Congratulations! You’re a new executive! You must be thrilled! Do you think you have what it takes to be successful in this new role, simply because you were successful in your last one? Have you got a plan? Your boss and the senior executive team are watching you, and rest assured – they’re expecting big things from you. What you’re about to read, although written for new executives everywhere, really applies to any new leader, from your first promotion to manager to the CEO. These principles, ideas, and actions are all relevant and can be tailored to any situation and anyone who’s in a new leadership role, so let’s go!
All Eyes are on You
Whether you’ve just joined a new company as an executive, or you were promoted from within, your first 100 days on the job are critical. You’re not just winging it, are you? Don’t assume that you’re a shoe-in as a permanent executive just because you got the nod for the job.
Do you know what the average tenure is for an executive? In general? For your industry? At your company? You should find out. I can tell you that it’s a lot shorter than for any non-executive position you’ve ever held. All eyes are watching you. Why? Because you’re more visible. You have a bigger scope of responsibility. There are less of you than there were in the position you came from. How about because the CEO, president, and the senior executive team expect big things from you. Why else would they have promoted or hired you in the first place?
Your first 3-6 months on the job are critical to securing your position stability and future growth. I’ve seen plenty of executives that came and went during that time period – for lots of reasons. They couldn’t adapt to the culture, failed to transition their leadership style, never made the necessary mindset shift to the new role, and so on.
So how about we work on this together – creating the right impression, and a lasting one.
Credibility and Wins
Your job in your first few months as a new executive is to convince the decision-makers that gave you this opportunity that they made the right call. This means you have to do two things – build credibility and secure some early wins. You need to show your boss, your peers, and the senior executive team that you are creating a following. Are the management team and employees willingly signing onto your leadership philosophy and style? Do they believe in your direction and are they enrolling in your cause? Now is when you need to build and strengthen your credibility.
(Let me provide some reference material here. Check out “Right From The Start” by Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins, copyright 1999, and another by Michael Watkins, “The First 90 Days”, copyright 2003. They both discuss “securing early wins” and other important topics which are critical for building credibility.)
As a natural outcome of this, you then need to move some mountains – small mountains – as you probably won’t be expected to resolve issues that have festered for years. You need to solve some problems, resolve an issue, make a personnel change or two, put out a fire, address an employee concern, or move the needle on a metric that is important to the company. Bottom line – you need some early wins.
You Need a Plan
“First things first”, as Steven Covey would say. Have a plan? If not, develop one. Otherwise, you’re employing the “winging it” strategy. Here’s some advice. Don’t ever “wing it.” You’ll look ill-prepared and unprofessional. And while you might be really good at what you do, and it may work once in a while, it won’t work here, as there are simply too many things to do. You’ll be in “reactive mode” rather than “proactive mode”, and you’ll be running around spinning your wheels rather than taking deliberate action towards a desired vision or outcome.
A plan of what you will do in the first 100 days of your tenure immediately puts you in a proactive mode as opposed to a reactionary mode. It allows you to hit the ground running and ensures you will perform “some” of the fundamentals required from a new leader, undoubtedly leading to accomplishing “more” than you would have without a plan. I say “some,” only in that we never accomplish exactly what we planned on, but I guarantee you will achieve “more.”
And look, whether it’s 90 days, 100 days, or 180 days, the point is – have a plan! I guarantee you will accomplish far more with a plan than without one. Have I convinced you yet to develop one?
Now I’m an engineer by discipline, and contrary to what you might think, my plans have never been more than two pages long. You don’t need a detailed project plan with a Gantt chart – not yet anyway. That will come later. For now, you need a high-level plan that will provide a basic roadmap, a general course, so that you’re accomplishing the big things.
The 100-Day Plan
Okay, what does a solid, executable 100-day plan look like? It contains three phases:
PHASE 1: SELF-RENEWAL
PHASE 2: ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION
PHASE 3: EXECUTION – SECURING EARLY WINS
These three phases and the activities within them, are not necessarily sequential. Some are, in that they either shouldn’t or can’t be done without prerequisite tasks. Others can be done in parallel, and are best executed that way. Also, many of these will be started, but not finished. They get you down a path and provide momentum, and you just continue with them in the post-100 day period.
Phase I: Self-Renewal
Whether you just joined the company as a new executive or were promoted from within, I would suggest you act and operate as if you were new to the company, at least to some extent. It will open up your perspective to learning more about the company, and you will come across as more humble and respectful to those you may know already. It’s a fresh approach and allows you to be the “new you”, an even better version of you.
Make a Mindset Shift
You’re in a new role, and it’s critical that you make the shift from your former role to an executive. This means that you start to do things differently. You attend different meetings, participate on different phone calls, play a new part at the meeting, more of a facilitator than a solution provider. Maybe you may even want to dress a bit differently.
