Becoming a new leader – the first 100 days (written pre-covid but still relevant!)
Telling leaders how to manage their first hundred days has become an industry. It’s an industry fuelled by investors and boards (and political parties) that believe that by appointing a new leader you can almost instantly turn a company around and expect to see real activity in those first hundred days. Most of the advice on how to do this comes from people who have never led anything or had to turn anything around. Expecting any new leader to understand a company or a country (even if it’s one they have worked in already) in 3 months is dangerous and leads to some horrible outcomes. Even if you have been handed the proverbial burning platform you need to stop and think. Leadership is a marathon not a sprint. Forget all that you have heard about those first hundred days.
Unless your first leadership role is trying to get people out of a burning building, in which case don’t hang around, the worst thing you can do is rush into something you know nothing about. If you have been briefed on what needs to be done by the Board, the Chairman, your new boss, or the press, then take that as input, not as instruction. Even if you have been promoted internally you do not know as much as you think you do.
This really goes against everything you have learnt.
Leaders are appointed to make change, very few are given the mandate “just make sure we keep going as we are”. And change surely means action, transformation means action. The new leader identifies what she or he thinks needs to be done and rushes off at breakneck speed to do it. The 100 days industry have told him/her they will be judged by their first 100 days and so there is pressure for change, pressure to fill and overfill the diary, pressure to just do.
Use your hundred days (or however long you think you need – it may not be that long) to find out what really is going on, what really needs to be done, who the good people are, where the opportunities are, where the dangers are. Be clear how long you are going to spend finding out and tell people what the timescales are: “I’m not going to do anything for xx days except listen”. Stick to your timescale.
- Do as little as possible
- Say as little as possible
- Listen as much as possible to as many people as possible
- Get out of your office/the building/the company/the country. (Getting out of the office into the shop/shop floor/customers/supporters is more important than spending time in your office) (You can still get our virtually)
- Meet everyone you possibly can and hear what they have to say.
- Write down what people tell you
- Think on your feet, not in the sense of being able to react but in walking miles and talking to people – you don’t need a desk.
In the gaps between talking to people write down what you have found. Who impressed you, who did not? Who was constructive, who was destructive? What did you look at and think “that’s great!”, what did you look at and think “that’s rubbish”. What did your customers tell you? Where can you see opportunities? Where can you see dangers for your business? Who do you want on your team?
Write it down. Every day. Short notes. Not War and Peace.
Listen to the truth but not to the lobbying (it may take you some time to find out which is which).
When you are done then start to plan. The first thing to do is to work out what your job is. Never mind the job description/wish list that you have been given. What is it you think needs to be done? What do you think your role is?
Discuss that with the people you think you want on your team, discuss it with your boss if you have one. Create a plan – your plan.
Then start to act decisively to implement it.