I am hoping to get feedback on a situation I'm managing for the first time in my career.   First, some context.

I am a Senior Manager for a large Canadian bank, and I run an operations centre for the mortgage division, currently managing 7 direct reports and 97 employees.  Thus far in my career, my management roles have all involved inheriting poor performing teams and turning them around.  I discovered MT six months into my first management position so thanks to Mike & Mark, I've had great success in those roles by implementing the Trinity.  Recently I was approached by my boss' boss, the VP in charge of credit, with an opportunity to create and lead a brand new controls team within our division.  My new role is BRAND new - it's never existed before.  I have been given the authorization to hire three directs - also brand new roles that have not previously existed.   The work involves consolidating some existing but disbursed control elements into one team, and identifying opportunities to implement and/or improve controls throughout the mortgage process with the underlying focus on minimizing risk to the Bank.  I am reporting directly to the VP, who is a high C.  I'm a high D with almost as high C.  Given the current economic environment the new role is very high profile as the Bank looks for every opportunity to control risk.  It also gives me a lot of discretion (aka rope to hang myself), and has a high expectation of tangible results in the near term.  The VP is not great at verbalizing expectations, has admitted the new role is susceptible to scope creep, and has intentionally left vagueness in the team and role description so that i can "make it [my] own."  Organizationally and financially this is a lateral move for me.  Actually, this is my second lateral in 18 months at the request of upper management.  This is a great opportunity to increase my network within the organization and gain tangible experience beyond my traditional roles.  I want to hit a home run on this.

My concern is not at all with the work itself.  I'm concerned that given the loosely defined mandate and the "start up" nature of the situation that I'm not going to recognize dangers until it's too late.  All my previous roles have been fixing broken teams, but the underlying work tasks were pre-existing and remained the same.  This is uncharted territory for me.

I know I'm going to have issues hiring for roles with no existing standard and I know I'm going to have difficulty managing expectations at the VP, SVP and EVP levels given the visibility of this new team and the loose mandate.  Politically, I'm taking over tasks from other managers who are very resistant to letting them go, with a clear expectation from my VP that I do better at managing them than those previous managers. 

I've been revisiting the podcasts the past few weeks to get ready.  What pitfalls should I be aware of ?

jhack's picture


Your most important task is hiring the right people.  There are several podcasts on hiring, and you can find them easily by filtering the podcasts.  Moreover, I highly recommend the "Interviewing Series" for hiring managers - the insights they provide are incredibly useful for learning how to interview and what to look for.  

Second, you should think in "startup" mode:  what's your product, who's your customer, what's the unmet need?   Establish processes that ensure a high degree of interaction between your team and your customer that ensures their needs get met.  Iterate, constantly improve your offering.  And be clear with your customers what you're doing, and that their participation will make the difference.  

Third, and this is tough, you've got to figure out what skills you're hiring for, and what infrastructure you need in place.  This requires working backwards from what you think you're going to be doing.  It will change, so you and your team need to be flexible.  Start doing your research (early "customer" profiling and product "prototyping") while you ramp up your hiring, so that you have a better idea of the needed skill sets and other needs.  

It's all about people:  both your team and the "customer."  

John Hack

PS:  Scope creep isn't necessarily bad.  Manage expectations around what gets done when.  Deliver a product or service with ever increasing scope, and you might find the scope of your responsibilities is "creeping," too, which isn't a bad thing at all.   

asteriskrntt1's picture

Ted, this sounds like a typical CIBC job (Yep, I am a fellow Canuck).  If you are being told to manage better than the people you are taking tasks and processes from, take their standards and bump them up a bit.  And your mandate is clear if unspoken or unwritten - give your bosses a big positive to talk about.

Make sure you document these standards and let your boss know that these are the targets you are going to hit.  Add a few expected metrics that would naturally occur because of consolidation.  Keep the targets at 7 or less.  Any more than that dooms you to failure. 

Of course every bank wants to limit its credit exposure.  No one does it great because you can't account for EVERYTHING (see economy, current, see BMO, $600 Million, see CIBC, Enron and Amicus).  You are very high profile for the moment, until the executive comittee sees its next super shiny object. 

Look in people's resumes for those who have had success in a not-so-defined environment or start ups.  Certain people tend to flourish in these environments.  Some just drown.  If you are taking resources/authority from others, look for people who also have a track record of being successful influencers.  Meet people you would not normally think of meeting.  Invite me for lunch.  You never know who knows who.




bflynn's picture

I've been through this exercise a couple of times, once in 2000 and again last year.  Awful timing on my part, just before big business down cycles.  

Explicitly look for those people that you know you're going to have to encroach upon and make friends with them early.  Who manages controls in your company today (formally or informally).  If they view controls as part of their value or authority, you could have a tough sell, especially if their boss also views it that way.  I trust at your level, you know how to handle it.

Focus on your purpose, but leave the definition open.  Take on more than you think you can handle, then execute, execute, execute.  The danger in a role like this is more that you bite off too little; you will not take a little now and nibble some more later.  Make this a grand scheme that generates benefit for the bank and you're in the right place.  Remember that your job is what YOU define it as and if you need to do something or take someone else's direct away - you have a few silver bullets to do it with.

