First Things First! Assess your talent and build your team.
Before you undertake this tour of your new responsibility, it is critical that you identify the actual or de facto leader(s) or team member(s) that you will lean on – at least initially – as you review all of the functions of the organization and begin to build momentum for change. You need to outline for each of these employees what you will need from them to review their pieces of the business and give them clear assignments for follow up as you find holes or need more information. To really learn the business will require iterative review of the different disciplines and starting early to establish a research / preparation / review cadence with each functional leader is important. One option that is sometimes helpful is to create teams to work on adjacent areas together. This can also have the impact of pushing functional organizations closer together and drive joint accountability, say, between Engineering and Operations, between Marketing and Sales or between Product Management and Engineering. This two in a box approach can be very powerful and may help you in learning about and then tuning the business.
At any rate, it is important to make your initial business assessment and functional reviews into a somewhat formal and explicit project. While it is of course good to be friendly and build rapport, informality without expectations of data, process review and disciplined thinking sets the wrong tone from the start. With clear direction for specific preparation you set the tone for delegation and follow up from the start – keeping you from getting buried before the real work even begins!
But I have two words of caution before you begin. First, if you are running a turn-around project or if you find many significant problems during your assessment, you will need to refrain from making too many assignments and urgent action items early as you do need to get in deep enough to see what the highest priorities are before you use up all of your ammunition. You also need to be sure that you don’t overload the team with so many urgent initiatives that the business cannot continue to run! The second word of caution is that, in a turn-around situation, some of your tour guides – the functional leaders – may not end up as part of your long term solution. Worse, they may actually be knowingly culpable in business performance problems and be perfectly willing to obfuscate important issues.
With those watchwords, you are ready to begin.