I was speaking with a Sales Executive. He was relatively new to the company, he’d been in the role for a few months. The organization had been performing reasonably well, but they wanted to expand and grow quickly. He had been recruited to lead that effort.
As we spoke, he said, “Dave, I don’t understand. We’re doing well, but not as well as I had hoped. I don’t know why things aren’t working.”
I asked what things he had done, and what he didn’t think was working. He replied, “In my past company, we did a number of things that were very effective. I’ve transplanted those things to this team. I brought in a couple of my old people to help. We’ve shifted much of our technology to the same technology that we used in the old company. We’ve introduced the sales methodology that we used in our old company. We’ve……”
I replied, “So you’ve tried to replicate much of what you did in your previous company here?”
“Of course,” he replied, “that’s what made me so successful there, why wouldn’t I just do the same things?”
And that’s the error so many new leaders make (It’s also the error many very good sales people make).
This company is different, not just the products and markets, but the culture, the value system, the way they get things done. What they want to achieve, how they hold the customer, how they want to be perceived in the markets is different.
As a result, the things that made us successful in the past, may not work. They may be completely wrong.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my career is just the same thinking, “This is what made me successful before, I’ll just do it again…”
I had been recruited to run sales in a large technology company. They were struggling, so the CEO and Board expected and knew that I would be making big changes.
In my prior job, I had been a bit of a rockstar. We had been in a very difficult position, we managed to turn it around and start achieving wild success. Part of what attracted the CEO to recruiting me was that experience. He had seen what I had done at my previous company and thought that experience was just what he needed.
So I rushed headlong into this new role. I started instituting a lot of the things we had done previously. I explained to people how successful we had been, and by doing the same thing here, we could rapidly achieve success.
Early on, I started seeing the signs of things not working. People weren’t resisting, in fact they were embracing the changes as best they could. After all, I kept talking about how successful things had been at the other company.
But in spite of everything, I could see the early signs of things not working.
In a staff meeting, I asked my team what was wrong. I suggested we double down on our efforts. I asked if there was any resistance. I wasn’t getting the responses I had hoped for.
Finally, one of my RVPs, Sherm, had the courage to say, “But Dave, we’re different. We’re not your old company. What we do is very different, how we do it is very different, the reason all of us are here with this company is probably different than the reason people worked at your previous company.”
Then he went on, “If things were so great at your previous company, why did you leave and come here? Why do you want to re-create your old company here?”
That’s the difficult challenge any of us have as we move into new roles. It’s the mistake hiring managers make.
Part of the reason we are being hired is because of our prior success. But what made us successful before isn’t necessarily what will make us successful in our current roles.
When I work with CEOs in recruiting new people, they often say, “I want her to do the exact same things she did in her previous company….” I usually challenge them with, “What makes you think those are the right things to do here? Why do you think it will work here, after all, everything you’ve told me is how you are different?”
In reality we aren’t or shouldn’t be looking to replicate what we have done in the past. We have to figure out what works in our current situation. Our past experience gives us the ability to assess what’s happening, to think about what changes might be needed. So our experience is important to our ability to assess, understand, develop, implement, and execute the changes needed. But they will be specific to the company—and what will work with that organization.
Perhaps, talking past the close, we see this same error in too many other situations. We look at what our competition is doing. We look at “best practices.” We look at the high performing organizations. We assess what they are doing, copying and trying to emulate them. Inevitably it fails, or is not as successful as it has been in other situations.
There is nothing wrong with looking at what other people/organizations are doing. It’s actually quite helpful, it gives us ideas we might never have thought of. It’s not wrong to look at the things that we’ve done successfully in the past.
But we have to recognize that “copying” them, trying to replicate the same thing in our current situations is unlikely to work. Each organization, each culture, priorities, strategies, values, and what works is different.
Our job is to understand those differences and adapt, modify, and adjust things so they work in in the current company. And it is likely to be importantly different than your past experience.