There are two types of newly minted CEOs and each exhibit characteristics that are highly predictive of their success: those who hit the ground running, making changes within the first week or so, and those who wait to get their feet on the ground before making changes. The latter almost always succeed, while the former struggle – in some cases, significantly.
Nadella should consider these six pieces of advice:
- Spend time learning. This time will pay off handsomely later. Thomas Gilbert, author of Human Competence, said, “Look before you listen.” Since everyone puts his or her spin on any situation or problem, it is important to first learn directly from the people who create the deliverables. Begin with engaging statements like: “I need your help with x” and “What are your thoughts on y?”
- Convert former peers into allies. Because Nadella is an insider, most people who now report to him probably had some desire to hold his new job. To avoid a talent drain such as GE experienced post-Jack Welch, Nadella will need to convert prior relationships into constructive new ones. He should use words like “we,” “ours” and “us” since the task to meet the needs of Microsoft’s customers and shareholders requires that all be involved. Nadella might look to the example of Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, who resolved relations between former board member Roy Disney and the company’s management, as well as regained strategic control by centralizing decision-making power.
- Make changes slowly. This is the fastest way to effect change. When small changes are successful, employees are motivated to accept other changes and increase their efforts. With this tactic, improvement is exponential as the pace accelerates though the positive reinforcement generated from prior successes.
- Have managers solicit front-line employees’ suggestions of practices and processes they consider wasteful and their ideas for fixing them. There are thousands of inefficiencies in an organization as big as Microsoft. Every policy, process and management practice should be evaluated from the perspective of, “How will this facilitate satisfying the customer and the shareholder?”
- When it comes to how people are treated, make changes quickly. Microsoft is not known for having people-friendly processes and management behaviors. The company only recently eliminated its stack ranking process, which did not put people first. Nadella should make sure managers who bully, blame and publically berate employees are removed. This will clearly signal to employees that it’s really a new organization and one they will like.
- Focus on developing strong leaders who aren’t wedded to the past. Developing internal talent should be a priority, but don’t be afraid to look elsewhere also. While it’s important to surround yourself with familiar talent, it’s also important to be open to new ideas. Nadella might take a page from Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who when he served as Google’s CEO, surrounded himself with talent that transformed the company, making 100 acquisitions including YouTube, DoubleClick and AdMob, and launching hundreds of products.
If Nadella follows these steps, he will lead his team in achieving results that will keep the board off his back and move Microsoft on a fast track toward his new initiatives and goals. In truth, any newly minted CEO should profit from this whether he or she is a seasoned insider like Nadella or someone who comes in from the outside.
Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D., is the founder of workplace consulting firm Aubrey Daniels International and president of the Aubrey Daniels Institute. Dr. Daniels, who coined the term “performance management,” has written six management books, including Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness, Measure of a Leader, and Oops! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead). He regularly blogs here and for Talent Management Magazine.