It's left me confused and uncertain about how to proceed. Do I take the job as the blank slate it was supposed to be, or should I pay heed to all these different voices?
A: I can quite understand why you feel confused and uncertain, but please don't despair. What you're going through was more or less inevitable. Think about it dispassionately and you'll realise that, even though your role is new, the function you're being asked to fulfil can't be. If it's at all important, it must have been carried out somehow before - probably in a haphazard and unco-ordinated way and shared between a number of people, each of whom chose to do it in his or her own particular way.
For example: a partnership of architects in start-up stage may well expect each partner to be responsible for drumming up new clients. There's no money (and probably no initial need) for a central business development person. Then the partnership grows, the importance of the marketing function becomes more apparent and the first-ever marketing director is appointed. And I bet the brief, from the senior partner, is 'to make of the position what you will'. It will be said in good faith: the senior partner will have little idea how the job should be done - which is precisely why an expert has been hired. It's then, of course, that every single partner, in confidential mode, will give the increasingly bewildered newcomer the benefit of heavily loaded and mutually exclusive advice. Does all this sound depressingly familiar?
So you should certainly listen. Some of what they say will be genuinely helpful; and you'll be able to spot the self-serving with no trouble at all. Bite back the temptation to tell them that if you accepted even half the advice you'd been given, your job would be rendered instantly inoperable. Instead, taking the useful bits into account and discarding the rest, work out your strategy as if you really did have a clean slate; talk it through with the person who hired you and then start putting your plan into action.
You won't please all your advisers equally - they sound too competitive. But when your role is seen to contribute a great deal more than your salary and running-costs, the mutterings will soon become muted and your own standards will be satisfied.
Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP. Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into