Last year, I wrote a post about how to avoid being fired in five months. It was inspired by the departure of a fellow named Jack Griffin who lasted less than six months as the CEO of Time, Inc. Today, I’m very happy to give equal time to the positive lessons that can be learned from the current CEO of Time, Laura Lang. She was the subject of an interesting profile in the New York Times this week. She started at Time earlier this year and it sounds like she’s off to a strong start.
It’s not a secret that the magazine industry is under pressure in the digital age. Lang is not a magazine person; she’s a marketer with strong chops in online marketing. Her background could have made her transition into a company with the historical legacy of Time, Inc. really difficult. When an organization has a long history and is seen as a long time leader in its field, it’s common for the people who are there to be skeptical of a leader who comes in from outside.
Based on the reporting in the Times, Lang has done a number of things that should be in the playbook of any leader who’s coming in from outside to take an organization to a new place. Here’s a recap of five of those things:
Learn – Lang made a conscious decision upon arrival to keep a low profile outside of Time and spend her time and attention learning about the organization. That sends a strong message to the people you’re leading that you’re serious about the work at hand.
Listen – One of Lang’s prime learning strategies was to go on a listening tour. She held town hall meetings in five different cities. She asked a lot of questions. She conducted in-depth business reviews with her top executives. None of that is rocket science but it works.
Be Approachable – You learn even more if people feel comfortable and safe talking with you. Lang comes across in the article as someone with a warm sense of humor. She keeps a jar of jelly beans in her office. She’s sending the signals that says she wants to connect with people.
Pay Attention to the Artifacts – As a marketer, Lang clearly gets the power of images and artifacts. The picture of her that ran with the Times article shows her in her office with not just Time’s magazines on display but iPads and other tablets that deliver the digital versions of those magazines. That sends a message to anyone who comes in to meet with her that she’s all about taking the company to a different place.
Be Clear About Your Plan – A colleague quoted in the Times article said Lang “didn’t come in with a magazine plan, she came in with a consumer plan.” Her favorite line is “We need to be where our consumers are.” In an era when consumers are spending more time absorbing content on their smart phones than in magazines, Lang is working with her team to create a winning strategy for delivering content in whatever way the consumer wants to receive it.
What about you? Chances are you’ve either been the new boss coming in or have worked for a new boss coming in? What other tips do you have for getting off to a strong start? What should new bosses absolutely avoid doing?