At the ESOMAR Annual Congress in Edinburgh today, Kajoli Tankha, a senior director in Microsoft’s insights group, shared her personal journey of taking on a new leadership position. “New jobs can be dangerous to your career! Almost half of executive transitions are regarded as failures, and four out five execs feel unprepared for their new roles,” she said. “So you feel scared, and it’s right you should feel scared!”
“When I became the Senior Director of Modern Life and Devices Product Research at Microsoft, over the course of the year my emotions went from excitement to doubt to ‘I have a made a huge mistake’ to ‘not so bad after all’ to, finally, ‘I can do this!’”
Kajoli realized that this was a common pattern in her life, which she encountered when she first became a qualitative researcher, when she moved to America, and when she joined Microsoft. She decided to “create an ‘algorithm’ for what it is like to go through the process.” She came up with 10 rules for making a transition to a new role.
- New job means a new you. What are the success criteria for the new job? If you’re shifting from being an individual contributor to a leader, the shift is from “You are what you know” to “You are what you bring out in people.” She said, “I had to lean into general management, to go from lead ballerina to conductor.”
- Radical transparency is an amazing shortcut. “It’s very tempting to act like you know everything, but don’t play the pretend game: play no game at all.” Since everyone knows you are brand new, you have the freedom to ask questions and to be seen as vulnerable, while you learn.
- Build looser ties with the broader team. “If you learned how to manage with a 5-person team, you will need to relearn everything when you manage a 15-person team.” Instead of close personal relationships with everyone, you will need to learn to manage indirectly.
- You have more than 90 days – of course you do. “Despite Michael Watkin’s book, The First 90 Days, you will not turn into a jug of expired milk at the end of 90 days!” Don’t put undue pressure on yourself. An internal hire takes twice as long as 90 days (6 months) to become fully productive – an external hire even longer, and two years for CEOs. “The first 90 days is complete nonsense.”
- Take charge of your onboarding. “The higher you go, the less likely there will be a formal onboarding process.” Kajoli developed a plan for herself to develop Subject Matter Expertise incrementally.
- Find a social support network. Find a coach, a peer from another team, or anyone outside your role who believes in you. Don’t turn for social support to your boss (“creates doubts”), your direct reports (“could inadvertently increase their anxiety”), or your stakeholders (“will worry about ability to deliver”).
- Managing your energy is more important than managing your time. In a new role, System 2 is engaged and everything is more conscious and deliberate. “Expect decisions to take longer; you’ll be systematic; note taking will be critical. As a result, the days will feel more tiring. Don’t skimp on down-time. It’s like being a foreigner in a new city; it is exhausting. Manage your expectations. Next time I will expect decisions to take longer.”
- The listening tour is critical. You bring fresh eyes to the work and team. This is chance for everyone else to reset, too. Kajoli developed a standard set of questions for everyone: “How can I be the best boss/partner/peer for you? What are your goals? What is working? What do we need to change?”
- When in doubt, use a facilitative style of leadership. She asked her leads to create restructuring options for the team and how it worked with stakeholders. This increased the quality of the decisions, removed the need for buy-in, and strengthened her managers. “I was nervous this would lead to people not believing my authority, but that was not the effect at all.”
- Be your own best friend. Manage imposter syndrome, and monitor self-talk. Give yourself a growth mindset. “Reflect on your past successes, and project yourself out one year from now.”
Learn from Kajoli: be systematic about your leaning plan and relationships, override instincts that don’t serve you, and deal with doubt through self awareness and support of others.