Building Credibility: Key for a Fast Start

Having changed employers and roles several times over the course of my career, I’ve learned that getting off to a fast start in a new position hinges on building credibility in the new role. To do so, you need to deliver early but enduring results. Planning your first few weeks on the job is the critical last step in a search process, but it’s one that’s often neglected. The following five principles will help you establish your authority as a successful manager with subordinates and superiors alike.

1. Be demanding of your employees, but make sure your demands can be satisfied. Effective leaders press employees to make realistic commitments and then hold them accountable. When I became president of the small-business-services unit at a large telecommunications company, I instituted a goal-setting system and then measured the progress of the initiatives needed to achieve the goals. My operating style makes clear that I am intolerant of employees who fail to meet commitments, and it encourages them to make realistic promises. But bear in mind that if you can never be satisfied, you’ll demoralize your staff and erode its motivation. A balance of “stretch” but achievable goals (measured in an appropriate way) helps establish your credibility with your subordinates and your boss early in your tenure.

2. Be approachable but not too familiar. Being approachable doesn’t mean making yourself available on demand. Rather, it means being accessible, but in a measured way that maintains your authority and responsibilities. When I started as a senior group vice president at another large company, I held town meetings at its headquarters and major regional locations. These gave me visibility and offered employees a communications channel they didn’t have previously.

3. Be decisive but discriminating. New leaders want to show they can take charge. However, doing so in an impulsive manner may create problems. Instead, your objective in your first few weeks or months is to project decisiveness while deferring crucial decisions until you have had more time to learn the ropes. As a brand manager at a large consumer-products company in the 1970s, I transferred divisions, which was a rare occurrence in those days and similar to joining a new company since each division had its own culture and personality. Before I tried to impose my own way of doing things, I made sure I learned who made key decisions, both formally and informally, how they did so, and on what basis (decisions, of course, are made both rationally and emotionally). That period of watching and learning paid off when I started to assert myself in my new role.

4. Act vigorously without creating chaos. There is a fine balance between stimulating action and overwhelming an organization with multiple priorities. You want to be perceived as active, but not unfocused and working your staff into a state of exhaustion. Leadership is about taking action before someone tells you to do it, but you need to master the management skill of pacing the level of activity to your organization’s.

When I was the president of a large division at a major food company, we built an organization one step at a time — by making superior products, creating a world-class executive team, establishing leading-edge trade relations and brand building, in that order — rather than trying to become world-class overnight. This approach preserved what was already working while systematically improving our marketplace profile.

5. Make the hard decisions, but be compassionate. Invariably, you’ll inherit at least one employee who needs to be replaced, requiring an early decision that’s difficult. Successful new leaders don’t avoid these situations, and they do what needs to be done (and procrastination will clearly send the wrong signal). However, the key is taking action in ways that are perceived as fair and that preserve the dignity of those involved. Be hard on the issues but soft on the people.

In every management role I’ve had, I’ve asked at least one of my direct reports to leave. But to smooth the transition, I’ve always offered them resources and support, including outplacement services and a fair severance agreement.

It was difficult for you to secure your exciting new position. With thoughtful planning and measured action, you can enhance your credibility early and dramatically increase the likelihood of long-term success in your new role.


By Mitch Wienick

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