‘WHEN A NEW MANAGER TAKES CHARGE’: Deciding the Pace of Entry

“I just need to get a handle on this new industry”

Believe it or not, when I was younger I was interested in keeping fit (I still have the body of a 32 year old obese man). Pounding all those roads on long runs, we learned one key lesson. It was critically important to start at the correct pace. For long distances, I normally ran an 8-minute mile and could keep going forever. But if the pace speeded up to, say, 7.5 minutes or slowed to 9 minutes a mile, I flagged and had to quit. The pace had to be exactly right. The same basic point applies to new managers joining an organization.

New Managers: Almost all New Managers suffer from ‘joining anxiety’ and want to do things quickly. I’ve seen many CEO’s who start out like Usain Bolt and run out of steam (you can’t run a 4-minute mile over a long distance). So, how do you decide the correct ‘pace’ of entry? While it’s not an exact science, see what you make of the following story…

Doug Meyer: In North America, a pharmaceutical company manufactured and marketed Consumer Health Products. When the President of the division moved on, the search began for a replacement. Within Colgate-Palmolive Doug Meyer had steadily moved through a classic marketing career and was approached about the job. From his perspective, the job offered a number of distinct benefits:

  • It was a ‘line’ rather than a staff job; Meyer definitely saw himself as a line manager.
  • It offered a ‘turnaround’ challenge. In his own words: “Where’s the fun in taking over a successful company. All you can do is hope not to screw it up.”

In many ways he wasn’t the perfect fit. Meyer had spent all of his working life in Colgate-Palmolive. Within the pharmaceutical industry, 18 years in the same company was deemed negative (‘narrow experience’) rather than positive (company loyalty).

First 100 Days: Meyer, quietly, began to prepare his entry strategy. He knew that ‘maintenance of the status quo’ wasn’t the way forward e.g. a slow ‘evolution’ back into positive numbers followed by incremental business growth. Having observed many new leaders, Myers knew that an ‘everything-that-happened-in-the-past-is-wrong-this-is-the-way-it’s-going-to-be’ stance was a sure-fire method to lose the loyalty of the existing team. He had an informal inventory of ‘entry strategies’ which he had seen work well in the past, including some personal mistakes. A former boss had counseled: “British people are not Americans. Talk softer. Be less blunt. Take it step-by-step.” A stint on the U.K. had taught him that a missionary zeal strategy could be inappropriate; the analytical British stance was superior, or at least a good counter-weight, to his own natural sense of urgency. The dilemma: how to make an entrance which communicated I’ve arrived while at the same time ensuring he don’t upstage the existing players.

The Coalface: He quickly moved into the field – completing store checks in Chicago and Philadelphia with the sales force. It was a long time since the divisional President had spent time doing store checks and the grapevine went into overdrive. The event, in part consciously designed to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the sales team, had an immediate impact. One of the senior executives commented: “It sent a great message to the group. It gained Doug instant respect. This guy was listening.”

When Is a Bear Not a Bayer? Prior to Meyers’ appointment, a new commercial for Bayer Aspirin had been developed. The advertisement featured a bear suffering from a headache. On taking a Bayer tablet, happiness was restored! The ‘Bayer on Bear’ theme seemed like particularly clever word play and the marketing group were pumped on the commercial; it just needed sign-off. During the second week in the new job, Meyer was shown the commercial. His instinctive reaction was negative – on the basis that it promoted a happy association with the Bayer name but did little to differentiate the product in terms of efficacy. He now faced a dilemma. Should he throw his support behind a commercial he was personally uncomfortable with in order to show solidarity with his team? Or should he be authentic, state his underlying discomfort and try to work out something different (a commercial is the visual realisation of a concept; if the basic concept is flawed…). As part of his ‘entry strategy’, Meyer had made a conscious decision to support the existing team in what they were doing. In what Meyer described as a ‘get on the train’ philosophy, he decided to support the ‘Bear’ commercial.

