With Martin G. Moore

Episode #71

New Industry? No Problem! Success through Leadership

Thinking about how to transition to a new company or industry when you don’t have the technical expertise? For all our listeners who are changing roles (company, industry, or job function), this episode addresses some of the key challenges.

We look at the role of diversity and inclusion, how to recognise and leverage your generic skillset, and why your technical expertise becomes less critical as you move up the ladder.

I also give you a guided tour of my multiple successful career transitions, and outline the core capabilities and focus areas that will help you to master any transition.

The free PDF resource for this episode absolute gold, the ‘9 Ways to Transition into a New Industry‘ -download it below!


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Episode #71 New Industry? No Problem! Success through Leadership

Hey there, and welcome to Episode 71 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast, this week’s episode: New Industry? No problem! Success through leadership. I hope you’ve all had a little bit of downtime over the Christmas/New Year period and I really hope you’ve already joined our Crush Your Career Challenge because you really want to set 2020 up as being a sensational year.

This week we’re going to get right back into the hardcore content with a question from our listener, Aaron. He’s asked, “How do you handle being a leader in a new industry when you don’t have any technical expertise?” This is quite a complicated topic, so I’m going to make it a little bit broader and look at a bunch of concepts: diversity and inclusion, how you recognise, grow and leverage your generic skillset, understanding what level of technical expertise is required for the level you’re actually at, and why technical expertise is less critical the higher you move up. Whether you’re thinking about changing industries, moving companies, or simply working out how to move up to the next level. I know that something in the next 20 minutes is going to help you through your journey. I’m going to start with an overview of my own chequered career in which I changed industries multiple times and probably as much as any senior executive you’d care to talk to. We’ll then have a brief chat about diversity. I’ll explore why the level you’re operating at actually matters and then we’ll finish with what leadership capabilities you need to pull all of this off. So let’s get into it.

I’m just going to start with a quick fly over the top of my unusual and unique career path, and for the rest of the episode I’m going to give you some lessons that you can apply based on my experience. So I had a functional background in IT. Software development and project management were my core technical skills. Of course these are very transferable across industries and I learned my craft in the IT industry as an analyst programmer in the banking sector. But it wasn’t too long before I moved into the consulting industry and my early career threw me into many different industries in rapid succession, so telecommunications, aviation, banking, insurance, utilities and so forth. So when I commenced my serious career as an executive in about 2001 this is where it gets interesting, because in the next 15 years or so I would work in four different: industries, mining, insurance, rail transportation and energy.

And it was in that role at National Transport Insurance that I first moved from a Chief Information Officer role. It was my first non-IT style of role. Now this happened because I’d expressed a desire to broaden my horizons. I’d been in the business for about three years and I’d show in my worth to the CEO and the executive team there and I understood the insurance industry pretty well. So what I was able to do was to demonstrate that I could successfully transition from my existing function as a CIO to a completely different role as Head of Strategy. And I happened to have a CEO with the vision to see how I could add value in that completely different role and context. So when I moved into my next role in the rail sector, I’d already demonstrated some ‘role agility’ as they like to call it. I started off by running Shared Services where the CIO reported to me as well as all the back office functions, procurement, project services, etc.

After that, I acted in the CFO role for a substantial period. Now bear in mind, I had no specific finance qualifications. One of my key roles was driving the capital productivity initiative to improve Aurizon’s balance sheet. I then moved on to a role as Senior Vice President of Marketing, responsible for some of the company’s largest contract renewals. And these are multi-year business to business contracts worth billions of dollars in revenue. None of this would have been possible if I was just another person submitting a resume into a recruitment consultant. But the thing was, I was working for people who knew me. They knew my capability and my track record, and they’d already seen me shift roles from one context to another. So they had confidence that my transferable skills were going to bring value to wherever they put me. And because I was able to successfully transition through a bunch of roles at Aurizon, the Chair of CS Energy, who I come into contact with briefly, my time at Aurizon, tapped me on the shoulder to go and run the company as Chief Executive. Now, this is a different path to most, but everyone’s path is absolutely unique. I’m going to talk about the lessons I learned from my executive journey. And today I’m going to put a really meaty downloadable for you, which can get from our website www.yourceomentor.com/episode71 this is really going to be a checklist for how you move forward if you’re ever faced with that change of context.

