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Making the Most of Your 'Honeymoon' at Your New Assignment

By Ernest Auerbach Guest Blogger for Texas Enterprise

Ernest Auerbach is a recently retired corporate executive who held management positions in the U.S. and overseas at Xerox, CIGNA, New York Life Insurance International and AIG. He started and led the insurance practice in Mexico for Andersen Consulting. He is the author of Joining the Inner Circle, How to Make it as a Senior Executive, and numerous articles in the Wall Street Journal and other publications. He lives with his wife in Austin.

Let’s say you just were given responsibility for the bottom line results of a company, division, or even a smaller organization. Generally, you will be judged by your management on three criteria: achievement of profit and revenue goals and cost containment; continuing communication to subordinates of your expectations and ethical standards, and the development of people. I think that a lot of your success will depend on what you do early in that new responsibility – during your ‘Honeymoon.’ Here are a few things you can do to help assure excellent results.

  • Team assignment. Give your management team an assignment with a tight but realistic deadline--say, a week--so that the group may have to work beyond the regular work day. The topic could be, “What is right and wrong in this organization, and what should be done?” Don’t pick a team leader or spokesperson and don’t prescribe the form of presentation. You will learn several things: the quality of the work and the group’s determination to meet the deadline. You will learn who the group thinks is its best leader and presenter. You also may get some really good ideas for improving the operation.
  • Individual assessments. Spend quality time with each of your senior staff members. Listen to what they want to tell you. People make the difference between success and failure. People don’t like change, so calm your people down, be candid with them, and address their legitimate concerns. Don’t be hoodwinked by whiners and tattle tales who blame others for failures or use the talk as a way to lash out at other colleagues. You may find out in these talks whom you can count on and who may need to leave your team.
  • Freeze head count. I am firmly convinced that every organization can take a head count cut of between 5%-15% every two years. A fat factor creeps in – another staffer here, another there. Organizations tend to staff to perform “nice-to-do work” rather than “what must be done or should be done.” Best to make cuts when times are good so you have a spare organization when the economy turns south. Cuts must include professionals--not just support staff. Require your personal approval before anyone can be hired. Watch the improvement in your bottom line as the numbers shrink.
  • Budget control. You will learn a great deal by analyzing the budgets in your organization. Study them carefully. Review expenses and performance against budget. You soon will know as much about unit operations as your staff. Improvement will occur when you dig in to the budget, even if someone thinks they can fool you.
  • Field visits. Although I always tried to have strong staff people on whom I could rely, there’s nothing more powerful than looking around yourself. Go to the field, talk to people in small groups. That’s different than the popular 'Town Meeting' device senior managers use to communicate with field staff. I’ve attended these meetings. Rarely is there candor. Talking behind closed doors without intermediate managers present promotes open discussion. Not only will you learn a lot; your staff will be on their toes.

While there many things a new person in charge wants to do and can do early on, concentrate on the few that will help ensure the success you seek. Your enthusiasm and commitment will show through.

A note from Ernest: In a series of management columns of which this is the first, I will write on topics to help professionals, managers and leaders succeed in their careers. I will concentrate on practical matters that I learned through trial and error during my own corporate career. I invite comments on these columns and suggestions on topics you would like covered.


#1 I truly believe that the

I truly believe that the honeymoon period offers the perfect opportunity to make a real difference. You only have one chance opportunity at this and unless you make the most of it, it will be a wasted opportunity. You don't need to rush in and try to change everything but with a calm and collected approach, you can make a lasting impression which will reap rewards further down the line.

#2 Ernest - I thought that was a

Ernest - I thought that was a great article. I think the points you raised are good ones, but I've seen instances in which a new manager can jump in too quickly in a rush to hit the ground running (to steal rob's line) and don't take the time to listen to those around them. That can be a recipe for failing to build relationship goodwill up front that may be needed later when times turn tough and more is asked of a smaller team.

#3 I have always felt that the

I have always felt that the honeymoon period is a time to make your mark. Rather than drift through it I have always tried hard to hit the ground running during this period which means that I am ahead of the game when the flack starts to fly when this period has ended and it's all about results.

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