With corporations getting more aggressive about fast-tracking executives and boards expecting early results, the honeymoon period for new hires is more myth than reality. Seasoned executives are especially vulnerable during their first 100 days on the job.
During this anxious transition period, it’s easy to make missteps that create political clashes, or to run afoul of the organizational culture you are only just starting to learn to navigate. You want to hit the ground running, yet there are still undiscovered diplomatic norms that you must follow. It’s important to take early measures to set the tone and agenda for your tenure, but if you’re not careful about context or history, you’ll diminish your chances for success before you even start. The path to success is to establish momentum by achieving early and important wins within the first 100 days and cultivate your team’s support while you develop a longer term strategy and plan.
Almost everyone wants to “hit the ground running,” but there are successful, and not-so-successful ways to do that. A common approach is to create a large checklist of goals, tasks, and other ingredients designed to go after big, long-term goals – but it seldom works. All too frequently, that big checklist devolves into too many disconnected tasks with no unifying strategy. An immediate focus on long-term projects is more likely to fail without smaller, incremental wins during your first 100 days. Without results in that early period, no momentum is established, and your longer-term goals can actually become more difficult to achieve. Early results are needed to get the attention and cooperation of superiors, peers, and downstream managers.
Choosing Where to Get Started – While Scouting the Terrain
Instead of this “kitchen sink” approach to management, identify a few issues to tackle quickly while you develop your longer-term plans. Communication in this early-entry stage works best when it focuses on where your team sees gaps in knowledge and execution that affect performance, frustrating the staff that knows what it wants to do – but still lacks clarity on accomplishing it. Use your getting-acquainted conversations during this early entry period to identify gaps in execution, addressing the issue, “We know what we have to do, but we’re not doing it,” and gaps in knowledge, addressing “We know what we want to do, but we aren’t getting there.”
Seek out members of your leadership team and ask them to take responsibility for some of those issues – by doing so, you will not only gain their cooperation and trust, you will have an opportunity to assess their leadership skills early on.
Avoiding the Quicksand Traps of Complexity
It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and tempting to simply throw everything against the wall and see what sticks – but if you try to implement too many changes at once, you risk alienating those who report to you as well as your peers and upper management. A common misstep is attempting to usher in changes without attention to context. New executives will often attempt to re-shape their organizations to model them after the one they just left – but what works in one company won’t necessarily work in another. Aligning your goals and philosophies with the new company is an important first step. The good news is that a leadership entry strategy that emphasizes rapid results will win over the allegiance of new team members while motivating them to promote your goals and share a new vision.
To do that, hold off on big ideas and bold pronouncements, and instead challenge people to achieve signal results or proofs of concept within your first 100 days. Then, actively sponsor them while they work to discover what it takes to succeed – and what will be needed to sustain progress over the longer term.While it may seem justifiable to spend the first 100 days simply getting the lay of the land, if no results are seen within your honeymoon period, progress will still seem out of reach, and you risk being perceived as ineffective. Worse, it will be more difficult to get support from those whose support you need most. Set the pace from the beginning. Avoid that overly-cautious breaking-in period where nothing moves forward. Combine your early meet-and-greets, research, and gathering of viewpoints with early incremental breakthroughs that win over your stakeholders. Build your personal brand – rapidly.
Your first 100 days is an opportunity to build your personal brand within the organization. Focusing on rapid results in areas where people are hungry for progress and insight not only helps in getting cooperation when you need it, it also encourages others to follow suit.
Your most important challenge in a new leadership job is to build your leadership strategy and set the tone for the future you want, not the circumstances you inherited. When you keep the honeymoon-phase aligned with the goal of freeing people to excel, your leadership begins to tell its own story.
Wes Siegal's post on CEO.com.