Key questions to ask in your first week of a new leadership role

When starting a new role such as a director or managing director, or even a departmental manager, it is fundamentally important for future success in the role and for the company, that you quickly understand the people and learn their views and perceptions.

This is a good time to have conversations about the how the business runs, it’s culture and get to grips with information on what it does well and any inefficiencies and problems. Meet the people individually at many levels and get to know them, then cover these six key questions:

Meet your team

Getting off on the right foot and making a good impression will stand you in good stead especially if you have been brought in to implement change. Get to know your colleagues and team and ask them about their role, what they enjoy and what difficulties they come across in carrying out their work. You could ask them what needs to be done to fix the problems or inefficiencies and what else would make your job easier. Talking to people helps you to get to know each other, which makes things easier when any changes, or a new push, are undertaken. After you have met your team and heard their feedback it might be that some need further training to be able to do their job well. The answers to this question gradually, or soon, reveal performance and people issues and helps to review which processes and equipment need improving and also the people involved in the various tasks.

What are the plans and strategy?

You’ll want to know, even before you start the role, how well the company is being managed? What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) measurements and control systems? What is the implementation process? How is it working? How are communications conducted in the company? And crucially what is holding the company back form growing faster and more profitability? Depending on the type of business you have joined the first week and meetings are the time to get to understand where the business is heading and your role in that.

Reviewing the financials

If you are going to be involved in bringing in new business or have a budget to manage then asking for an overview or a deep dive into the financials is a good place to start.

The key thing to look at is the overall sales, the trends, and the outstanding orders. Then look at the gross profit and percentage trend. Review the direct costs of materials or product and direct labour, and their percentages against the top line sales figure. What is the trend and what does this tell you; decline, static, increasing? Is enough gross profit in value being generated to cover the overheads? Why not? What needs to be done? Are overheads too high or when do you expect sales (and good) margins to increase? Check the margins on the product groups, customers, and individual products. This should be straightforward, just review sales by product with the direct costs, ranking worst margin to best. That will tell you immediately how the company is doing on profitability.

There are other things to review in the accounts. The cash situation should be looked at with regard to the bank balance debtor days, creditor days, and the amount of stock, which may be tying up cash.

Understand the audience

What is your market? The market may be large, but what is the need for their products?  Who specifically are their customers?  What are the alternative products on the market? What benefits does the product have over alternatives? Who and how good are the competitors?  I have been told about big markets, but then we find there was no requirement for the product, or only minimal demand against the alternatives. Either the products benefits were not strong enough and/or the price could be too high. For one company the alternatives had greater benefits and cheaper price because of design. I have had clients who have spent thousands of pounds on patents, only to find sometimes there is no demand for their products. These companies had not even asked any basic questions of potential end users or distributors.  Some research indicates that seventy percent of start-ups fail within three years. Obviously reasons can vary like running out of cash, or insufficient marketing and publicity, insufficient distribution, but mainly failure is because of insufficient, or no real demand for their product.