Let’s start by talking about the four key principles of transitioning from a role or a company or an industry to a different one. The first thing is, you can’t do any of this without knowing the business. Now, I learned the business profoundly, every time I went into a new context, even though I was only in functional roles initially rather than line roles. I would ask myself questions like, “How does the business make money, really? Who are the important stakeholders? What are the biggest levers for improvement that I have available to me? How strong are the competitive forces in the industry? What’s our unique selling proposition and what value do we bring to our customers and how do we do that?” These are really important questions in getting your head around how a business and industry operates.

What I learned about myself was that in a new industry, it would take me about six months to acquire knowledge to be comfortable. When I say comfortable, I mean to have a robust level of competence. But it would take me about two years to understand the industry profoundly, which leads me to number two. Until you gain that profound understanding of your industry and business, you need to learn how to use everything you have in the meantime. I break this down into three categories, people, transferrable experiences and high order capabilities. I’m going to leave the people stuff to a little bit later in the podcast, but basically you’ve got to work out how to get the most from what you’ve got and if you haven’t got it, you’ve got to work out how to buy it and get it in. Transferable experiences are things that you bring from your other industries and companies. So for example, there was some real similarities between mining, rail transportation and energy. They’re all asset intensive industries and so a similar profile in terms of how you decide to purchase and invest in those assets and how you maintain and operate them. And of course they’re very similar in terms of how you manage and lead unionised blue collar workforces.

And then we have high order capabilities.These are the generic capabilities that you take with you to a senior level, no matter what industry or business you’re in. So things like communication, problem solving, decision-making, negotiation, commercial skills, competitive strategy and so forth. Learning how to leverage those things for the advantage of your organisation is key.

Number three, don’t be held hostage by your technical domain identity. And when I say that, I mean whatever your home ground is, mine was software development and project management in the it sector, but I couldn’t have been Chief Executive of an energy business had I not learned to leave that behind me and to broaden my skillset. Interestingly, in my experience, very few people break out of their functional role until they’ve reached quite high levels. So for example, it’s a cliche that a CFO will eventually become a CEO at some point. Most people tend to hold onto their technical identity for far too long and this is actually a double edged sword. So on the upside, people who hold onto their technical identity continue to hone their craft to an incredibly expert level, which is good, right? But on the downside, while focusing on the technical expertise, people aren’t explicitly and consciously developing their more generic capability and their leadership skills. And this is why a lot of executives don’t have expertly honed communication skills, they’re not very good negotiators, they don’t sufficiently understand competitive strategy and investment choices and capital productivity and all the things that are going to make them successful as transferable skills.

Number four, understand the difference between business and functional roles. These are sometimes described as line roles versus staff roles or P & L versus non P & L roles being profit and loss statement roles. So many of you who are functional leaders will understand the forces at play here, but it’s not always clean cut. So for example, if you’re a lawyer in a law firm whose primary source of revenue is providing legal services, then that’s actually a business role. If you’re a lawyer as an in house counsel in a mining company, then that’s going to be a support role or a staff role. But whether you’re in a business role or a functional support role, both are critical to getting a result and taking your organisation forward. And in fact, some of the biggest value drivers I’ve seen in some organisations come from what we would consider support roles. What’s important to remember though is that functional roles are super flexible in terms of your ability to transition between different companies and industries. The only question is, ultimately, you need to work out whether you’re happy in a support role or whether you want to be in a role with P & L accountability.

I just want to touch very briefly on diversity. Having diversity around you is key. Cross industry experience is some of the best type of diversity you can bring to bear. So you need to work out the power of this as soon as you possibly can. We’re not just talking about gender diversity here, male, female. There’s a range of ways in which you can bring diversity into the picture. So different industry experience, cultural background thinking styles, personality types, international country experience, functional roles, demographics. There’s a whole range of things that bring diversity into your team and you need to work out how to leverage that. This is all about creating value and bringing in different experiences from different contexts enables you to do that. The trick is working out how to blend this diversity with the deep experience that already exists in your company and industry. You basically need to work out how to utilise the unique talents, experience and capability of all your people. Interestingly, the better you are at understanding how your own diverse experience brings value to a new company or industry, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to spot that value in others. This is really about joining dots. You’ve got to work out what translates and is relevant from your past experience that could actually bring unique value to where you are now.

