As an executive onboarding into a new role, sometimes you can assimilate into the organization at your leisure. Most of the time the best approach is to converge and evolve. In rare situations, you must shock the organization for it to survive. These last are hot landings for which careful preparation and immediate action are critical.
Imagine taking over as head of the international governing body of a major sport. Imagine that in doing so you are the first person to defeat the sitting president of any international sport governing body in forty years in an open election. Now imagine that 68% of the winners over the last fifty years of your sport's most prestigious event are known to have violated its rules and international laws by using performance enhancing drugs.
This is the essence of a hot landing. Change is needed urgently and the people in place are generally not open to change and certainly not open to change driven by you. You have no choice but to hit the ground running, or in this case, pedaling hard.
This was exactly what Brian Cookson faced when he took over the reigns in September of the governing body of international bicycle racing, the Union Cycliste International (UCI). Reflecting on his first 100 days in an interview with Velo News' Andrew Hood, Cookson talked about what he needed to do to "repair the tattered image of cycling's governing body" and what he's put in motion since he took over in September.
Stop the bleeding
The big gaping wound was the ongoing credibility hit from doping and doping cover-ups. 68% of the Tour de France winners since 1961 used some sort of doping. Within minutes of winning the hotly contested election for president, Cookson sent an independent security company into the UCI offices to back up and lock down all the data and communications on record. Next Cookson put together an independent commission and anti-doping arm with full autonomy and freedom to clean out cycling's doping history and keep it clean going forward.
Get the detractors out of the way
Cookson knew he couldn't go forward with the same leadership that created the problems. So he shook up his management team UCI "pushing out several key administrators and replacing them with confidants he believes he can trust."
Start building for the future
Cookson took the first steps to mend fences with organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee. He's continuing the efforts to reshape the elite men's racing calendar to have smaller teams competing in fewer events and improve the sport's financial footing. He put people in place to improve the lot of women's cycling. Why? "Because it's half the world's population." His attitude is that "We have a beautiful sport that's been damaged and reduced by people who should have known better."
Implications for you
Think ACES: Assimilate, Converge and Evolve, Shock. Have a bias to converge and evolve whenever possible. When you must shock, Cookson's framework can help you survive a hot landing.
- Stop the bleeding. Of course moving the organization towards a long-term vision is what you need to do over time. But you have no chance to get there if you can't survive the short-term crisis. Recognize and deal with the most pressing urgent and important issues first. If you ignore them, they won't go away; you will.
- Get the detractors out of the way. Inevitably there are going to be some that want you to succeed, some that are on the fence and some that want you to fail. Don't try to turn your detractors into contributors. It's a fool's errand. Instead, move everyone one-step. Turn some of your contributors into champions. Turn some of the watchers into contributors. And either get the detractors to give you a chance as watchers or help them contribute to some other organization.
- Start building for the future. Stopping the bleeding and getting the detractors out of the way just gets the organization out of its downward spiral. At the same time you need to put in place the foundation for moving forward.