Posts in "Management"

Learn and help out before making changes

Expa nailed it with this tweet yesterday:

It’s natural to want to impress people when you start a new role. The quicker people know they made the right choice in hiring you, the quicker everything settles down and feels more normal.

The same goes for those involved in hiring someone new, particularly the hiring manager. There are a lot of unknowns when hiring and you won’t always get it right. Hiring managers are just as keen to see their decision validated ASAP.

That said, pushing to make changes and trying to get results too early can backfire on you.

When coming into something new, you need to set aside time for soaking up what’s going on. The company, it’s history, the culture, the people, its products or services etc.

Even if you think you know most of the answers on the first day, I can guarantee your views will shift once you start to poke about.

Take the time to properly understand what has happened before you. Start getting opinions from people on what the future should look like. Often the root cause of what needs to change lies in these conversations.

You need to have people on your side to make significant changes. For that to happen, your team and the people around you need to trust and respect you. This takes a bit of time to do. They need to feel you are with them, not against them.

You also need to understand the company’s culture, so you know the right way to make changes. It’s amazing how differently change needs to be managed in different companies.

Lastly, sometimes people just need a bit of time to get used to you, and to the notion that changes are coming. Taking the time to learn, help out and get to know people allows you to do exactly that.

Some advice on starting a new role

I’ve been asked for my advice a few times when someone is joining a new company in a senior role. I always say the same. THE most important thing to do is set and agree expectations for what you will spend your time doing in the first 60 days with your hiring manager. Make sure you’re on the same page for how important it is to learn, help out and get to know people in the first 30 days. Make sure you’re on the same page for when results are expected.

When I hire senior people, I tend to make sure this is the first discussion we have. I make it clear, I expect NO impact or results in the first 30 days — perhaps even the first 60 days.

What I expect is for them to get to know the company, their team, their colleagues and the product. Let things sink in a bit. I would even go as far as providing a list of suggested people they might want to meet with.

The first 30 days are JUST for that, nothing else. They should make good notes on everything they observe and we will chat about them at the end of each week. At the end of the first 30 days, I would want to see all notes pulled together so we can dive deeper into everything. Observations, insights, ideas for how to move forward etc.

I’d then allow roughly another 15 days for that to come together into a plan for the next 90 days that we agree on. There will be a bit of back and forth and getting approval on stuff, so a couple of weeks to get it done should do it.

At the end of 45 days you will have a well thought out plan that outlines what to focus on and what to get done. At that point, things can move more quickly and you can still end up with someone making a significant impact in their first 6 months.

Compare that with jumping in, rushing to conclusions and making changes too soon. You can end up in a real mess early on. Sometimes it’s even too hard to undo.

So, it’s worth thinking about this if you’re a hiring manager or starting a new role. Take your time and make sure expectations are set early for getting up to speed and making an impact. Genuinely take the time to learn, help out and get to know people first.

The One Pager

Below is a memo Winston Churchill sent to his War Cabinet, stressing the need for brevity. I absolutely love it.


A good way to encourage people to be concise, is to ask for them to outline their idea on one page.

This does two things. Firstly, it forces you to think about how to structure what you’re saying. How you should start and finish it. Exactly what to include and in what order.

When you can’t get away with a stream of consciousness, you have no choice but to do this. If you don’t, you risk leaving out something critical.

Secondly, because you don’t have the space, you’re forced to include only what counts. In doing so, you may realise some parts of your idea are unnecessary and you often end up with a simpler idea.

It’s one of the reasons I like OGSP for strategic plans. It brings together goals, strategies and plans onto one page.

Sure, you have to work harder to make ideas fit on one page. But, when you do, its so much easier for others to digest. And that gives you a better chance of your ideas being understood and making an impact.

This can work for lots of things — ideas, policies, feedback, agreements etc.

So, the next time there is a need to put something down on paper, ask people for a ‘one pager’. They may squirm a bit at first, but you’ll be amazed how people adjust and get into the habit of being to the point about things.

P.S here are a few resources that help with writing brevity:

Hemingway Editor
The Day You Became a Better Writer
Writing, briefly
Write like you talk

A story about change management

Change management has been on my mind for the last few days.

The reason for that is I’ve been having to talk about my background quite a bit lately. When I do so, I often remark on how lucky I was to be given a lot of responsibility, early on in my career.

That often meant I was figuring things out as I went along. I made lots of mistakes and had to quickly learn from them.

One story always comes to mind. I was running the Customer Support team for Jagex and we’d quickly gone from a handful of people doing 9am–6pm, to 20 or so people doing close to 24 x 7 coverage.

We were noticing that office space was getting tight. Often desks would sit unused because the team was split across three different shifts.

There seemed an obvious way to fix it — hot-desking.

It would immediately increase our capacity by a third. If we re-jigged the shift system a bit, we might even be able to double our capacity. There was no reason why is was necessary for people to have their own desk. I just couldn’t see a downside.

So, I went about implementing that change. I wrote a couple of pages that explained the why, the what and when it would start. We even created some space for people to store their belongings etc.

It didn’t go down well at all. People were pissed. There was a downside after all.

