Today, new executives have precious little transition time as they embark on their new leadership journeys and step up to the challenges of the jobs they’ve been hired to do. In our data-driven and highly competitive industry environments, a new executive’s C-level colleagues have every expectation that the goals discussed during the recruitment process are a top-of-mind priority for that successful candidate – and they want to see the results straight out of the gate.
That pressure doesn’t mean that you, as a new executive, have to rush ahead with your plans. Rather than negate the importance of meet-and-greets and other traditional rituals that accompany a new executive hire, the compressed timeline makes it all the more critical for incoming executives to commit their energies to the objectives those practices are meant to achieve. From forming relationships, assessing teams, and setting a course and cultural tone to the streamlined execution of plans, a new executive needs to be intentional about strategy, communication, and the early wins during their first 100 days on the job.
Your Leadership Strategy Defines You From the Outset
The foundation for success isn’t on a master list of changes you identified — and possibly recited during the multilayered interview process that got you there — as you discussed ways to contain costs and create value, to streamline business processes, or to shift the organizational culture to more digitally minded thinking; nor is that foundation scattered across your new desk, as if there were 100 different ideas to illuminate those 100 days — if only you could do it all at once.
A leadership entry strategy is one that will define your tenure from the outset. Choosing one that emphasizes rapid results that develop allegiance while motivating employees to promote your goals and share in that mission puts you on firm footing.
The future you plan to create — the future that your team will deliver — begins with a few short-term milestones that are designed to facilitate achievements that you envision in later phases. These milestones are part of a unifying strategy for which you must cultivate buy-in. These projects create the conditions for success and establish momentum as you begin your mission, but they’re not first-impression window dressings designed to look good without substance. Weave your early meet-and-greets, research, and conversations into a few incremental breakthroughs that will win over your stakeholders.
These are important steps aligned with the overarching narrative of your goal-setting, and these first initiatives should show rather than tell your team how your leadership style and vision will fit the organization and accelerate its performance while changing your team members’ ever-evolving roles.
There’s a palpable difference between team-building exercises in an artificial framework and the actual work of team building. Your colleagues, whatever their reporting relationship, respect and will respond to the latter as you lay the groundwork for a results-oriented team and they assess your leadership style and the tenor of the culture you envision. At the same time, you can begin to evaluate the assets of your organization and your team in a meaningful context.
Quality communication in that context — and the time you put into it — has a value that can’t be overstated. The first 100 days might well be defined by the first 100 conversations in which you and your team work together to identify gaps, to pose solutions to improve operations, and to set goals for the future. Those conversations are key to understanding the organization’s and the team’s histories. In the long run, those conversations will help you avoid the political faux pas that so often hinder new executives at the outset. If you build trust on the basis of transparency — both your own transparency and transparency of the expectations you have of others — you’ll avoid those setbacks through your cooperative outlook.
Seek out team members and ask them for contributions toward those early, attention-getting wins. Yes, you’ll build your reputation and personal brand in the process, but be sure you are not telegraphing that as your ulterior motive. While the anxiety you may feel in establishing your role is understandable, it’s imperative to avoid the perception that you’re acting primarily out of self-interest. Rather, your messages need to be authentic — and so does your concern for organizational goals.
So hold off on sweeping changes and bold new-sheriff-in-town pronouncements. Instead, create a pace for the first 100 days that delivers the kind of results that spell success. The initial wins may seem small, but when you communicate their intent and importance, people will see that these wins are actually prerequisites for overcoming the challenges ahead and achieving the goals your team wants to achieve. By aligning your entry-phase choices with excellence as an outcome for your staff, you’ll be delivering those initial results without cutting corners on your future success — or the leadership traits that are the basis for it.
Wes Siegal is managing partner at Schaffer Consulting.