About management stars and meteors

Why do managers succeed in one organization and fail in another?

Managers may ride a roller coaster as they change ship from one organization to another. So do their new employers.

By Maria Shishkova, AIMS International, August 2014

Some of us have experienced it: you are hiring this brightly shining Star into your team and expect miracles to start happening soon. In the initial months the exhilaration can still be there – it is like a romantic honeymoon. Soon after that a time may come when you realize: you need to change the expectations to the new star or change something else.

What can that something else be? Feel free to mix and match from the list below:

  1. Infrastructure in place – Frequently success occurs for a whole host of reasons and not only thanks to the Star. It might be the experience, dedication and right balance in the existing team/s in place. In other words the oftentimes invisible organizational support, expertise, processes and speed of making things happen will significantly help the Star’s rising trajectory. Sometimes even the Star may understand that previous success is not entirely thanks to him/her and face the nasty truth: success might have befallen on the Star … despite … the Star.
  2. Company history, brand name recognition and long term investment in the market presence might be some of the other fame-formative factors. An organization’s life frequently spans way beyond our Star’s employment in it. These factors can benefit the career progress immensely. Being at the right place and in the right time may explain why someone may standout even without being the right one. Imagine that the Star-forming company has been on the rise overall with or without the Star. Imagine this is part of the market/product logic or stage in the life cycle of the organization. Then all pieces may be in place and read a clear message: a truly successful company is stronger than a single individual.
  3. Existing clients

    • Yes, we all know it! It is 5 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new client than keep an old one. Depending on the industry the number of years may increase staggeringly. The longer the sales cycle needed for the specific product – the higher the cost for acquiring a new client. Now, imagine our Star rises in an organization which traditionally has an excellent track record with clients. All you have to do (and it might be a serious task in itself) is to keep them happy and loyal.The reverse of this very argument: joining a new company may cost the new employer if not 5 to 7 times more, then at least 2-3 times more. Frequently this is translated in time needed to motivate the Star’s old customer follow him/her to the new organization. So what happens to the cosmic expectations to our Star? Instead of quietly analyzing the facts and preparing for a longer ride to the coveted success, disappointment may settle.
    • Many of the previous companys’ clients opt to stay loyal to the company not to a single individual that join another organization. Forget the higher client acquisition cost for a moment. Imagine that there are other strings that bind the client to the previous employer of the Star. To name just a few: long term contractual agreements, various benefits that the client values in the relationship, higher risk aversion preference of the client, etc. Last but not least: a change is a change even when done for a good reason and human beings’ first automatic and subconscious reaction is to resist it. Many of us cling to our first reaction or impression and may not sail away from it.
  4. Team reaction – The hiring decision makers might be exhilarated by the prospect of hiring a Star! Yet, the new manager might face a team reception that could vary anywhere from lukewarm to mildly hostile and even openly antagonistic. Why? How come? Here are top 3 of at least 303 Reasons that this may happen:
    • There might be a lurking perception that the new manager has been “parachuted” to his/her new position. “Is this the right person?” is a natural question in the heads of the people not directly involved in the hiring process. Invest deliberate thinking and planning time how to communicate the new hire news to offset the parachutist perception. Using a reputable Executive Search and Selection company is a must as well. The Executive Search partner will screen the market thoroughly and will provide you with the desired peace of mind.
    • One or more people from the existing team might have longed for the same position. A manager’s role in most cases is a desired one and regardless of the fact whether there are suitable internal candidates or not, people might have had their aspirations. Therefore many organizations chose to open the selection process to existing employees to ensure fair treatment and benchmark their internal candidates to the best external ones.
    • The new manager might be replacing someone who was a formal and an informal leader as well. Heart is stronger than reason. This is what today’s behavioral scientists prove as well. Regardless of the non-impressive business results an informal leader might have consistently scored internal admirers will be acutely wary to anyone willing and daring to replace their favourite. This situation is a thin ice to tread. Some tough decisions might need to be made. Sabotaging the new manager will not do anyone any good.
  5. Joining the competitor

