning and progressing every few years, and this will most probably pay off in the long run also from a managerial perspective.
And because I know that younger vintages are tempted to make changes rather often, I will close by sharing another advise from a former boss: you should learn new things every 2 years while in your 20s, every 3 years while in your 30s and stabilize within your comfort zone after 40s… as you should know by then what fits you best!