Are you cleaning the mess your predecessor left ?

“Yes, you are the hero who came in just at the right moment and saved this company from going down the drain.”

I continue to meet people almost every few days who begin their career story not by sharing what they have done but by what their predecessor had not done and therefore, trying to become the star who changed the world by salvaging the situation.

I completely understand the need to provide a context while telling your grand career story, yet people who start off the story by condemning their predecessor lose the context altogether.

Taking on a new leadership role is always challenging. If your predecessor was extremely competent, you have big shoes to fill. If not, you will go in to the role with extremely high expectations.

You don’t have an idea of what your predecessor’s baseline was. Instead of discussing your predecessor, focus on few items to set yourself up for success in your new role.

Aligning your goals, expectations and agenda with your key stakeholders could be your first critical action. Speak with everyone. When I started out as a new comer in an Operations Excellence role in a new region, I began by rolling out a` “voice of customer” with my internal stakeholders. It gave me a lot of data points on what were the major challenges that I would face, the expectations that I would generate and what support I would receive in near future.

Spend time with your team members. They will be excited, suspicious, hopeful and probably angry at your appointment. Spending time ensures that you understand your appetite as a team.

With every change of leadership, a mild reset happens within the team as well. Employees look at it as an opportunity to re-invigorate their career, change their perceptions or simply get ready to prove themselves again. Are they guilty until proven otherwise? I sincerely suggest to give your team members a chance on the presumption that each one of them is great, until proven wrong.

GE and many other companies follow “New Manager Assimilation” where a facilitator helps a dialogue between the new leader and her team in order to bring everyone on the same page. The facilitator captures inputs from the team members in the absence of the leader and then gets everyone together for a facilitated dialogue. A very powerful tool indeed, which makes it easy to collaborate and come together as a team creating a high performing team.

Communication is the most powerful tool in your hand to start off a new role. When leaders underestimate this aspect, things can go downhill pretty fast. In today’s world, when technology is at our fingertips(tools, apps, social media and connectivity), this isn’t exactly a herculean task.

Prioritizing helps. I still remember the words of a CEO of a medium size company in a HR seminar. He said, “Every time I have a new HR leader join the company, their first focus is on tweaking a few words and changing the format of our appraisal form and then, claim it as the most transformational initiative from the HR department. I would rather like them to spend time on building solutions for areas that really demand attention. Not trying to prove that their predecessor did not do a great job.”

A change in role is an opportunity for both leaders and employees to CTRL-ALT-DEL, pat their backs about thing that have done well, seek out areas that need improvement and then, work hard to change things. Don’t lose this opportunity by focusing on your predecessor. Focus on your own actions, on your team’s success and raise the bar.

It is never hard to visualize how people talk about their successors if they don’t have appreciation for what their predecessors did!

About the Author

Karunesh is Founder and CEO of Change Et Al. Karunesh works with a range of companies helping transform businesses, driving change initiatives, M&A and HR transformation. Karunesh is also a trainer, facilitator, coach and speaker. Change Et Al. team consists of HR, Lean Six Sigma, Technology, Communication and M&A experts spread across India, SEA, Middle East and the firm is headquartered in Singapore.