When you are hired into a position after someone has left the organization, my advice is this: Don’t speak ill of the departed! You may not find things in good order, or the way you would like to have left them. However, don’t take the low-hanging fruit of blaming your predecessor for every issue that arises, and don’t accept finger-pointing from your new team either. In my decades of experience, there is always more to a situation than meets the eye.
Perhaps the person you followed had different organizational priorities they had to align with or had different talents or expertise. Maybe they lacked time or resources or were dealing with an overbearing board of directors. There may have been a lack of a cohesive senior leadership team. The state of an organization can cause focus on one area, while another area does not get attention. Be fair to your predecessor—they likely addressed one problem area so that it would make it easier for the next person to make improvements other areas.
By focusing your efforts on getting perspective on the current problems and their context rather than pointing fingers and leading your team to do the same, you can make positive impacts more quickly while also creating a culture where others are spoken of with respect.
Rather than focus on what’s wrong, focus on what to do next. To determine the current priorities, you need to ask the right questions.
- Where are we right now?
- How did we get here?
- What is at the root of these issues?
- What are the top priorities? What has to happen first?
- How can we build on the progress that has already been made?
You also need to get comfortable asking for help. Too often, people who are new to an organization are hesitant to reach out for help because they don’t want to be seen as incompetent. But the smart person learns how to effectively ask for help and knows when to ask for it.