New CMO First 97 Days, Part 2: Organizational Intelligence

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In this series, we’ll examine the first 90 days from a variety of perspectives and provide lots of links to different resources for more in-depth looks at individual topics.

New Hire Fundamentals

The first week or so of your new role is straightforward stuff: orientation to the company, filling out reams of paperwork for human resources, signing off on employee handbooks, disclosing conflicts of interest, etc. All these things should be rote.

However, one particular practice seems to elude many senior managers: the art of organizational intelligence.

Organizational Intelligence

Within any organization we usually find three org charts:

  • The official chart
  • The social chart
  • The power chart

The official organization chart discloses who works for who, who reports to who, and the general divisions of the company. The larger the company, the larger the org chart. This is the easiest chart to acquire and the chart on which we base our subsequent findings.

The second chart is the social chart, and requires us to map out the social clusters within the company. Which people hang out together? Which people go to lunch together? Which people (assuming it’s permitted by company policy, or unenforced if prohibited) are in relationships with each other?

The social chart is our guide to how news spreads through the organization. If you’ve ever run into Myers-Briggs personality tests, you’ve seen personality types such as extraversion and introversion, as well as thinking and feeling. The social chart is a map of those who exhibit extraversion and feeling, how people develop bonds together.

What value does this serve? As we progress through our first 97 days, we will likely need help from others championing changes to the organization. Only through understanding the social chart in depth will we know who to share what information with. Recruiting champions in the organization only happens once we know what the social chart looks like.

The third chart is the power chart. This is the most elusive of the charts, but the most important. The power chart explains who really makes decisions in the organization and how the power players arrive at their decisions. For example, though someone may have the title of CEO, it’s really their Vice President of Operations who calls the shots. In a financially-strapped organization, the CFO may be the greatest power broker.

Developing organizational intelligence is our key to long-term success. Once we know all three charts, we know who to talk to, who to work around, and how to work with everyone we meet.

How to Develop Organizational Intelligence

The next logical question is – how? How do we develop such intelligence? The answer is simple: breaking bread.

In your first week – and throughout your first 97 days – have breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, or beer with as many people in the official org chart as time and budget permit, and listen carefully. You’ll want to spend the most time in your chain of command, learning about your direct reports, skips, as well as your executives and stakeholders. However, as time goes on, break bread with as many people as you can.

What should you listen for?

  • Greatest achievements
  • Greatest problems
  • News about others
  • How people describe others in the organization
  • Any complaints

Come with a mental list of questions such as, “So what’s the key to succeeding/not getting fired around here?” as well as insightful questions around the above topic areas. Resist the urge to share any information you’ve gathered; just be a sponge and use the guise of being the new person as a reason for all the questions.

Leveraging Organizational Intelligence

Once you’ve mapped out the organization to the best of your abilities, keep your mental notes sharp and adjust them. As you begin the next two phases of business immersion and benchmarking, refer back to your organizational intelligence map to validate data. Use the intelligence to know who to talk to. By having bought an awful lot of food and beverages for the people you work with, you’ll have social connections you can immediately begin to use to learn the inner workings of your new organization.

Next: Business Immersion

In the next post in this series, we’ll examine the process of business immersion and what you need to gather to understand your greatest marketing challenges.

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