Whenever someone wishes to rise through the ranks of employees faster than their colleagues, or, when a manager is gifted a larger management role or assigned to a run a new division or even transitions to a new company, there is one vital skill that helps to launch that person to the top of the success pyramid: uncovering the drivers of, (or that create), complexity.

The most important asset during the transition to higher levels, or more responsibility, is TIME.

Average-performing managers let time pass with the hopes of time, itself, helping to reveal the tactics and strategies that need to be acted upon. Awesome-, excellent-performing people have learned to be greedy with every second of their time and the time of others, especially the time of the company itself. The old adage that a new leader has 100 days to prove him-, her-, em-self, is nothing more than the head-fake provided by the proverbial management “guild” as a deception to screen out weaker managers who are suckered into believing that adage. In other words, if you think you have 100 days, you are likely about 50 to 75 days too late to be a consistently excellent manager.

But beware. I am NOT advocating that you jump into a new role and in the first 25 to 50 days dump a pile of self-derived changes upon your staff. That would create absolute chaos! I am suggesting that, those first 25 to 50 days, you do your most impressive, detective work, your most impressive learning, to be able to lay a SOLID FOUNDATION to move forward. Great detective work during those early days will let you lay a solid, unarguable, path to success.

In the early 25 to 50 days, you need to uncover, like a detective, the factors that caused problems, people who are stuck at a plateau or in ruts,  and those factors that can become your KEY SUCCESS FACTORS…the critical buttons to push that will accelerate the team and the company.

A wonderful place to begin is with your people. Yes, I am suggesting the old adage, “It’s the people, stupid!”.

The answers are not in the P & L, or the marketing plan, etc. There, you find plenty of complexity. Focus on the people, not on the P & L, or on market share, or on the distribution network, etc. As a first step, your people will provide your greatest leverage, if you watch, observe, and have the courage to remove the early obstacles THEY suggest which issues, concerns, corporate systems, etc., may be hampering their further progress. You will not only benefit from face-to-face discussions about removing various hurdles, as perceived by the employee, him-, her-, em-self, but by being their you likely will uncover hurdles and limitations by observing as an “independent” pair of eyes.

REMOVE the SYSTEM/PROCESSES from blocking and handicapping employees trying to do a good job!

In selling, there is an adage, “Give your pitch, then SHUT UP!”  In GREAT management there is something similar: “Ask your direct reports for THEIR ideas while keeping your MOUTH SHUT!”  But, that “asking” also includes watching, visiting, working with them at their desk or in the field, etc., and even trying it for yourself to get some hands-on experience.   In other words, spend some time, early in your new responsibility, working shoulder-to-shoulder with EACH employee on your team.

During those early days, your most valuable verbage just might be, “Explain to me…” Or, one I like to use, myself, “I’m new. Can you help me with…?” Or, “I’m trying to figure out lots of things. Can you help me to understand…?” But, of course, don’t be an idiot about it.  Don’t simply mouth the words because you are reading this suggestion and now are mechanically implementing this suggestion. Be sincere. Be empathetic. Don’t make your employees uncomfortable. Give your direct reports a chance to “break you in”, so to say.

Yet, wherever you see COMPLEXITY you make note of it and plan to make that a target for removal or repair. Needless complexity almost always results over time and almost always tends to limit corporate progress. A major source of needless complexity comes from managerial ego of previous managers who impose THEIR IDEAS, their constructs, though not productive, upon the team or division, for nothing more than to be identified in the eyes of their supervisors/board of directors as having made a mark or a change,.  [I’ve written extensively on this site about dangers of managrial ego–type that into the search box if you need to read more about it.]

To discover needless complexity you must UNCOVER/DISCOVER and understand the key success factors within each job function as if stripping each action, opinion, resource back down to its bare essentials. Complexity, once discovered, must be stripped away since it is like an infection that creates  exponentially  wasteful  actions/tasks, ENERGY/RESOURCES.

Over time, people, (politicians are especially notorious for this!!), pile on complexity, either knowingly or unwittingly, for many reasons ranging from ego satiation to over-complicating to baffle others to avoid the need to improve or change.

Among the most productive areas within which to discover needless complexity is: tactics/procedures of your sales team; systems as barriers or obstacles; habits; entrenched protocols; old equipment/tools; limitations imposed by geographical distances; inadequate or delayed communication systems; poor training…and changes made by previous managers.

BUSINESS CASE: 3 days after I located to my new office, I hit the road to work with the sales team. I watched this particular sale rep shaking in his boots, loading up with armfuls of brochures and sales samples and fumbling through his presentation as I watched him interact with the customer. Through the day we repeated this about 5 times. And, guess what…we walked away from 5 sales that day.  He failed to close even one order. And yes, I kept my mouth shut for each failure. After each sales call, when we returned to the car, I asked how he felt. He had a string of reasons for not making the sale, but for each one it amounted to a “need” to introduce the products and come back again in the near future to close the sale, (“close” is sales speak for getting an order). I didn’t argue with him. After all, he was one of our experienced sales reps and I was the new kid on the block. But I did ask if I could handle the last sales call of the day, and if he would be willing to jump in any time I was wrong or misrepresented anything because of my lack of product knowledge. He agreed and was only too happy to dump the sales responsibility onto me. In we went…

In the lobby, with a puzzled expression on his face, he asked, “You just have a notepad?  What about our sales samples?”

I asked, “Which one should I have taken with us?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

“Well, let’s find out what he needs”,  I replied.

We listened to the customer and emerged with a massive order…no sales samples were used.

In the car, while parked, I asked for my critique.  He simply said, “Wow!”  Once I got the sale rep to discuss and compare what I did, (SIMPLIFICATION), to what he was doing, (COMPLEXITY), our conversation flowed rather nicely, and pleasantly into many other ways he could simplify rather than over-complicate his job.  A few weeks later when I returned to work with him I found myself working with a much more successful, much more energized, and much happier sales person.

And then the magic happened. He revealed his most inner desire…

All this time he secretly desired to be the first technical support person to reside and support our sales people in that territory. At that time, this was not in line with our corporate guidelines. I made that happen with the help of my executive and magic happened. Sales in that territory rose dramatically. Customer satisfaction soared.

By locating this technical resource closer to the sales team in that territory, and closer to the customers, we stripped that team of the needless calls and emails to justify each and every request to fly technical support across the country to tend to various issues.  And customer problem resolutions happened days faster, too.

With the help of an idea that originated from a fulfilled and happy sales person, together, we made a positive, needed, change that reduced complexity and boosted productivity.