Reaching peak performance in the workplace

THINKING about taking on a new role? Have you been getting calls from the headhunters lately? If so I’d advise you look before you leap – starting in a new role is a high-risk activity.

The focus this week is on what to do when you’re facing your next career mountain.

As we learned last week, up to 40 per cent of newly appointed leaders fail in their new roles, according to consulting firm Manchester Partners. Why?

Think about the realities of beginning a new role: a new environment; a new team with a new agenda; a new boss; and new priorities – that’s a pretty big learning curve, most of which won’t be spelled out in the job description. As a client of mine, one who started a new role two months ago, said to me this week: “I’ve learned that there’s no blueprint for success in this role – I have to create my own”.

In my past work as a recruitment consultant I was able to observe the challenges a typical manager faces when moving into a new role. I believe that most job changers make two big mistakes.

First, they don’t stop to analyse what success looks like in the new position, and whether this is in alignment with what they really want. They’re too often seduced into the new role by a great offer, without considering how the role aligns with their value system, life priorities or higher purpose. You see it all the time – moving away from what they don’t want, rather than towards what they do. This ultimately results in the new role being a lot of hard work with not a lot of satisfaction – a good recipe for disaster.

Second, they don’t ask the hard questions, either at interview stage or soon after starting. Questions like: “What tangible results will be expected of me in the first year?”; “How will my performance be measured – both officially and unofficially?”; and “Who will support me, and who will hinder my progress?” Yes, hard questions.

To get the answers takes time, and often time is what a newly appointed manager lacks. Hence the newly appointed leader’s dilemma – to deliver early results while learning the ropes and learning new skills.

Here are three practical tips for when you’re facing your next career challenge.

Have direction. Know where you’re going and why. Define clear personal and organisational goals for the results you seek. Make them attractive goals – build in a ‘what’s in it for me’ factor to increase your motivation. Ensure that your goals are aligned with the top priorities of the role, otherwise you may climb the ladder only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

Map the territory. I’ve recently coached a senior manager who was parachuted into a newly created project management role nested in a politically hostile environment. She was clear on her objectives, however she knew that to succeed in the role she needed to win the political game as well.

Together, we ‘mapped the territory’, identifying who was crucial to her success, rating the quality of the relationships as they stood, and creating strategies to develop the relationships to where they needed to be.

This allowed her to proactively approach the key people and build bridges, ultimately resulting in her project being embraced organisation-wide. Without taking the time to learn her surroundings, she may well have never had a chance, regardless of how clear her goals were.

Stay sharp. As you move into your new role, you’ll most likely have a lot of extra energy, stemming from your enthusiasm. As with all honeymoons, this too will pass, and you’ll soon need to sustain your pace in another way. It is crucial to ensure you maintain a healthy balance so you don’t burn out a few months into the role. Setting goals that are non-work related can help you achieve this.

Don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes. They’re the fastest way to move forward. But make sure you learn from them before moving on.

Making time for reflection can help you learn the lessons, as well as help you track your progress – if you’re off track, it’s better to know sooner rather than later. And, as you achieve milestones, you get to celebrate them, rather than rush on by.

Have direction, map the territory, stay sharp. Simple strategies for maximising success and minimising risk in your new role. Don’t leave your old job without them.

p Next week: How management can get the best out of its people.

p Digby Scott is director of The Catalyst Group. He can be contacted on 9385 0888 or

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