Out with the old

Credit: Matthew Henry

Though Marie had followed the company guidelines for hiring the new VP of product at her firm, and her hiring team were on board, something about the new hire troubled her. It wasn’t until three weeks in that she started to see the real worrying signs. Georgio, was chairing his first steering meeting as VP of product.

“I’ve reviewed the previous strategy and I cannot find anything good about it. I have no idea how you managed to get so far with your roadmap. We’re going to bring in a completely new approach. It’s shocking how you’ve been running things here. I can see why you need my help.”

The room was stunned into silence.

Does this sound familiar? When someone comes into an organisation with this approach, it generally fails for two reasons:

  1. It puts a huge pressure on them to deliver something better
  2. It demotivates and undermines the team and the business

Sometimes, radical change is what is needed. But almost every time I’ve seen someone take this approach, they go too far. The message becomes one that is motivated by ego — the ‘I am your saviour and you need to do what I say’ — rather than one that is motivated by considering what is best for the business or the team.

An alternative approach is to take a ‘solutions–focus’ approach. I was introduced to solutions–focus by Paul Jackson who created the approach. It resonates so much with me because it is similar to improv (use ‘yes, and’) and design thinking. Here’s how Georgio might have approach it differently:

  • Something good must have been in place already for the team to have got to where they are now, so let’s acknowledge this — and find out what’s working — don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
  • Ask: ‘How have we managed to get this far already?’
  • Ask: ‘What would help us get closer to our goal? focus on what’s wanted not on what’s wrong
  • Focus on actions that need to be taken to achieve change rather than trying to assign blame

What could Marie have done to remedy the situation? If you encounter someone with this approach there’s a few things you can try:

  • Challenge the analysis of their conclusions — what evidence is there that there’s a problem? Is it perception and ego or is it based on speaking with real people?
  • Do they have solutions to make it better or are they just creating a negative picture of the past? Can you help them frame the problem in a human-centred way that’s based on real evidence and real user needs?
  • What proof do they have that their approach is better? Are they taking a discovery driven — learning and data based approach? If not how can you help them do that?
  • Can you help them use a change model to assess the trade offs of their approach vs the ‘old way’?

I’m not saying don’t be bold. Bold changes can be energising for a team. What I’ve seen many times in organisations, though, is new senior hires coming in and destroying progress and moral because they are driven to make their mark on the company and make a name for themselves. Have you experienced this situation before? I’d love to hear your story.


Originally published at Nathan Waterhouse.