How To Take a Fresh Look, Get New Ideas & Tackle A Challenging New Job

Let’s say you’re a new business unit leader or CMO.

You want to get an unvarnished, 360-degree view of the situation and challenge at-hand.  You have to get prepared to give your boss an action plan.

What do you do and how do you do it?

To demonstrate, let’s use a high-profile, global example that just happened.  I’ll tell you who it is at the end of the post.

Blackboard with words Look Listen Learn

Image: iStock

Here are some of the steps taken by the new leader:

* Invited a range of outside industry experts to a private dinner.  They represented views both consistent with, and alternate to, the company’s strategic direction.

* The guests had to earn their meal by commenting on the most pressing problems facing the company.  Specifically, they were asked:  “Tell me something I don’t know;” and “Give me a new way of thinking about things.”

* The company has important business operations overseas, so the new leader quickly traveled to meet key colleagues, make introductions, and get input.

* One of the outside guests commented afterwards that the new leader “is obviously a man of very high intelligence, which I think gives him sufficient confidence to listen to multiple viewpoints, including those that may diverge from the [company’s] or his own.”

* A member of the new leader’s department who participated summed up the learning campaign this way:  “He’s making this purposeful effort to break open [the company’s] habits a little bit and say: ‘Let’s look at this problem differently.’  This is reversing the paradigm.”

At the end, the new leader was expected to meet with the CEO to discuss the company’s most pressing problems.  And, presumably to offer new ideas and recommendations.

I love the approach to the new job.

It shows how to practically and effectively apply an outside-in mindset to tackle tough problems, including:

  • Being open-minded about the best path forward
  • Asking probing/difficult/controversial questions
  • Having the guts to collect thoughts from “across the spectrum” idea-generators both within and external to the company
  • Respecting the importance of engaging key company stakeholders

The key takeaway is listening and learning.  From there, it’s on the new leader to digest, formulate, communicate and move forward.

By the way, these same ideas apply even if the leader has been in the job for a period of time.  It’s never too late to step back and take a fresh look.

So, who are we talking about here?

Thanks to Dion Nissenbaum, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who wrote an insightful article about new Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s early days on the job (Ash Carter Seeks Fresh Eyes on Global Threats – February 24, 2015.)  I purposely left his identity for the end, fearing some readers might get hung-up about politics and miss the point.

To learn more on this topic, read The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan: How to Take Charge, Build Your Team, and Get Immediate Results (by George B. Bradt, Jayme A. Check and Jorge E. Pedraza).


How can you get ready for the crucible of a new business assignment?  A global news example demonstrates how a leader can apply an outside-in approach to get prepared for both the challenge and the boss.

Harvey Chimoff is a marketing and business team leader who drives performance in consumer products and manufacturing companies.

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