This is the time to re-introduce yourself to the organization, meet with your new team, their teams, and all the employees that report to you in the organizational hierarchy. Go on a listening tour, see key facilities, visit employees where they work and engage them in conversation about what is working, what isn’t, and what they need help with. It’s a time to build key relationships with your new peers, your boss, union leaders, staff groups, as well as key external stakeholders including customers, vendors, community leaders, and regulators. Think broadly here as you are now an executive, and you’ll be expected to represent the company on almost any issue.
Phase II: Assessment and Evaluation
To be clear here, a good leader, in fact, a great leader, is constantly assessing and evaluating – people, process, and technology – amongst other things. Remember, this plan isn’t sequential. All the while you’ve been engaging people during Phase I, you’ve been observing and judging, haven’t you? It would have been hard not to. It’s been helping you form opinions and perspectives about the way things are done – the culture.
Review Business Performance
The time is now to do this more formally. This is when you start to review business performance of your new department and all of its parts. Meet with your new team and have them review the state of the business. Have them bring their direct reports and do it by individual department, so you can start to get a feel for the next layer of management and their leadership capabilities.
Evaluate your Team and Structure
This is also the time where you start the process of making the most important decisions you’ll ever make as a leader. You need to evaluate your leadership team and start thinking about making changes. You’ll also need to determine if you have the best organizational structure as well. I talk about these together, as you should never force fit the talent you have to fit a particular structure. This is an iterative process. You should determine first, what the best structure is at this time to serve the organization most effectively, and then place the players accordingly.
You may not always have the talent you need, and you should let HR know this as soon as you can so they can start an external search process right away. Most CEOs and executives have said for decades that their biggest mistakes were making people decisions too late. They lived with mediocre performers, and many times, suffered the consequences of it.
Assess the Culture
This is also the phase where you should assess the culture of the organization more broadly, using survey data if you have, and if you don’t, more informally. Do things get done in the right manner with the right behaviors? How do you feel about the leadership style of the management team?
Communicate Early Observations
And lastly, this is also the time to level with your team and all employees. You need to share what your observations are, and that takes leadership courage. Why? Because if you’re being honest, there will be things that are being done well, as well as areas for improvement. You need to share these assessments with your team and organization to let them know that things will change, and with your boss and peers to gain alignment. Support from your boss to make change is crucial.
Phase III: Execution – Securing Early Wins
The good news is that you’ve essentially been securing some wins all along during Phases I and II. You’ve been learning, assessing, engaging with employees, building credibility, sharing expectations, and undoubtedly, making some important decisions as well. Maybe you’ve set up some improvement teams and solved some problems also. Great stuff. Now let’s take it one step further and codify it with more substantive actions:
Now is the time to reset expectations – based on all your observations and learning. It’s the time to communicate your leadership agenda. That includes a meeting structure and communication forums – which will allow you to manage the business and engage employees. It encompasses regular business performance reviews for all key aspects of the business – operations, finance, project management, etc. This phase also can include an emphasis on your leadership fundamentals – what’s important to you, what the priorities are, and how you expect people to behave and act in the performance of their duties.
Select your Team and Structure
It’s also the time to execute on the people and structure decisions. This is when people know change is happening and it’s real. These steps are best implemented simultaneously. As you are evaluating your team and understanding their talents, you’re also determining whether you have the right structure in place. Should it be functional, geographic, centralized, decentralized? You’ll want opinions from your boss, peers, and others.
There is nothing more important than your leadership team. Don’t settle for mediocrity simply because someone on the team is a nice person or a friend. The toughest decisions are the people decisions, and they are also the most impactful. After only a few meetings, either in a group or one-on-ones, you’ll know whether or not the members of your team are “keepers.” Spend any significant time with them, and you will know if they are leaders or followers, if they have courage, or if they’re appeasers, if they support the needs of their team, or treat them like inappropriately. Hold a high standard and make sure your boss and HR are in lock step with you along the way to ensure you have support for making changes.
Lastly, you need to move the needle and solve some problems. So what did you learn on your listening tour? You’ve just spent a significant amount of time meeting with your team, the rest of the management team, employees at large – what did they tell you? Any themes emerge about the way things are done? Problems with a technology roll-out? A problem supervisor or manager? Do they need more resources, better tools and equipment, more frequent communication? You may have heard these and addressed some of them on the spot. Others can be more complicated. Grab a hold of a couple of these, assign a lead, and drive it to completion and closure. Solve the problem, address the issue, and you’ll build instant credibility.
Summary of a Blueprint for the Successful Executive
You are trying to solidify your position as a permanent, effective executive. In order to do that, you need to build credibility and secure some early wins. You’re trying to create a following and demonstrate that you can move the needle on metrics and solve organizational problems. In order to do all of that, you need a plan – you need to renew yourself, assess and evaluate people, process, and culture, and you need to execute – solve some problems and resolve some issues.
If you need help developing and/or executing on a plan, please give me a call at the contact number below, or subscribe below and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m committed to your success!
Check out my latest podcast episode of this critical topic right here!