!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Michael D. Watkins on Managing Business Transitions

Friday, October 23, 2009

Michael D. Watkins on Managing Business Transitions

In the January 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Michael D. Watkins, a one-time business professor and now chairman of Genesis Advisers, lays out a robust approach for leaders to follow in handling various business transitions, such as getting a start-up off the ground, or overseeing a distressed company's turnaround.

"Picking the Right Transition Strategy" explains Watkins' STARS framework, which outlines the challenges and opportunities inherent in five types of business transition. In addition to start-ups and turnarounds (S and T), STARS covers situations of accelerated growth (a company entering a period of rapid expansion), realignment (a company facing the need to significantly adjust its strategy in order to remain successful), and sustaining success (an executive taking over a company whose previous leader was highly effective).

Watkins spells out the full details of the STARS framework in his recently published book, Your Next Move: The Leader's Guide to Successfully Navigating Major Career Transitions. The HBR article focuses on a case study that illustrates how one senior executive, with conscious deliberation, handled a pair of assignments quite differently because the first was a turnaround, while the second was a realignment.

The case example highlights the fact that the same fundamental principles which "will ease your transition and increase your odds of long-term leadership success" come into play in all situations, but must be applied in ways specific to the particular type of transition involved. The fundamental principles are (in edited form):
  • Organize to learn about the business — Figure out what you most need to learn, from whom, and how you can accelerate the learning process.

  • Define the new strategic intent for the organization — Develop and communicate a compelling vision for what the organization will become. Outline a clear strategy for achieving the vision.

  • Establish priorities — Identify a few vital goals and pursue them vigorously. Think about what you need to have accomplished by the end of your first year in your new position.

  • Build your leadership team — Evaluate the team you inherited. When bringing new members onto the team, aim for a balance between people from inside and outside the organization.

  • Secure early wins — Think through how you plan to "arrive" in the new organization. Find ways to build personal credibility and energize the ranks.

  • Create supporting alliances — Identify how the organization really works and who has influence. Create key coalitions in support of your initiatives.
In parallel with the above principles relating to managing organizational change, Watkins addresses the "pillars of self-management" that someone assuming a leadership role must embrace in order to adapt personally, as needed:
  • Enhance self-awareness — In particular, know the leadership style that you adopt most reflexively, and be prepared to set it aside for a more suitable style if the particular transition you're managing requires that.

  • Exercise personal discipline — Ask yourself what behaviors with which you are particularly comfortable, you should now be doing less of; and what behaviors that you don't much enjoy, you should now be doing more of.

  • Build complementary teams — Get people to help you who have strengths that offset your weaker points.
You can listen to Watkins discuss much of this material in the 9:24 video below, in which he is interviewed by Sarah Green, an editor at harvardbusiness.org. Watkins also talks about on-boarding and about how you can help your family adjust to changes they have to make (e.g., moving to a new city) because of your new role.


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