Turns out people actually liked having their own desks and computers. They liked to customise and have control over their computer and they liked to store stuff on their desk. They didn’t like having to adjust their seat each time they sat down. They liked having their own space. Some even liked where they were positioned in the office. It helped make them feel like part of the company.

I felt like a bit of a dick for not having seen things from their perspective. I only saw the numbers. We quickly backtracked and decided it wasn’t worth upsetting everyone.

Ever since that, I’ve treated change far more delicately. It should be seen as a project, often with several phases. Consider things like timelines, project plan, stakeholder groups, accountability and regular reviews.

Since that day, I’ve gone on to lead and be involved with some reasonable sized changes. Implementing bonus programmes, closing studios (inc. making people redundant), controversial changes in direction, restructuring teams, large scale process change etc.

Of course, most changes will have their bumps. But, when you dedicate time up front to thinking everything through and planning it like a project, the end result is always better.

If you’re in a leadership role, it’s worth thinking about and getting good at managing change. A badly managed change can be very costly. It can ultimately lead to grinding to a halt and losing great people.

I had intended to get into the guts of how to manage change with this post. But I realised it was quite an in-depth topic and I’m not in the mood for a long one. Perhaps another time.

I would love to hear other peoples experiences of managing change. Both what worked well and what you cocked up 😉

How to Keep People Focused

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the 100 other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done.”  Steve Jobs

It occurred to me the other day how important strategy is to focus.

Time spent talking about the mid and long term is at the cost of doing things today right? Surely even having the conversations will cause people to lose focus in the short term?

In fact, the inverse is true.

Unless you spend the time having these conversations, there will always be confusion about what the priorities are at any time. And nothing hurts short-term execution more than that.

If you think about strategy as three buckets – short, mid and long term.

It’s not the case that projects get simply ordered by potential impact. In fact, often due to dependencies or the sheer size and complexity of high potential projects, they can end up sitting in mid or long term buckets.

Unless you have a conversation about strategy and agree which projects sit in each of the three buckets, the projects that need to sit in the mid and long term buckets will continue to distract from short term execution. The fact that they are juicy and high impact, just compounds the issue.

They will creep into conversations. People will start to question why they aren’t being started ASAP. How exactly will they be done? In the case where you have large teams, you might find people actually start to work on them instead of what actually needs to get done now.

Therefore, to be able to fully focus on short term priorities and execution, you have to get these conversations out the way and agree on what fits into the short, mid and long term.

Once you do this, you can forget about the stuff in the mid and long term, whilst you focus on the short term. It’s not that they are unimportant, it’s just that there is a time and a place for everything and you can only do so much at any one time.

Perhaps the most useful thing you can do as a leader is build strategy (collaboratively), get buy in (upwards and downwards) and ensure everyone is 100% clear on this and where projects fall into the mix.

You’ll still need to work hard at keeping everyone focused on the right priorities, but it will be a hell of a lot easier if you do the above well.

What’s Missing From Most Businesses

I’ve been thinking about what I see missing the most, when I have conversations with people who run businesses (or parts of businesses).

I think I’m settled on what it is.

When you strip everything back, running a business is actually pretty straight forward.

No doubt, it’s very, very hard at times, but the operational piece of running it actually isn’t that complex.

Ultimately, you’re trying to do something (a mission). You’re trying to achieve something (goals). You need to pick the right types of things to work on (strategy and plans). You need people who are capable of doing those things. You need to do those things well.

You need to take stock from time to time – probably every quarter. Check in to see how you’re doing and that everything still adds up. Amend things if not.

What I find so surprising is that you would normally expect that the types of reasons to cause a business not to be successful would be the people. Or perhaps the ideas themselves. Or even how well the ideas were executed.

But that’s not my experience.

Businesses are normally full of enough smart people and enough good ideas to get the job done. What seems to be missing more often than not is simply being organised and focused. A system for getting stuff done.

Clarity on what success looks like and how you will achieve it. Actually spending time on these things, thinking them through and writing them down. Making sure everyone knows it and stays focused. Having a framework for accountability. And checking in from time to time, amending things were necessary.

You wouldn’t believe how many people cannot tell you this stuff when you ask them. Some parts of it normally come as a stream of consciousness, but it isn’t clear and organised. There is hardly ever a framework for being disciplined in getting stuff done either.

And it’s not as if I don’t speak to smart people. There’s just an art to pulling everything together, so things can get done well. And it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

I personally love the OGSP framework. Throw in a quarterly review (to take stock at a higher level) and weekly staff meetings (to execute from week to week) and everything normally falls into place.

I’ve written a 6 post series on it in the past:

Building Awesome Plans Part I – Defining Objectives, Goals and Strategy

Building Awesome Plans Part II – Idea Generation

Building Awesome Plans Part III – Idea Prioritisation

Building Awesome Plans Part IV – Detailed Planning

Building Awesome Plans Part IV (and a half) – Detailed Planning

Building Awesome Plans Part V – Crystallising the Plan and Defining Accountability

There are tons of other frameworks for developing this stuff though. It doesn’t really matter which you choose, it’s actually having everything together that counts.

If you run a business or part of a business, why not take some time out to reflect and think through these things deeply. I guarantee it will dramatically increase the chances of you being successful.