This is a guest post from Pam Fox Rollin.
You would never stoop to blame. Or would you?
You’re going to be tempted
Especially if the person who last had the job was let go, demoted, or otherwise removed, you’ll be tempted. But even if the last guy was elevated to his/her next walk-on-water job, you’re still going to be tempted to blame him for your team’s problems.
After all, if the last guy was so great, he wouldn’t have left the department in the mess you now find. He would have picked those “low-hanging fruit” you see dangling all over the department. He would have fired the performance problems and supported the stars. He would have generated the monthly metrics that are so obviously needed, and he would have tied up the loose ends now filling your inbox.
He knew what you don’t, yet
He knew that it made no sense to run reports based on the crappy data coming in from the field. He knew that the “performance problem” had a personal dispute with your boss, who threw him under the bus at rating time. He knew that picking the “low-hanging fruit” wouldn’t turn the department around, so he focused on what was more important.
You will look foolish, and your team will let you
Your team members will happily collude in your assessment that the last guy was incompetent. Gets the focus off them. Gives them hope that you’ll be better.
Until you start making the same mistakes. Or, more likely, different ones. Chances are good that you will notice opportunities he didn’t. You will make some hard calls that he shied away from. You will create smart new metrics he never considered. And, some of these new initiatives will blow up in your face, just as he did. And then your blame game is going to look very, very foolish.
Even if this guy was a real screw-up, skip the blame. As one of my interviewees said, “Why should I blame my predecessor? My team will do that for me.”
View the last guy as your teacher
Go learn what you can about the trade-offs he saw, the battles he was fighting, the opportunities he never took time to pursue. If you can find him, ask him what he would do if he had another year or two in the job. Ask him about the hardest parts of the job … he’ll probably be glad to tell you, maybe over a beer.
If you don’t have access to him, apply your forensic anthropology skills. What do his metrics suggest was important to him? What initiatives did he sponsor? What were his “failures,” and what can you learn about the root causes?
Be gracious. If this guy is still at your company—or hanging out with your team, or writing an industry blog—what he thinks matters, at least a little. You are standing on the shoulders (or graves) of many. It’s worth your time to learn their legacy. By acting with maturity, appreciating whatever he did accomplish for your group, and continuing to seek his counsel if appropriate, you benefit from his stumbles. At least then you can make new
That said, be realistic about what you’ve inherited
You may have noticed that public company CEOs surface bad news in the first quarter of their tenure. Find the problems in your group fast, so you can tackle them before you are seen to own their creation.
Put together a brief presentation or talking points for your leadership team about the state of your group as you find it. Describe without blame how the group is doing relative to history, targets, and market opportunity. Offer your work-in-progress viewpoint on what’s contributing positively and negatively to performance and what changes you plan to make.
About the author: Pam Fox Rollin coaches executives and teams to lead even more effectively at companies throughout the Bay Area and across the world. Drawing on two decades experience in strategy consulting, management education, and leadership development, Pam is known as a valuable thought-partner to leaders in complex organizations. Learn more at https://ideashape.com.