    • Although for many career-minded people this is a natural step in their development some clients may tend to think otherwise. They may read this as an act of disloyalty to the old employer and withdraw their trust from the Star. If the client is overall quite happy and satisfied with the service or product they receive from the previous employer they may not be terribly compassionate with the Star’s decision.b. A man is his own best friend… and enemy. No, this is not an attempt to start a philosophical discussion. If one is a real Star they would have been up in the professional universe of ideas and achievements. Beating your own records is not a piece of cake when you have already raised the bar quite high. Competing against oneself is believed the most worthwhile competition one can take part in. Frequently it is the toughest one as well.
    • It is only natural that companies may decide to stay with an organization rather than a person. After all where would you put your bets – in a proven win-win relationship with a whole company or a new venture of a single person? No wonder that it takes time and sometimes huge effort to get the old clients onboard of the new employer. This is totally understandable. Yet there are organizations that press for immediate results. Failing to produce them in time might be considered as below the expectations performance.
  6. Style mismatch – Often people might be blinded in their reasoning by the hard factors. Ignoring the behavior preferences of the hiring organization may turn to be a costly mistake for all key parties involved. A company is a living thing. It has its own character, habits, preferences that for the long time employees are already an unquestionable given. This is by far not the case for a newcomer. Failing to read the fine print of organizational style and culture can be a deal breaker at a later stage. Matters get even more complicated given that in some cases an official and unofficial culture may co-exist. Let us not go to these extremes though and say that exposing the Star to an in-depth Assessment and Development Center will mitigate a considerable amount of the risk for style mismatch.
  7. Career phase – Go back to your early career and the times when putting countless working hours a day was fun, challenge and ambition. Many people might be more willing and able to pursue their professional goals and project with utmost dedication early in their career. Others think that their time of energetic initiation is over after a certain number of years. Yet, making the transition to a new place requires renewed amounts of substantial time, drive and enthusiastic commitment till you make your through in the new environment. Landing the desired position in the business ladder is a coin with two sides. Immediately after putting the Champaign glasses back in the cupboard a new realization hits you. The desired change comes in a package with sometimes serious discomfort. While we all know that there is nothing new, useful and exciting happening in our comfort zone, we might not be entirely ready to get out of the cozy bed of the familiar world.
    Life phase – in many cases career phases mirror life phases. Getting what you want professionally may ask for an exorbitant price when we progress in our life and family obligations. Failing to make the realization and conscious choice that every victory, career one included, has a price to pay and may cost dearly our favourite Star.
  8. Old fame – new challenge: Complacency. “When did the self-esteem and confidence rooted in real laurels turned to complacency?”, an enlightened self-challenger may ask himself after failing to produce the expected outcomes. See what happened to many of the traditional favourites at the World Soccer Championships recently? Contentment quietly settles amid the applauses received. Being applauded only for “old fame” is a highway to professional hell. In sports just like in businesses any fame is old one at the time of the next trial and championship. The exceptions are so few that they only prove the point.Changing the company means not only that the Star could run into new competitors on the playground. It may mean that the Star is changing the whole game altogether: making an entry to a new business sector with different rules and people might be much more to handle. Smart employers would envision and ensure a safety net for their new Star in such cases. Frequently they would add onboarding coaching support to the focused induction and necessary training. A small thing that can make all the difference.
  9. “What got you here won’t get you there”. If you have not read Marshall Goldsmith’s business classics go ahead and do it. Especially if you are about to hire a new manager or you are the Star itself. This is a whole book of reasons why some people succeed and others cannot. The good news is that it comes equipped with tips, advise, examples and inspiration how to continue being a Star even in the coveted senior leadership position. Is this a career move that propels you to a whole new level? If so being aware and prepared to offset the weak sides or shadows of your strong areas in the context of the previous role would put a real Star ahead of the game. What used to be your carrier rocket may turn to be your burden if you don’t get rid of it in time. Imagine what would happen to a spacecraft which clings to its carrier rocket.
  10. This one is not the 10th reason of why people succeed in one organization and fail in another. It is about succeeding in the right organization. It is about staying true to oneself in your career pursuits. Take time to find out what you really want and why. Do the acid test on your reasons and find out whether you are trying to live up to general expectations for career growth or you need to find out what your real strengths and passions are. When your job is fuelled by your own strength and passions you will be invincible!

Author: Maria Shishkova, Managing Partner

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