Management Skills: Firing Yourself

Have you ever seen a new guy come into your organization and quickly rise above everyone else’s performance? Not all new guys are shooting stars, but every now and then a new golden boy, a real Captain America, shows up. The boss is fast to validate his brilliant hiring decision by pointing out the achievements of the new hero to the entire team. In a few months the new Michael Jordan’s meteoric rise will be over. He will settle into his role with a more level normal performance, but not before raising the performance standard on your team. Why do some new guys have temporary special powers? Shouldn’t they underperform first before gradually beginning to meet standards?

The first part of explaining this paradox is the notion that new guys are either not aware of or do not buy into the status quo. Newbies won’t have the same social or political ties that hold back tenured managers. New guys also wouldn’t buy the that’s-the-way-it-has-always-been excuse for poor performance. In retail, this might mean moving part of the sales force to different locations. Or a newbie might be emboldened to challenge poor margins in a location where previous managers accepted deep discounts because of competition.

The second part of the new guy phenomenon is a focus on change. New guys might look at themselves as white knights, swooping in at the last-minute to save the team from ruin. Accordingly, they look for problems and think of creative solutions to fix them. Tenured managers, myself included, look for the positive results of their actions. Other times, the day-to-day demands of business could distract me from asking myself the tough questions. New guys seek out the brutal facts about where the team is failing. Are there process execution issues? Have performance standards become lax? Is promotional, marketing or CapEx spending out of control? Asking these questions as an tenured manager could mean self-indictment, but the new guy challenges problems without risk.

Third, these white knight new guys come into the organization with something to prove. The new guy cannot bring his reputation with him from his previous employer. All of the things he achieved at the old company stay there, and the new guy sees himself in a brand new competition that he must win. Tenured managers are tempted to rest on their prior achievements. The new guy is the first to volunteer for extra work when the boss asks or the first to join a task force or committee.

The power of new guys, or newbs in the online video game world, has led me to fire myself a of couple times each year. I imagine I’ve been fired and I’m my new replacement. I force myself to answer tough questions. Where can I challenge the status quo on my team? Am I getting complacent? Where are we failing? What have I done lately above and beyond my job requirements to further the company mission?