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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Week One: Build A Decent Framework

The first week in any new in-house role or project has many defining moments. Are you friendly and approachable, or nervous and shy? Do you listen respectfully before suggesting improvements, or arrogantly impose your own experience and expertise from the outset? Do you have a plan for how you'll approach your new role, or will you simply react to demands on your time?

One advantage to having worked in nearly a dozen businesses over the past twenty years or so is having the opportunity to experience many 'fresh starts'. Here are three steps I've learned to take each time:

1. Research the business and its products: You should've done this at interview stage (along with understanding the overall market context), but you probably didn't get the whole picture from company filings, web sites and other publicly available material. Depending on seniority, you may not get much more. Play the 'newbie' card while you can. Try to meet the lead business people and ask plenty of questions about their successes and key challenges. Ask each product manager to explain how his or her product works. Make a note of anything that surprises you - good or bad. Understand the business problem-solving methodology (if any), project planning framework (if any) and the end-to-end business processes that comprise or support the products - how customers are signed up, complaints are handled, how distribution works, the supply chains, how contractual rights are enforced. Due diligence reports, regulatory filings, major contracts, sales presentations and process maps all make great source material.

2. Figure out the top ten challenges for the business: This can be a hair-raising experience, especially in a young business or one that's poorly run. Try to be discreet, patient and under-react until you've figured out the list and considered how to align yourself with each challenge. A well-managed business will identify and prioritise its most significant challenges annually. In that case, figuring these out will involve a fairly easy discussion with the boss about the business planning cycle, the current plan and where you fit in. In other cases, there may be no clarity at all, and no process for achieving it - great opportunities for anyone with an analytical mind and a positive attitude. Clearly the annual revenue target, major product launches, acquisitions and any substantial new regulation will be likely to feature in the top ten. Addressing the organisation's substantial strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats should round out the list.

3. Figure out the top ten legal challenges: What the lawyers need to do should have become pretty clear by now. Of course you have to factor in your own major initiatives, like getting a handle on significant contracts, contested litigation, training and competence, ensuring appropriate records retention and so on. But some of that will be business as usual. The major challenges should involve cross-functional co-operation - including public affairs and PR.

I'm interested in your thoughts.

Image from De Madera Constructions.