The unrelenting economic changes and cycles have forced companies to rethink everything. In increasing numbers, companies are now asking their executives to re-engineer themselves by taking on roles in which they have no prior experience. For instance, a company may ask its head of sales to manage IT or ask its CFO to run sales.
In a recent survey, conducted by Cohegic Corp., 75 percent of the respondents said their companies are indeed asking executives to take on roles in unfamiliar areas.
Two-thirds of the large company and half of the midsized company respondents indicated the primary driver for reassigning executives was to facilitate career growth. Smaller companies, on the other hand, specified downsizing and financial constraints as the primary driver. More than 60 percent of the small and midsize company respondents felt cross-assignments for executives is a trend here to stay.
Changing your perspectives
As an executive, you must be prepared and willing to reinvent yourself. In order to serve your company well, you must stop thinking of yourself only as a functional expert. At lower levels, functional expertise is a plus, but at upper-management levels, limited cross-functional exposure could be a liability for the company.
Managing areas of the organization in which you have no prior experience could be a potent way to change the “silo” mindset. Challenge your new team’s assumptions and standard procedures and challenge your own perspectives.
Steps to achieve success
Taking on an unfamiliar role is a daunting challenge and involves great risk. When assigned an unfamiliar role, you must consider several steps to achieve success.
Rediscover yourself: You must have a clear understanding of why the company specifically chose you for the opportunity. What does the company expect you to deliver? You must realize that your new responsibility is all about change management. The company expects you to introduce change — change in mindset, approach, culture, process, people, pace of progress, performance, etc.
Research: You must first listen. Do not be impulsive and impatiently thrust your knowledge on your team. Do not be superficial in your assessment. If you take the time to understand and diagnose the situation in detail, you will gain greater respect and cooperation from the team as you push for difficult changes. It will also give you an opportunity to build a relationship with key influencers within the team.
Relearning: Develop a new perspective. Learn how things work in this unfamiliar area of the business. Remove your previous filters, preconceived notions and biases. Do not be a know-it-all, because what got you here may not help you get there. Make it clear to the team that you have a lot to learn and remind the team they have a lot to learn from you. It is a partnership, their technical knowledge and your new approach will create the right recipe for success.
Reapply yourself: Bring to bear your management, leadership, analytical and problem-solving skills and your ability to work the organization and make things happen. Leverage your energy, enthusiasm, and confidence to help the team rise to the occasion. In order to produce change, you have to make the case for change and help your team appreciate the sense of urgency. Explain your vision and the steps to realize the vision. You will need to enlist key people from the team so you can build a coalition for success.
Results: Solve the problem, address the need and produce results. Resist the temptation to fixate on tactical issues. Do not forget why the company assigned you the role and what it expects you to deliver. Keep your focus on the big picture and never waver from the overarching goal.
Ravi Kathuria is president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting and executive coaching firm, and he is president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, WorldNews and featured on CBS Radio and the BusinessMakers Show. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, The Coherent Company: The Struggle for the Next Level.