The Crucial First 100 Days as CEO
18 October 2012
As a new CEO, your first 100 days are crucial to success – your own, and that of the organisation you lead.
This is true if you are a “business as usual” appointment.
But it is vital if you have been brought in to rescue or turn around a company in crisis.
In a turnaround, there is a greater sense of urgency, with a deeper emphasis on quick wins and shoring up stakeholder confidence.
To make the first 100 days a success, consider these key focus areas:
Take time to understand your new role. You’ll need to get a good feel for the organisation and what drives its performance. Be visible: spend time in the business, working alongside management, staff and clients to understand the core problems and how you can solve them. Don’t be afraid to seek the advice of a turnaround specialist.
Work out the real priorities. You will need Board direction to focus attention on the critical issues. It is your role to ensure your priorities are meaningful, relevant and provide clarity. We recommend that a rescue CEO focus on no more than six critical issues in the first 100 days. Of these six items, one or two should be achievable in the short-term. These quick wins will help the CEO build stakeholder confidence.
Recognise the importance of a 100 and 200 day plan: as CEO you should draft these plans early and get them approved or at least open for comment by the Board. The Board will likely have a really clear picture of their priorities, so you should get some good feedback as to whether you are on the right track. If you are a rescue appointment (as CEO or CRO), the Board may be looking for your specialist expertise and experience to guide them; in which case, you should present your draft plan to the Board for discussion.
Celebrate early wins. For a new CEO, getting something working well – be it traction on an issue, a new opportunity and or an innovation – can foster confidence to build for the future.
Avoid early gaffs/political suicide/wrong decisions – it’s easy to make mistakes while you are getting a feel for people, place and business. Many a new CEO has not read the play or made ill-informed decisions too quickly. Keeping your Chair in the loop helps to minimise the risk of early careless errors.
The Board will, depending on the complexity of the organisation, expect the CEO to need time to acclimatise to the new role and learn the ropes, so it would be a mistake to ‘stamp your authority’ too early in the wrong ways.
Build coalitions of support and foster effective relationships. This is all about stakeholder management.
The relationship between CEO and Board, in particular the Chair, is pivotal. The CEO and Chair must trust each other.
Look for opportunities to build Board trust and management support, and watch out for traps. Don’t overpromise.
You will need to build effective relationships with employees, clients, suppliers and other key stakeholders. If it’s a turnaround situation, communication is the key to delivering difficult messages.
In a troubled business, staff are usually in a highly agitated state and it’s easy to want to avoid the hard stuff of dealing with anger from shareholders, financiers and creditors.
Effective communication can buy you time and help rebuild rapport. Show your financiers a solid plan that indicates a sound future for the business.
It’s crucial to keep your people in the loop. If a business is in difficulty, rumours can quickly fill an information vacuum.
Give staff an air of confidence by providing them with a clear direction so they can see where you want to take the business, then let them focus on what they do best.
Make a powerful first impression. Once again, communicating is key and good communication is a two-way street of speaking and listening. So don’t just announce your plans, make sure you really listen to different stakeholders.
Understand governance structures – how the Board operates, its governance and how individual Directors contribute to the big picture. This happens mainly via formal and informal observation, participation and discussion with the chair and individual members.
Seek mentoring. A new CEO needs a sounding board to discuss issues, priorities, and solve problems.
The Board must still allow for adequate and appropriate space in which a new CEO can think about strategy, issues and opportunities to develop their own style. There are many different types of sounding boards, from CEO peer groups to executive coaching, that you could use.
In your first 100 days in particular, scrutiny will be intense. Focusing on the areas above will help you start your new role on the right foot and improve your chances of long-term success.
Michael Fingland, Executive Director of national business transformation and turnaround firm Vantage Performance, was awarded Australasian Turnaround Professional of the Year 2011 by the Turnaround Management Association, for his work with fast growth and troubled companies.
Andrew Birch, Executive Director with Vantage Performance, has over 20 years’ experience successfully managing troubled businesses.
This blog is adapted from a column by Michael Fingland that first appeared in The CEO Magazine September 2012 edition.