A New Leader’s First 100 Days
Disney’s ‘Thunder Mountain’ was not a patch on the rollercoaster that was epitomised by the last administration just ended stateside. Apart from the 73m plus people that voted for Trump, the majority of the US electorate and much of the rest of the world is glad its over. Will we see another rollercoaster with Joe Biden and his team, or will it be a ‘steady-Eddie’ period to reset the equilibrium?
Political pundits vary in their views of course but one thing is for certain, Biden has hit the ground running with executive orders aplenty. There is no surprise that he is reversing many of the controversial changes that Trump made. He will get credit for that for a time as his followers celebrate his anti-Trump policies. Just being anti-Trump however, won’t cut it for the long term. He also has to make his own mark with new ideas to achieve his unification aim.
The new year is a time when many companies make changes to structure to fit with their new strategy. It’s also a time when many new hires join a company with a vision, dreams and plans to change all before them. If you are one of those people, how do you make the right impact? And how quickly should you be seen to be making changes?
Sticking with the American presidential theme, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency that began in 1933 that gave us the reference to the ‘first 100 days’. In his inaugural address, Roosevelt announced that he would move with unprecedented speed to address the problems facing the nation. They were difficult times that demanded urgent action.
Today, the first 100 days concept has been adapted for modern businesses. Because new leaders don’t always have the luxury of Roosevelt’s foresight to be able to plan before they even start, the first 100 days is often seen as a honeymoon period, used to get a good grip on priorities. I believe it actually takes more than a year in reality. Every industry has its seasonal cycles and a new leader has to experience all of those to really understand the business. But of course you can’t wait a year to make an impact. It is typically expected that new leaders are seen to be making decisions and adding value after the first 100 days.
Don’t fall into the trap of making changes too quickly. Yet in the meantime, there are often urgent and obvious decisions to be taken early on. Now there’s a conundrum. So if you have landed in a job either as a new hire or through promotion, here are some tips and watchouts for your first 100 days.
Tips for a Leader’s First 100 Days
- Get to know your own team and your boss. Work out who is who. Organisation charts are a starting point, but they don’t always reflect the real authority and decision-making lines. Be impartial as you listen to stories and views. If you go along with a convincing person too early, you may have to change your mind later.
- Learn the product range and what makes them unique in their competitive space. Which are the best sellers, worst sellers, the big margin and the tight margin products? In studying the numbers, get a handle on trends. Which are the ones in growth and which are in decline? How much newness is there or is there an over-reliance on an ageing portfolio?
- Who are your best customers? How do they place orders? Do you have access to customer feedback? To what extent has digitization been embraced?
- Understand production and the supply chain. Where are the bottlenecks? How much change has been implemented due to Brexit and recent big increases in sea-going container transport?
- Get a feel for the rhythm of the business and the corporate culture that sets the way things get done. Is the business customer-focused? Do colleagues show each other sufficient respect? Do individuals take personal ownership for their actions? Does it move at pace?
- Take time to assess the big picture. What’s going on in the wider marketplace that will present opportunities and threats to your business. Who are your main competitors and what are they doing that will impact on your business?
- Even if you are not directly involved in the commercial side of the busines, take time to understand customers, products and supply chain. After all, that’s what will occupy much of the conversation in the boardroom.
- For all of the above, what are the main risks to the business and your function in particular?
- Identify and make some quick-win decisions. Rather than waiting till day 101, are there some opportunities for you to make an impact with some ‘wins’ that show that you mean action? Try to find wins across your stakeholder mix. Bear in mind that you are being watched by various people. You can’t please them all. I remember chatting to a newly appointed CEO of a troubled company. My advice to him was to find quick wins across all key pillars of the business mix, ie product, people, place and internal controls.
As crazy as this sounds, plan your legacy already. In other words, what do you want people to say about you in the future when you eventually move on? Be the leader you aspire to be and start to work towards that legacy now.
While I know it’s a cliché, remember you have two ears and one mouth, so try to use them in that proportion. Here is an easy tool to help you to in your quest for building a picture. Remember Rudyard Kipling’s rhyme. “I keep six honest serving-men. They taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who”.’ Use these W’s to ask the right questions and don’t make judgments too soon.