The 1st Hundred Days for a New CEO
Now that the “grieving” period has nearly passed for those in the United States who didn’t vote for Donald Trump, the question that many are asking is, “What will he do, or what should he do, in the first 100 days?”
Maybe you’ve wondered what, if anything, is so magical about the first three and a bit months for any top executive.
In the US, those first 100 days are referred to as the “honeymoon period”. Here in the UK, we speak more of letting newcomers “get their feet under the table”.
It’s an euphemism that amounts to the same thing.
It simply means that we want people to have a chance to settle into their new jobs and, in so doing, we’re willing to give them a little more latitude – the benefit of the doubt, if you prefer – in the decisions they make and the changes they undertake; and we’re willing to do this before we start to push back or make judgements about whether or not we agree with what they want to do.
There are some who doubt that such a period of time exists. They argue that, far from being given a chance to outline their agenda, that new executives have this brief period of time to prove that they’re worthy of their new position, and that if they fail to do so that they’ll instead hear those immortal words, “You’re fired”.
There is probably some truth to this when you consider the short careers that some football coaches have experienced.
Some executives believe that in order to prove themselves, they should assemble a team of like-minded people who can help them to implement the changes as quickly as possible. A problem with this approach is that those who will be most affected by such changes may not be fully on-board. That means that you could get push-back a lot sooner that you expected.
Consider this example. Suppose that you are a tight-rope walker. That’s your profession in the circus. (Business, like politics, can be likened to a circus.) You always practise and perform your act with a net.
Then the circus is sold to a new owner. He or she decides that the crowds are not being wowed enough. You get an email that says the nets will no longer be used. No warning; no discussion. On Friday, you were using a net; on Saturday, there wasn’t a net anywhere near you.
That’s how you create resistance to change.
The way that you prove yourself in the first 100 days is to begin a process that gains momentum during that time and carries on throughout your tenure. How do you do that? One way is to develop good relationships with all of your managers as soon as you can. Relationships depend on effective communication. You must be the consummate communicator and be able to “listen for England”. The two are inseparable.
There’s another part of this, too. Although you may be able to accomplish a lot in the first few months, it could be that that won’t be enough time to do what you want or need to do. You will have to judge for yourself how much time you do have, but you shouldn’t operate on the assumption that you must deliver within 100 days. Sensible people know that large projects often take longer, not only to plan and implement, but also before meaningful results can be seen.
If you think about what happens when the Opposition gets in after a protracted period out of government, then you’ll know that it can be years before the changes they wanted to make are felt. It depends on how much “damage” the previous government did.
Of course, regardless of the amount of time that you take to accomplish anything, you should have a ready and credible explanation for how you’re spending it and when you expect to get the results you seek.
Another way to make yourself successful in a new job is to surround yourself with people who are a lot smarter than you. This requires both wisdom and humility. Don’t be surprised if you’re weak in both.
Entrepreneurs especially are used to “flying by the seat of their pants (trousers)” so to speak, making it up as they go along. It’s not unusual for them to think that no one can do all of the jobs that are required as well as they can.
The thing is, however, that if you’ve been hired as a CEO, your job is to oversee the process; not do the tasks yourself. To look at this another way, you are there to manage managers. Maybe you are a “master craftsman” in some skill, and maybe it’s because of it that you were eventually promoted through the ranks that got you to CEO. It doesn’t matter. As the CEO, that’s not your job anymore.
Think about Donald Trump. His company builds hotels. No doubt he knows quality work when he sees it. It’s unlikely, however, that he’s also a journeyman bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, and / or plumber. Instead, he has hired other people who are competent in those skills, and then as CEO he has managed those people who managed those workers.
Think about Trump’s new job as President of the United States. Irrespective of the fact that he wants to drain the political swamp that Washington has become, he still has to work with the “vermin” that occupy it. And so rather than ignoring the movers and shakers in Washington altogether, he will have to learn how to get them on his side. He’ll do that by surrounding himself with highly talented people who understand the system, but who haven’t been corrupted by it.
It’s worth remembering that many more executives fail in the first year and a half of their new jobs than those who succeed. One reason may be that they live and work in a glass house. Everyone is looking at them. They are scrutinizing everything that they do. Indeed, they are comparing them to their predecessor. This can make things almost unbearable if the person they replaced was very successful and liked by the workforce in general.
These things are true of you, too.
And let’s not forget the role that your appearance plays. Just as a decision to hire someone is often made within 30 seconds of a candidate walking into the interview room and before a word is spoken, so similar judgements are made by those who meet you for the first time. They may decide that they don’t like you from the very beginning. That leaves you with the added task of winning them over, even before your first full day at work.
The first 100 days is a critical part of any CEO’s new job. The saying that “you only have one chance to make a first impression” couldn’t be more true. Everyone will be watching you to see if you get it right, and they’ll be doing it from the safety of their little enclave where if you don’t, it can’t affect them.
Strive to build solid relationships, not only with your immediate team, but also with the managers below them. The more people there are who support your goals, the easier it will be to make the difference that only you can make.
And remember that all stakeholders matter and that your shareholders could just as easily be employees at the bottom of the hierarchy as your colleagues.
If you’re the CEO of a private company, then remember that everyone who works there is important. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t.
Treat them with all the respect that that means.
If you need to develop or launch a new strategy for 2017 whether it is your 1st 100 days or not, then contact us by email to start your free consultation