General Management: Key Experience

General Management: Key Experience

Leaders achieve success first by becoming functional experts; e.g., sales. They know more about less. As leaders move up, they achieve success through general management. They know less about more. GM is the transition between achieving functional results from a single domain to business results from all disciplines in an organization. GMs have revenue and cost responsibility for an income statement; i.e., profit and loss. They oversee sales and marketing, as well as operations; e.g., CEO or COO or divisional or geographic leaders who report to them.

Below are three common career milestones in the path to GM.

  • Milestone 1: Functional Expertise – GMs are very good at their core competency/specialized function; e.g., marketing or sales or services, etc. The board of directors or CEO is not going to appoint a GM to lead and manage multiple business functions that they have never worked if they are not among the best at their current discipline. Having strong domain knowledge in one or more adjacent or complimentary business functions is critical, as well as a track record of exceptional results across them.
  • Milestone 2: Broad Experience – GMs have broad experience. Their experience is gained through adjacent functions to their core competency; e.g., sales to marketing or services (adjacent), not sales to development (non-adjacent). In addition, because different functions look to GMs for guidance and leadership, GMs know that their credibility depends on being able to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk in domains that they have never worked. Thus, they consistently spend time learning about and understanding new functions to effectively manage them.
  • Milestone 3: Organizational Cycles – GMs have gone through one or more organizational or product cycles during their careers. The value that they bring to the table is the result of the experience and learning that they have gained by working on something from the beginning, middle and end. Learning comes from deciding what to do, figuring out how to do it and then doing it. Real learning comes from making adjustments and improvements from customer feedback. It is a red flag when GM candidates have had five jobs in 10 years.

Below are five common setbacks for current and potential GMs.

  • Lack Patience – Pace is an important element of a career. You are never as ready as you think. You want to make the right move at the right time. You do not want to peak too early or worse.
  • Legacy Focus – You cannot be too focused on your former function. You must be able to think about and create positive change and impact in all areas. GMs focus on what is good for the broader organization.
  • No Respect – GMs must always demonstrate respect for all functions. It means walking in peoples’ shoes and understanding each function’s unique value to the organization.
  • Poor Alignment – GMs must be able to align and integrate all business functions across an organization. Alignment requires breadth of experience and perspective. It also requires depth in economics and leadership.
  • Problem Resolution – Issues do not arrive on the GM’s desk flagged as marketing, product, etc. GMs then must be multi-dimensional thinkers and have the ability to solve problems in and across functional areas.

All contents copyright © 2013, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.


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