General managers transitioning to new roles must work within these realities:
- Being a trusted member of the senior leadership team and involved in strategic business decisions
- Representing the external environment as well as customers and their needs in company strategies and plans
- Balancing responsibilities and accountabilities and establishing relationships to deliver on promises
- Understanding the organization and inner connections and preparing for current and future needs
- Making a personal commitment to the company’s success
By grounding themselves in these realities, general managers will have a starting set of baseline considerations for a successful leadership transition.
“Successful organizations recognize that the general manager is a linchpin connecting current revenue realities with future revenue prospects,” says Mark McDonald, VP Analyst, Gartner. “General managers transitioning into a technology general manager role can follow a four-stage process to develop and demonstrate a deep understanding of customers, a compelling customer strategy and leadership to mobilize the organizations.”
The preparation should begin before your first day. Review thoughts, impressions, emails and notes from your recruiting experience to create context for yourself. Pay attention to what executives and peers said, but also think about what they didn’t say and the unspoken implications.
The goal is to accurately assess why the organization hired you and expectations for success. Try to schedule two meetings with executives and peers: One to focus on listening to what they believe and expect from you, and a second meeting to repeat back expectations and validate your understanding.
Connect and assess
The goal for this phase is to begin to connect with and assess your partners and the organization within the company. Connect with stakeholders, your team, your peers and others to create an action plan that addresses how to envision, define, build and support new products. This will likely take several iterations, but begin with a conversation, or “initial iteration,” to focus on understanding without committing to anything.
The second meeting, or “middle” iteration, should include multiple sessions in which you engage the organization in the content of the product plans and your transition. The final leg, or “closing iterations,” should include senior executives and stakeholders to set direction, define resources and gain commitment.
Effective general managers lead through influence rather than direct control of people or resources across the company. This means all the legwork done in the “prepare” and “connect and assess” phases will build a base of trust and respect.
Build support for your plan within your own team first and leverage their knowledge and experience to create the plan. Once you start to present your ideas, be sure to focus on who you are, telling the story of how your plan supports the organization and, more importantly, how it supports the specific audience. Help them to envision themselves within your strategy.
To be a successful and effective general manager, you must be personally committed to your strategy. This requires an enormous amount of time and energy, without which the chances of failure or turnover are high. By acknowledging your personal needs within your plan, you’ll focus on how you will lead and manage yourself outside of the formal review process.
Focus on aligning four areas: Physical balance, intellectual balance, network balance and spiritual balance. Within these four areas, ensure you are establishing a healthy work-life balance, being mindful of focus and connecting with people in a personal and professional manner.