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New VP Level Job Advice : A Twenty-one Point Checklist

A previous direct report just got his first VP level job at a new company and asked for a checklist to help him get off to a good start.

First, I told him to read First Time Leader by fellow MENG member George Bradt, Managing Director of PrimeGenesis, an  executive onboarding firm.

Then, I quickly typed a litany of random thoughts under the title VP Level Job Advice based on my personal experiences.

1.  Learn people’s skills and dependability.  Look for people who are very good at what they do even if their role is limited.  Leveraging strengths is much better than correcting weaknesses.

2.  Let them know that you’re there to help them (but don’t promise that you can get the company to do what they want).  Be careful about agreeing before you know enough.

3.  Set clear timetables that both you and the reports agree on.  Have checkpoints in time to correct if a project is running into problems.

4.  Look for (and look out for) someone who thinks s/he should have gotten your job.  If they help you, you’re much more likely to be successful.  Their success and therefore your success as a team depends primarily on their attitude and secondarily on their skills.

5.  Don’t be afraid to say “no” and “faster” and “better.”

6.  Fire fast…but try to do it with strategic reasons or clear misconduct that won’t make the remaining reports nervous.  Most firings are for attitude and lack of commitment, not lack of skills, although sometimes you have to trade expertise as department needs/strategies change.

7.  Know what you boss expects and be sure your team does also.

8.  Know what worries your boss and alleviate it to the degree possible.

9.  Have regular (very short) meetings as a department and scheduled one-on-ones but mainly manage by walking around/being accessible/discovering life as it happens.

10.  Say thank you…good job…when warranted.  Be positive.

11.  Spend time with your peers.  Look for the elephants which can kill you as well as protect you.  These can be hard to determine since this power is only partially based on title.  Seniority at manager and director levels can result in personal relationships.  I’ve seen admins slowly undermine Sr. VPs.

12.   Quickly determine who you can have represent you.  Example: I had one manager who could go to any meeting in the company at any level and always get cooperation.  She had natural bonding skills that built relationships and trust for me as well as herself.  The converse is obviously true.

13.  Determine if you have a godfather, why s/he is in that role, and how long it will last.  You’re on a short honeymoon as a new hire.

14.  Spend time in meetings with other departments so you can learn the company and let your team do their work.  Build relationships before they are necessary.

15.  Learn the company jargon fast.  You’re not one of them until you naturally use the same acronyms.  Make a list and review it each night.  I even had lists made for me at two companies when I went into new industries.

16.  Spend time with your boss.  Ask:  How am I doing?  What do you need?  Don’t be afraid to generate criticism since it’s better to learn it early while you have time to correct the perceived problems before they fester.

17.  Find thirty, sixty, and ninety day wins.

18.  You usually don’t need to rock the boat, but it’s important to have a few things each quarter that you can point to that weren’t happening (at all or as well) before you joined.

19.  Probe:  Why did they make this position?  Why did they hire from outside the company?  Why did they hire you?  What’s their expectation, including a timeline?

20.  Make some changes.  They didn’t hire from the outside just to continue doing exactly what they were doing before.

21.  Realize that there are many opinions, often contradictory, to the above questions.  While it’s impossible to get a clear consensus, you have to decide whom to follow, whom to placate, and whom you can lead.

As I reread this list, I realized the obvious:  Most of your success at the new company will be determined by people and your skill at dealing with them to achieve important but not necessarily clearly understood benefits.

What additional new VP level job advice would you have offered?

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About Richard Sellers

Richard is Chairman Emeritus of the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), founder of the Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and the Marketing Corporation of America. You can follow his communications about marketing, social media, and careers using the Twitter icon below.

One Response to "New VP Level Job Advice : A Twenty-one Point Checklist"

  • Josh Carroll
    June 4, 2015 - 20:36 Reply

    Thank you for these – this is great advice for a new VP!

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