While this transition marks just the start of a marketing leader’s career with a particular organization, it may be one of the greatest challenges they have with that same company. It’s also where they can start building their successes. When a marketing leader jumps aboard to lead a team, it often signals a change or a fresh start.
Because this is such a critical moment, eager marketing leaders can easily run aground at this point. Most often, they do this for two reasons:
- They lack established working relationships.
- They lack a detailed understanding of their new role and expectations.
These areas need to be addressed within the first three months. They’re not just a couple of markers you pass along the way. They’re the pillars upon which your future success as a leader are built.
Unfortunately, you’re going to feel a strong tug of temptation to veer away from focusing on these two, crucial focal points. If you’re like most, that temptation will be the desire to be a valued contributor from your first day onward.
It’s as if you’re captaining a new ship and start hoisting the sails for a long journey on your first day in the captain’s seat.
Just like that captain, if you want to succeed on your journey, you have some learning to do before charging ahead. Generally, it’ll take you three to six months as a marketing leader before you become a net positive valued contributor.
This three to six month period is not the time to worry that you’re absorbing more than you’re giving to your organization. Even though it seems like the right thing to do, taking action and trying to do too much in your first 30 – 60 days can damage your credibility.
Taking action and/or attempting to do too much without focused learning and the right relationships/ alliances will propel you into a downward spiral.
It would be like trying to captain a ship without inspecting your new ship or getting to know your first mate. It doesn’t take an expert on seafaring to know you probably won’t pull off that first voyage.
Focusing on learning and effective relationship building should be first on your agenda as a marketing leader.
In doing so, there are four pillars you need to build.
Pillar No. 1 - The Business
You can—and should—start forming this pillar before your first day. Learn about the new company’s market, customers, competitors, products, and business model from internal and external stakeholders. Think of yourself as a student at this point, and ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your interest in hearing from those you question before making any assumptions and suggestions of your own.
Pillar No. 2 - The Stakeholders
This is another pillar that can be crafted before day one on the job. It’s never too early to form alliances, so, ideally, try to meet with a few stakeholders before you start. Your boss can help you to identify and introduce you to your key stakeholders upstream (leadership and project management) and across the revenue engine (sales, customer service, support, and so on).
Don’t just rely on vertical stakeholders, like your boss and direct reports. Buttress your network with lateral relationships, such as the marketing staff. Arrange for formal meetings, or informal interactions, and be aware that you are getting to know them as much as they are getting to know and understand who you are.
Pillar No. 3 - The Expectations
You need clarity not, mind reading, in this area. Meet early and often with your boss to hash out expectations. Find out what really matters to your boss, and negotiate in areas that are important to you. In other words, this is about sharing, not dictating, what your expectations will be. Also, don’t neglect direct reports when you’re establishing expectations. Both your boss and direct reports need to be in this loop.
Pillar No. 4 - The Culture
Establishing this pillar is going to feel natural for you. That’s probably because company culture was one of the main reasons you wanted to work with this organization in the first place. Your first 30–60 days in a company is when you peel back the layers. You’ll need to hold regular checkpoints with ambassadors/interpreters. Study parts of the culture that have worked well in the past, but also examine areas ready for change.
After establishing your four pillars, you’ll need to be deliberate when outlining your learning agenda.
You can do this by creating a set of questions pertaining to past, present, and future. Take these questions to various sources in internal and external roles. You can ask these questions separately about past, present, and future or combine them, as I’ve outlined below.
Questions about your organization’s past can help you learn from the mistakes of your predecessors, instead of making those mistakes yourself. Questions in this area could include:
- How has the company performed?
- If performance was good or bad, then why?
- What efforts were made to fix the root causes?
And questions about your organization’s present can help unearth information that some might not outright tell you about the current state of the organization. These could include:
- What’s the organization’s vision and strategy?
- Who’s capable, who is not, who is trustworthy, and who has influence?
- What are our key processes—especially when it comes to marketing—as our interlocks run upstream and downstream?
- What are the landmines to avoid with regards to politics and cultural faux pas?
Lastly, questions about the future of your organization assist you in coming up with solutions or new directions. These could include:
- What are the challenges and opportunities here?
- What are some of our biggest barriers and resources?
- What parts of our culture should be preserved, and what needs to change as we evolve?
These are the eight diagnostic questions I ask that cover the past, present, future, and the current mindset of your people and key stakeholders. These are more open-ended; the person answering them can decide whether they’ll draw from the past, present, or future in their answers.
- What business are we in? Not what we make, but what business are we in?
- What is our company’s vision and strategy?
- What are the biggest challenges our company is facing (or will face in the near future)?
- Why is our company facing these challenges?
- What are the most promising, unexploited opportunities for growth?
- What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
- If you were me, what would you focus your attention on?
- Finally, to ensure a productive interlock, how would you want both you and I, and our teams, to work together?
Your first 30 – 60 days in a company are tenuous. That’s why, at this point, you can’t afford to take a great leap, eyes closed, into the unknown. In other words: Don’t try to take action or attempt to do too much in your first 30–60 days. These are the days to be a student of your organization.
Learn your organization quickly, build relationships and alliances, and your credibility will grow. This will give you a powerful start to succeed in your role as marketing leader.