A Product Of Our Past: Meyer, the youngest of two brothers, grew up in Scarsdale, Westchester, a thirty minute train ride north of Manhattan. Scarsdale, sometimes labelled ‘the richest town in the U.S.A.’, is not short of high achievers. With an extremely intelligent elder brother and three academic cousins (who lived locally) Meyers’ peer group set the bar high. Surrounded by academic achievers, he found his forte in American Football and Baseball and began to differentiate himself on the basis of physical prowess. Whether to overcome these early peer pressures or as a feature of some innate drive, his early and continuing life was marked by a strong need for achievement. At university he blossomed in economics. College led to graduate school and eventually an M.B.A. (Economics Major). And, this is the part I really like. He achieved this despite dealing with severe dyslexia (which he is quite open about).

Bias For Action: Meyer had a strong belief that failure based on genuine effort is acceptable; if you never fail you never try. One of his stories concerns Babe Ruth, the all time great baseball player. A little known fact is that in 1927, the year that Babe Ruth led the league in Home Runs (a record 60) he also led in strike-outs. The moral of the story was that strike-outs are acceptable – as long as you are ‘swinging the bat’. “I came here to swing the bat. Not having a clue about this business allowed me to swing and miss. The same goes for everyone around here.”  

I watched his progress from a distance. He positioned himself as playing two roles. Firstly, Doug Meyer, the marketer, a participant in discussions; secondly, that of Company President. In the early days people found it difficult to respond to this i.e. to understand which hat he was wearing (the dual role notion caused initial confusion). It was not easy to neatly ‘box’ this guy into a conventional category. When you remove people’s security they focus on C.Y.A. strategies, politicking and endless deliberations of the ‘what ifs’ – the adult equivalent of removing a child’s comfort blanket. In the meantime, the only one focusing on the business is the competition! Creating insecurity is a sure way to deflect the available time onto non-productive issues and Meyer made strong initial efforts to assure people that his job was to restore the business rather than scapegoat past efforts. It was a Masterclass in a positive entry strategy.

Meyer’s third week in office coincided with a strategic planning meeting held in Amelia Island, Florida to set the ‘strategic direction’ for the company. The various elements of the strategic process (mission statement, goal areas, objectives, strategies and action plans) were new to Meyer; the mechanics of the meeting to debate/draft a ‘new framework’ seemed clumsy. It seemed that an inordinate amount of time was spent ‘wordsmithing’ and not enough on bold strokes; the means to achievement (the Strategic Plan) seemed to have become an end in itself. The meeting moved along for a couple of days, with sub-groups painstakingly piecing the elements of the jigsaw together. Although new to the company, Meyer could sense the almost religious zeal with which the Strategic Framework was regarded and was reluctant to be critical of the process. However, inwardly, he felt a growing sense of unease.

In a move which could best be described as ‘part fact, but mostly faith’, Myers announced to a stunned audience that their strategic goal should be to build a half-billion dollar business. This represented an enormous 14% compound growth rate over the 5 year planning period, an outrageous target. Whether due to his enthusiasm, the significance of the $500,000,000 or simply the intense heat of the Florida sun, the figure was embraced by the group. It marked a crucial turning point and the meeting became much more up-beat, positive and optimistic. Within four weeks, the group had developed an ‘upside strategic plan’ of $600 million; the half billion vision had become a ‘floor’ rather than a ‘ceiling’ of achievement.

Bottom Line: Oh to swim close to confident leadership. It’s a thing of beauty. Deciding how you will enter a new role is a surprisingly important moment in time. Don’t underestimate the impact of what you do and say in the early days.


PS Lighter Note: Did you go to a catholic school? Some BIBLICAL REVELATIONS from a Catholic elementary school are listed below. Kids were asked questions about the Old and New Testament. The following statements, written by children, have not been retouched or corrected (incorrect spelling has been left as is.)

  • In the first book of the bible, Guinness, God got tired of creating the world, so he took the Sabbath off.
  • Noah’s wife was Joan of Ark. Noah built an ark, which the animals come on to in pears.
  • Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night.
  • The Jews were a proud people and throughout history they had trouble with unsympathetic Genitals.
  • Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten ammendments.
  • The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple.
  • The seventh commandment is thou shalt not admit adultery.
  • Moses died before he ever reached Canada.
  • The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed.
  • The people who followed the Lord were called the 12 decibels.
  • The epistles were the wives of the apostles.
  • Paul cavorted to Christianity. He preached holy acrimony, which is another name for marriage.
  • Christians have only one spouse. This is called monotony.

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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