December 2018 | 

The New General Manager: What It Takes to Succeed

The New General Manager: What It Takes to Succeed

Transitioning into general management is a challenging career move. So challenging, in fact, that research conducted by CEB (now Gartner) found that more than 60 percent of new managers fail within their first two years. One reason? Many organizations rely on an informal, learn-as-you-go approach. And while that works for some, it clearly doesn’t work for most.

Succeeding in this new role takes more than expanding business acumen. As a manager, you’re going to be exposed to a higher level of business strategy and operations that weren’t a part of your role as an individual contributor. You need to understand all of the major business functions and how they work together strategically, at the organization-wide level.

But you also need to grow your own leadership. Wharton professor Gad Allon, who directs Business Essentials for Executives, says the program is designed to address both levels: “We look at the key decisions and the key functions you need to know to make better decisions for long-term growth for your organization. How do you read and interpret financial statements? How do you do market segmentation and implement strategy?”

“But general management is also about delivering on all of these within the organization,” he continues. “That takes talent management, managing across functions, negotiating, persuading, and growing leadership. It’s this combination that successful general managers have.”

Attorney Andrew Alpert recently attended the program, and says that combination of acumen and skills were what he was looking for: “In law school, there’s a preconceived notion that you’ll work for a large firm and not have to make any business decisions. They teach you how to think, but not how to run your own firm.”

Alpert says he is looking to grow the law office he co-founded eight years ago. “I started reading books, but they can only take you so far. I looked into MBA programs, but the cost in terms of time away from my family and my business [and an active trial schedule] didn’t make sense. Then I looked for a high-quality program that would expose me to business concepts and ways to think about them and also provide a framework for applying them.”

The six-day Wharton program enlists the expertise of the school’s MBA professors, who distill content from semester-long courses into the essential knowledge and skills managers need to begin applying immediately.

Alpert says key takeaways include accounting principles and negotiating skills: “I’m going back to my firm and looking at [profit and loss statements]. There is more than just the bottom line and now I know what to look for. I also learned what my negotiation profile is, with my strong and weak points. This will help in many ways. It changes when I am dealing with my practice [rather] than dealing with employees or other aspects of business. I want to be conscious of that.”

In addition to teaching sessions on operational excellence and scaling, Academic Director and Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions Gad Allon holds daily integration sessions. These sessions give participants an opportunity to discuss concepts covered the previous day and to begin applying them to their business challenges.

“We know the participants are busy people,” says Allon. “It’s easy to get back to work and get caught up in daily tasks. We encourage them to reflect on the issues they are facing and discuss how they can meet them. Over the week, they build a plan so they can hit the ground running the next Monday.”