Why does level matter? This might sound a little counterintuitive, but the higher up you are, the easier it is to cross over industries or on a more modest scale, companies. But as a leader at any level, the one thing you have to do is establish credibility with your people quickly. If you don’t understand the work your people are doing, the ones immediately below you, it’s pretty hard to establish that credibility. So for example, if you try to move someone with no industry experience in a leadership role at a frontline supervisor or team leader level, this can often have some unintended consequences. For example, a leader who’s run a small mechanical maintenance team in a mining company would be completely out of their element trying to run a small team of financial modellers, say in a property development company. At that level, they have to understand a little more about the technical content of the work and how it’s done.

However, it’s not a big leap at all to imagine a CFO of a mining company becoming the CFO of a property development business. They could gain credibility straight away because the technical elements of their role are pretty much the same. They’re high order capabilities. So they need to understand the performance drivers of the business, set and monitor budgets, manage the balance sheet and working capital, report in to the senior management and board. They need to understand and make recommendations on debt and equity structures and so forth. We’re talking about high order skills, that required breadth of thinking and sophisticated pattern recognition and obviously the higher up you go the more applicable these capabilities are.

Let’s finish by talking about what leadership capabilities you need to be able to pull this off. So if you’re thinking of moving beyond the confines of your current career path trajectory, you need to get a good handle on the strengths that you have that would enable you to deliver value in a different context. And I mentioned a few of these earlier, transferrable experiences, high order capabilities, but this is where leadership comes into play. How do you get the people who work for you to want to stretch, perform and deliver? Look, obviously this is what our content is all about. We’re at episode 71 today and each episode deals with a different element of leadership. If you’re a casual listener, I’d really urge you to go back and cherry pick some of the episodes that look like they might be helpful to you. Em and I set this podcast up to provide a high value free resource to help leaders master the behaviours and skills they need to lead people to the best of their ability.

For the purpose of today’s episode though, when we’re talking about transitioning between industries, I’m going to touch on five things that I think are really useful as a leader to be able to demonstrate. And most of this is around gaining the trust of your team because one thing you don’t have when you come in from a different industry, is credibility. So the very, very number one thing is be really clear with your team about what you bring and what you don’t bring. This is simply about communicating with transparency and honesty and you might wish to talk your people through what your transferable skills and experiences are, just to give them a sense of what you bring to the table. And I would often say to my teams, “I may have no experience in this industry yet, but the boss hired me for a reason. So all I ask of you guys is to keep an open mind until you can see for yourselves what some of those reasons are.”

Number two, let your people know what you’re going to focus to make a difference to their world and add to the performance of the team in the organisation. Talk to them about the areas you’re going to look at to try to bring a fresh perspective. But be careful. Make sure you watch what they do and find the things that they already really good at and give them kudos for that. Tell them you’re impressed with the things they’re doing well. But what are we actually trying to achieve and where’s the team or organisation now and where do you want to take it?

Number three, listen carefully to the experience and advice of your people. Now, the people you find in an organisation that you go into are going to know more than you will ever know about that business and that’s okay, but you have to look at them and treat them as the invaluable resource that they actually are.

Number four, don’t tolerate any shenanigans. Some people will actively work against you, albeit behind closed doors. Make sure you keep an eye open for this, especially if there was an incumbent who thought the role that you’re in should have been theirs by right. But make sure that you’re unequivocal when it comes to the behaviours that you expect. They’re non-negotiable. You’re setting a standard for behaviour that has to be observed.

Number five, give clear accountabilities that you will not override. You’ve got to let people do their jobs without interference. Your objective is not to override them, it’s to guide them and you’re still going to have the final call, but you need to use this really sparingly.

Now we go into all of this in a lot more detail around levels and transitions in Leadership Beyond the Theory. So if you think about joining the February cohort, please go across and preregister on the Your CEO Mentor website. We’re limiting the February intake to 150 students, so please make sure you don’t miss out.

Alright, that brings us to the end of Episode 71, thanks so much for joining us, and remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders, globally. So please share the podcast with another leader whom you know will benefit. I look forward to next week’s episode.

Until then I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.

And guys, don’t forget to preregister for Leadership Beyond the Theory at courses.yourceomentor.com. If you love this podcast, you are absolutely going to love the program and get so much value out of it, so I really encourage you to go and check it out. Alright, we’ll see you next week.


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