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Early Wins Are Smart Wins

Starting in a new role in a new department or company, it is imperative to focus on building your personal credibility in order to ensure strong personal relations among your stakeholders.

Building personal credibility in this early phase is most effectively done through the creation and delivery of early wins

Early wins are small but visible victories that assist your effort of building momentum and can be directly attributed to your actions, performance and good judgment. They could be everything from e.g. eliminating bottlenecks restricting productivity in the warehouse; identifying ineffective duplication work processes, or simply removing certain product versions that historically and presently demonstrate insignificant turnover and/or profitability. However, a word of advice, make sure that those early wins comprise key priorities, shared with your manager. If this is not the case, you may end up with a frustrated manager, since you—in his/her eyes—have focused your energy on the wrong priorities. Make sure that you formally and informally have discussed and aligned your priorities and actions, build rapport with him/her, and that you continually and mutually clarify expectations.

When deciding on early win initiatives, they should be quick and relatively easy to implement and must bring along tangible performance improvements for the business. That being said, the process is as important as the actual outcome because there is a risk that you will come across as manipulative or inconsiderate to the organization if you push things through without respect for the process and its people. As a result, you need to be confident that you are able to deliver on the early win initiatives decided on, and that you do so in a timely and effective manner while consequently allocating the resources needed in order to succeed.

In the mid-1990s, a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and during the first Balkan war, the chewing gum producer Dandy/STIMOROL decided to open sales affiliates in some of the Eastern and Central European markets. At the age of 26, I was given the opportunity to become General Manager of one, and later, a handful of those markets. The product portfolio (STIMOROL chewing gum) had been sold through a local distributor for a couple of years and was stuck with low single-digit market shares. My task was to build a full-blown subsidiary with its own sales and marketing organization—and to win market share. Being young, naive and eager to be successful, I lacked experience and, at first, did not possess all the necessary competencies and skills for the job (coming directly from academia). However, what I lacked in experience and certitude, I made up for in creativity, drive and willingness to learn. One of my first objectives in the job was to create one or two early wins that could earn me respect among the employees, customers and competitors. I decided first to target the competition as we were being dealt serious blows from them—particularly the market-leading competitor. This market-leading competitor had been on the market approximately 15-20 years before STIMOROL and commanded a 70+ percent market share—the remaining being shared between STIMOROL and a handful of other local and international brands.

The market leader was known to be a tough player and was, at the time of my start, whipping up significant obstacles to the growth prospects of STIMOROL by systematically removing our chewing gum displays at the cash register of the retail outlets.

The displays were, in fact, the property of STIMOROL, but with four times as many people on the ground, this did not seem to discourage the market leader from pursuing this activity. To mend the situation, one of the first things I did was to seek a dialog with the country manager of the competitor—however, he arrogantly dismissed the allegations—clearly not interested in any sort of dialog with me. This made me even more focused on setting him and his team straight. It was clear that the only way forward was to “speak their language.” Because I did not wish to create a roar in the market by involving the customers, I decided to contact one of my own country manager colleagues from STIMOROL who was the market leader in his market and struck a deal with him. Every time the market-leading competitor in my market would tear down one of our STIMOROL displays, my colleague would tear down two of their displays in his market. Then, I called the country manager of the market-leading competitor again and informed him of the continued consequences of his actions. From that day on, we no longer experienced the removal of our displays. Needless to say, this early win was an important step in establishing a growth platform for the company, and we soon moved into double-digit market share. As a positive side effect, it also contributed to building my personal credibility in relation to my own organization.

My advice to you is to build a milestone list consisting of key priority early win initiatives. Select one or two early wins from the milestone list that can potentially make a meaningful impact and build momentum, and then allocate resources in their direction. Put all your efforts into delivering early wins and make sure to communicate and celebrate them together with the organization.

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