Perhaps the New Year has blessed you with that well deserved promotion, or after going through a series of tough interviews you finally landed that dream managerial job, life is good….at least at the moment. I speak a great deal about corporate ambiguity and how it can literally bring a company to its knees; nothing is more revealing of ambiguity as to receive an opportunity that looks too good to be true. Promotions and winning that lucrative job is one of the best feelings in the world at its outset, and quite frankly it should be. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had mentees tell me that if they had to do it all over again….they wouldn’t have accepted the opportunity. Recently I’ve been barraged with requests to provide input on what to do when you suddenly learn “I’ve just accepted the responsibility of leading the bad news bears”. Let me first admit I was one of those thirsty ambitious idealists and yes cocky sales managers who felt he could turn a disastrous sales team into victors. Not only was I in over my head as a young man it was the first time in my life where I contemplated ending it all…true story. That experience along with other missteps moving towards being a better developed leader has provided me a perspective that understands what it’s like taking over an underperforming team. With all that said there is a badge of honor to be able to pull a team out of a ditch and steer them towards prominence, but that scenario comes with a great deal of rough terrain. Typically my first question before I go into “advice mode” for those finding themselves in such a predicament is to ask them WHY are they a lousy team? To say the answers I receive are general would be an understatement. Truly the answers range from having an inexperienced team to flat out and I have been told this…“they’re stupid”. After receiving the entire onion of generalities I work with the despaired manager in peeling back the onion to find the specific reasons why the team is so lousy, and to NOT my surprise we find that the team is actually fairly capable. A saying that will stick with me forever and some would describe it as cynical…“trust but verify”.

“Trust but Verify”

It would not be an exaggeration to say that most people moving into a leadership role do so blindly. A big issue I had earlier in my career is that I trusted the opinions of others way too much. Not saying some of those opinions didn’t help, just saying more verification of those opinions on my part would have helped more. When taking over a team whether it’s in sales, marketing, IT etc it’s prudent to get information on personnel, not doing so is fairly dangerous. The key is what you do with that information and how it may help with the transition. I mentioned earlier in my career I had some struggles with taking over teams in large part due to the bad perceptions those teams had prior to me taking over leadership of them. So, naturally my perception and importantly energy in interacting with them was let’s say less than inspirational. In one memorable situation I fell victim to believing “the press” about the team I was to inherit and actually led them accordingly…without doing any type of verification of my own. The information provided to me about my team came from the very top and as a young impressionable overwhelmed neophyte it seemed credible to me. Well, it wasn’t in fact not only was the intelligence about the team I inherited incorrect there was a push for me to terminate ¾ of the team…a move that would unjustly fire capable people who weren’t led properly prior to my arrival. Sometimes in corporate America perception is “subjective reality” without thorough validation. You can argue that my naivety earlier in my career was part of the problem and I wouldn’t win that argument, however, the fact remains and I have evidence from the mentees I mentor that there is still a lack of clarity and validation of a team’s competency. To be clear gathering information about personnel is prudent….validating that information is being competent.

“Validating Team”

Below are inventory items you can take to ensure your team is on track for a great 2015 year:

There are 3 Key Business Imperatives I call “A.D.D.” (Accelerate Growth/Develop People/Drive Efficiency)

Accelerate Growth (Market Landscape)

  • Review & research markets that offer the best future growth, this will establish long term business relationships. Construct or revise business plan that incorporates everyone’s input.
  • Review primary domestic and if applicable foreign competitors that could impact the market and customer segmentation process.
  • (If it’s a global team) Do “Insights of the Customer” segmentation with the flexibility that data could vary from country to country. Analyze issues important to the business.
  • Determine the appropriate global-local balance (team communication plan)
  • Ensure communication technology is adequate in order to solidify collaboration and partnership. Minimize ambiguity, encourage accountability and empowerment.
  • Organize and track domestic/global projects that impact the business
  • Develop your “Strategies”/“Business Goals” as it relates to assessing your team’s performance. What are you trying to achieve from a business performance perspective?


Develop People (For Optimal Performance)

  • Review team tenure, validate its impact on performance.
  • Take “Introductory Inventory” of the current performance of the team, call it “Internal Analysis”
  • Meet individually with each direct report to discuss their career goals and identify skills they need to achieve goals. “Connection Session”.
  • Develop incremental resources to help in the assessment process (e.g. HR, Talent Management, Training, Development Plans etc).
  • Develop tracking tools (e.g. 9-Box Grid Development Tool or “Culture/Performance Tool”)
  • Review if each direct report has a career development plan to review and update. A development discussion will take place on every 1-on-1 discussion.
  • Verify that development plans can be officially reviewed quarterly.
  • Check to see if there’s a tracking system put in place to keep up with employee succession planning process.
  • Stretch assignments will be provided for those who have demonstrated performance and an interest to gain further development.
  • Stay alert if there are company updates, and insights for tips that could help teammates through the development process.
  • Emphasize development in the business planning and performance-management practices.
  • Identify readings, training programs etc to help supplement the person’s development and ways to help them apply training to current job.
  • Complete quarterly a 360 Feedback review from my team on my performance. Leading by example.


Drive Efficiency (Business Processes)

  • Review/Validate Budget Allocation & ROI Justification.
  • Prioritize spending to match company performance target goals.
  • Track allocations that impact the business (and do not impact the business)
  • Review if there’s a Budget/Milestones/P&L in place.
  • Review Match budget with milestones to justify ROI.
  • Check to see if there’s assigned budget ownership to ensure accountability.
  • Validate consistent budget communication to ensure alignment.
  • Ensure there are Status Reports & Weekly Update Reports.
  • Ensure month end business status report to leadership team (create template if one doesn’t exist)
  • Review Information Technology: efficient and competent use of “Big Data”, review if reports can be transmitted easy and more consistently, validate if data can be easily stored, uncovered and delivered.


Don’t take someone’s word as valid on the competency of your team…do your personal inventory first!


HELP!!….I’ve taken over a lousy team


Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading Across The Ambiguity Aisle”

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Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting



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