We often talk in terms of the first 100 days being a honeymoon period for a new CEO, whether it is his or her first CEO role, or whether they are an experienced CEO in a new CEO position. In reality, the first months of a role provide a golden opportunity to make a fast and decisive beginning in their CEO appointment. The following are some quick reminders of a few things to actively do, and some pitfalls to avoid in those vital first few months.
Be visible and listen
Many CEOs these days are changing industries or even returning to Australia from offshore postings or coming into their first CEO role in Australia. Whether you know the industry or not, or know Australia or not, it is always important to do a lot of listening in the beginning. This will require some quiet time to consider what exactly you want to listen to, which means asking the right questions. No-one expects CEOs to know enough in the early days to put together an well defined strategy moving forward, or even necessarily what is right for the business strategically in a detailed sense. Listening to a number of different stakeholders may help you frame your thoughts and also understand some inherent filters and biases that you may need to rely on or perhaps change.
Share a bit of who you are
After practicing your active listening skills, take the opportunity to express who you are as a person, your values, passion and commitment for the business. The importance of this cannot be understated. Whereas the stakeholders will not expect specifics around the strategy you will drive moving forward, they will want to get a feel for who you are as an individual, how authentic you are, what your values are and a feel for your commitment and passion to take the business to a new place. Don’t lose this opportunity to connect with people.
Spend time with the Chairman and the Board early on
Forming bonds with Board Members and your Chairman is important to think about from even before you join. Open discussions around expectations of how you will best work together and expected levels of communications, as well as other strategic topics, are important to discuss earlier rather than later. None of these individuals run the business, you do, but it is important to use them as appropriate sounding boards and mentors from the get go.
Spend time with customers
Most businesses have key customers. It may go without saying but don’t ignore these important stakeholders and be prepared before you see them. It may be relevant for you to see some of them alone, and others with key individuals in your organization but you need to think through who you go with and the signals it sends.
Under promise and over deliver
We have all heard this mantra before. This is not a time to forget it. If you are CEO of a publicly listed company, the media will likely be knocking on your door and we would recommend you focus on the business and not on promises or profiles to the media. Every CEO wants to make a positive impact on the business. Just make sure you don’t over promise what you and your team can’t deliver.
Don’t move too quickly or too slowly
There is a balance here between making key decisions with careful consideration and getting the appropriate timeframe correct. You don’t want to move too quickly that you get it wrong without absorbing the right information about the organization. On the other hand, not acting on things when you know you need to, and taking the hits early is also a mistake. Typically areas where CEOs can drag their heels to act are on people issues, thinking they can turnaround individuals that they probably can’t and also on not taking any known financial hits early on.
Whereas the above may seem obvious, these are often mistakes that CEOs can make in their “honeymoon” period. A quick review of these factors can be very timely.
By Jane Allen – Partner – Egon Zehnder International