This article is about the crucial "first 90 days" for a new CEO. Regardless of whether the hire is from outside or within the organisation, hitting the ground running with a keen sense of the complexities of running the enterprise will have the new CEO asking for more hours in a day. Apart from being an agile learner, the newly minted CEO also has to have a good ability to work with people, win their trust, understand the networks that abound and influence….all this in 90 days!
Why 90 days? Well, to begin with, it is a quarter and businesses are used to a series of metrics that measure quarterly performance and it is acceptable as a good time frame to ensure engaged transition. Your colleagues and your boss form opinions about you based on limited information, and those opinions are sticky - it's hard to change their minds. So, shaping their impressions right from the beginning is essential.
There is nothing more nerve wracking for the new CEO than to find his executive team being passive aggressive or just not "buying in" to his thoughts. He has to "earn his stripes" through a set of strategic, well-thought-out actions to inspire credibility. The sooner he manages to do this, the easier it is for him to navigate and course-correct his executive team and, subsequently, the organisation.
There are two biases that can potentially affect the newbie:
1) Bias for Action- A tremendous sense of "doing" overtakes him and this often includes embarking on an action plan/ pet project to demonstrate momentum and galvanising the troops. Sometimes "don't' do something, stay still" approach works better than the original saying "Don't just stand there, do something". You don't want to come in and try to change the world until you know what the world is actually about.
2) Bias for newness - An "out with the old, in with the new" approach
When I was interviewing the subordinates of a new leader for feedback, one of them quipped "The new broom sweeps clean" and he added with a smile "Hope he knows all the corners". A keen understanding of what worked and what didn't in the past, along with people behind the same, is key to internal success. The idea of immediately trying something new that bears the stamp of the new leader is very tempting and may see earlier wisdom being discarded. Questioning is important and has to be followed strategically instead of assuming that most of everything done in the past was not good.
Action-packed days are a given for the new CEO - places to go and people to meet, etc. There is no work-life integration at this point, He might just need to put in those long hours, but along with this frenetic pace, there has to be a safe space for introspection and refuelling. To step back and look at the various pieces and plan for strategic relationships, some of the below mentioned elements and hacks might help in that journey:
Prepare: Set a plan to handle the other aspects of your life in advance so that focus is not a challenge. Ensure the family is consulted and arrangements are made for this crucial period as this is the time you will need to dig in and sweat. Being physically fit and keeping private time for yourself is important.
Warmth and Competence: There is a tendency for leaders to focus extensively on technical job skills and not enough on the company's cultural cues and politics. According to Harvard Magazine-Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, an assistant professor of business administration - warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80 per cent of our overall evaluation of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviours toward them. Because people "thin slice" data, perceptions take over, once the die is cast in one direction or the other, it tends to be self-perpetuating-and it can turn into a negative feedback loop if you're not careful. Stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts you take when you don't have that much to lose." Whether we smile or frown with someone (frowns trigger a different feedback loop) it has much to do with what traits we believe them to possess - such as warmth or competence. Social psychologists have long understood the "Pygmalion effect": we treat people in ways consistent with our expectations of them, and in so doing elicit behaviour that confirms those expectations. "If you think someone's a jerk, you'll behave toward them in a way that elicits jerk-like behaviours, For example, if you make early mistakes, people will look at you as ineffective going forward because they'll be looking at you through a darkened lens. And if you make a bad call and the company loses money, your judgement may be called into question when it comes to future decisions."
Build key relationships early on by asking your boss, "Who is critical that I get to know?" Engaging with them early on will achieve two things: you will harness support and generate warmth from the get go, and also learn from the old brooms about "all the corners". Focusing only "vertically" might not give you adequate data and support, whilst creating "horizontal" alliances with colleagues will ensure support at all levels.
Listen up: The skill of listening is probably the most important element going forward for the executive. In a hurry to prove oneself, some leaders believe they need to have an opinion before they wade in completely. This could backfire and would need circling back to earlier learnings, leading to loss of business speed and momentum.
Ask for help: Selectively exposing vulnerability and establishing key Mentor relationships within the organisation will help in scenario planning and the use of a sounding board. Regularly check in with someone who has travelled the same path. They will help you surface underlying assumptions and shorten your learning curve.
Do the New: I always ask my coachees if they are left or right-handed, and I ask them to sign with both hands. Obviously, signing with the hand that has been rarely used is very difficult, but with consistent practice, the same is not impossible. Guess what, this is an excellent time to do things that you would not gravitate toward normally - if you are a marketing person, you might need to spend more time understanding finance and HR to ensure a well-rounded perspective instead of playing within your comfort zone.
Be Proactive: Ensure you understand and manage expectations with your boss and your team - make it a point to understand how your boss would like to be managed, ask if need be and don't forget to check in regularly. Ensure your team knows your triggers and how you would like to be managed and, most important, be consistent with your behaviour. This will insure credibility and reliability -two important elements of trust.
Early Wins: In coaching parlance, we consistently talk about celebrating early wins and baby steps. The most important aspect is getting the ship into the water and one can course correct later. Build credibility by ensuring early wins -helping or fixing a snag that would support a new project or get resources behind a new project, etc.
Engage Ceaselessly: One of my coachees decided to spend a month on meeting people before he donned the mantle, meeting and engaging with different networks and when Day One finally came, everyone felt like he'd already been there. They had been able to relate to his curiosity and people skills…most importantly he had acknowledged their presence and role in the new scheme of the organisation even as he was preparing for the most important 90 days of his life.
(The author is CEO and Chief Coach of Blue Fire Coaching Consultants)