Work with your bosses (not just your manager) to determine their success criteria and listen carefully.  In addition to doing what you think needs to get done, you also have to satisfy the people above you.  Write down the success criteria as MT goals - these are the things that you have to succeed in.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Congratulations on an interesting new role, made critical by the recent economic turmoil.

I disagree that this move is a lateral move for you, regardless of how you characterize it.  You'll be seen as working for your boss's boss, in an area of high interest, during a time where that interest is intensified.  This is a career making job.

I would work on relationships with anyone whose team or responsibilities would be affected notably by your team's formation or work. 

And, I would hire folks who have better than average relationship skills, if your purview is bank wide, because you won't be able to handle every inquiry.  This probably makes hiring some of the specialists you'll need harder...but it's likely worth it.

Finally, pre-wire and over-communicate on everything.  Sure, your boss isn't saying a lot.  But if you report weekly with progress, he'll have more chances to address things before they get too far off track.

Good luck!


jen_wren's picture


I found myself in a similar situation about a year ago. A very loose mandate to create, almost from the ground-up, a couple of specific functions within my current organization.

In addition to doing a lot of what previous responders have mentioned (how to build the right team, etc.), I used one of Manager Tools' recommendations related to "Jump-starting Internal Customer Relationships". I had 1-1s with key stakeholders of supporting organizations within the company. Then, I developed more definition around what business needs these new functions within my organization needed to accomplish. I followed up with getting buy-in on this clearer definition. Only after that did I create the job descriptions and set about to hiring the right people.

I did this because I have superiors who wanted to immediately "throw people" at the problem - most of these being their personal favorites. And, while all these highly-recommended individuals had a lot to offer, I wanted to make sure everyone was clear on what specifically these new functions would be responsible and accountable for. And, I wanted to make sure that expectations were aligned so that these new functions were set up for success and not a lot of pushing and pulling by various stakeholders with different agendas - as is typical in these situations.

Good luck to ya.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I really like what Jen said about her response to "throw[n] people".  Choosing your team is the BIG issue, and everyone else's motivations will be different than yours.  Interview.  Be clear, and screen for knowledge, relationships, team skills, and project successes in backgrounds.

Hiring is the most important thing managers do... externally OR internally.


tedc's picture

Thank you to everyone for their input & advice.  I do truely appreciate it.  Much of the advice validates my initial thoughts, so it's good to know I wasn't going too far down the wrong road.  I've re-listened to all the Trinity casts, the interviewing & hiring casts, and am currently working through my customer one-on-ones (with great initial response to them).  Next up is posting jobs, interviewing & hiring the right people.

I agree with you, Mark, that this is not a real lateral for me - while there is no immediate increase in salary here, failure significantly impairs my opportunity for advancement & success will position me well for future opportunities.  The role provides me the opportunity for two things I've wanted for a while - a blank slate to implement all the MT advice from ground up, and a chance finally to get my LEAN Six SIgma Green Belt. certification  The personal satisfaction of either of those is the same as a raise for me.

Cheers to all.



BCranton's picture

Just thought I'd add a very brief comment as I'm 9 months into an almost identical scenario and able to reflect on what's gone well and what hasn't.

1. I couldn't agree more that finding the right people is key. I made the decision up front that I wouldn't settle for anything but people about whom I had the strongest positive assessment. The result is that I have a stellar cast of directs who make me immensely proud and motivated. The rub is that building this really does take time and my experience was that there was a lot of pressure from above to do this faster. Resisting this pressure was at times a little painful but thoroughly worth it.

2. Getting to the point where the team is visibly productive and you really start to see the yield takes time also, so I would recommend adopting a few interim benchmarks related to the setup and build-out of the department that display progress early.

3. Overcommunicate is a good message. I would also say 'build confidence through overcompensating on some of the basics'. As soon as we started circulated a weekly report to the top team it felt like there was confidence in the progress being made. If I went back I'd start this as early as possible and be absolutely clockwork in when it is produced and circulated.

4. It is absolutely one of the most satisfying processes I've been through in my career: the opportunity to build a management team and then have an open conversation with them about what culture we want to build, then seeing that become a reality out of nothing, is immensely rewarding. So my final pointer would be to keep sharing that view with the staff you hire and make them feel it too. People absolutely become refreshed and energized by the idea of building something new.

raulcasta's picture

I find the above comments very helpful and have been through most of the interview casts.

I'm going through a similar situation....

I have to assemble a small unit before month-end and deliver the first results by Dec 15th.  Choosing the right people is key.  The biggest challenge that I'm facing is staffing the new unit.  The thing is that they are downsizing one division and my boss ordered me to hire the entire team from the pool of candidates due for layoff- a humanitarian move aimed at laying off fewer individuals.  This may be a very complicated task for two reasons: 1) this limits the probability for choosing the right people, and 2) something tells me that these may not be the best candidates I can get for the job...