Your First 90 Days – Top Tips For New CEOs

Congratulations on becoming the new CEO – it’s an exciting time for you personally and the organisation. You were chosen because of your experience as a leader and the difference you can make.

With the new office come new responsibilities, new excitement, a sense of accomplishment, and, unfortunately, a high risk of failure: within three years of the appointment, one-third of all CEOs chosen to guide US companies are gone (source: McKinsey).

The first 100 days in your new role are crucial.  You will want to make the right impression, build your credibility and show what you’re capable of delivering. Even if you’re in the same organisation, you’ll be tackling new responsibilities, or reporting into the Board for the first time.  No pressure then?

Here are our top tips for new CEOs:

Be visible

Where and how you choose to spend your time, signals to the organisation what and who you view as important.  During your first 90 days, visit the coalface, speak with front-line employees about the challenges and issues they face and deepen your understanding of how the business operates. To magnify your reach, cover this in a CEO blog, social media or other communications – show your front-line employees that you care, you’re listening and open to their feedback and suggestions.

Make an appearance at events, whether these are company-wide conferences or smaller departmental get-togethers.  You don’t have to have figured it all out – explain why you’re excited to join the company and the types of questions you’re trying to answer during your fact-finding stage.  Be open and invite their questions and suggestions – this will help shape your view of the immediate priorities, including the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses.

Build relationships with the Executive Team – will they follow you?

As a new CEO, you’ll need an effective Executive Team to help share and implement your strategy. Your direct reports will want to know your management style, guiding values and whether you plan big personnel changes at the top of the organisation. Don’t be surprised to find that some colleagues may be wary, unsure of how to behave with you, or defensive. That’s because you are an unknown quantity and you are there to challenge the things that don’t work.

Engaging in an open, authentically interested and inquiring conversation helps foster trust and create effective dialogue.  Meet one a 121 basis with your Executive Team and listen to their concerns and ideas:

  • What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing our organisation?
  • What do you see as the company’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What should our top three business priorities be?
  • What is (or was) the company vision?  Do you feel aligned with it? Why?
  • What is the culture like?  Does this hinder, or support high performance? 
  • If you had a magic wand, what would you want the culture to be?  
  • What truly motivates you and if anything, what’s frustrating you right now?

Remind the Board that they made the right decision

Your Board will be looking for evidence they made the right decision in hiring you and will want to hear your assessment of the organisation as it stands. At the start, outline your 90 day plan, your fact-finding process and the tangible deliverables.  

Aim to meet with every Board member on a 121 basis – the objective is to get to know them on a personal level, understand why they’re passionate about the business and their views on the company, including strategic challenges and opportunities. 

Keep your Board updated on your progress and over-communicate – let them know who you’ve talked to, what you’ve learned, and the conclusions you’re forming. Share objective data backing up this all. This way they’ll already have the necessary information to support your agenda.

Understand the culture

It’s important to understand the culture for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it will help you to comply with (or consciously change) the organisation’s norms and ways of working. Secondly, you’ll play a central role in creating and sustaining the culture that your organisation aspires to have and that it needs to achieve its goals.

 

Does the current culture support or hinder high performance?

An organisation’s culture can be supportive of – or hinder – the implementation of new initiatives and the achievement of its overall goals.  It’s therefore important to evaluate the current culture and if there is a gap compared to the aspired culture.

An employee engagement survey can help here, by providing an objective breakdown of the culture, including strengths and areas that require change. This also helps evidence where cultural changes are needed the most and demonstrate your impact over-time.

Summary

Your first 90 days is a period of initial learning and orientation, correcting obvious problems, establishing initial credibility, and avoiding common landmines. The goal is to understand the context you are operating within and avoid making premature business judgement decisions. (Source: Gary Myszkowski, Ph.D. Senior Consultant from Executive Core).

At the end of your first 90 days, present your findings to the Board and your planned next steps.  By using objective data, you’ll help create a data-driven narrative explaining the reasons behind your strategy, helping to cement their buy-in.  Over communicate your plan – seize any opportunities to discuss this face-to-face through Town Hall meetings or at other events, and invite questions from your colleagues.  This will help win their trust and galvanise the organisation to help deliver your vision.  

It’s an exciting time for you personally and the organisation – good luck!

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