Chief Executive Inauguration: Handling the First 100 Days

Photo Credit: stevendepolo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: stevendepolo via Compfight cc

The Presidential Inauguration takes place every four years but at any given time, 14 to 15 percent of CEOs are in their first year of office, according to global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Many of these CEOs are new to the job. Whether becoming the leader of a brand new enterprise or taking someone’s place, chief executives face an increasingly complex challenge. As President Obama embarks today on his second first 100 days in office, I wanted to discuss how new CEOs can best approach the job.

As the “new” CEO, you should immediately focus on what I call the three essential tools for CEO success (or three Cs): establish credibility, show competence, and promote caring. The three Cs form the foundation of any position of leadership but are critically important in the role of CEO. Employees want to believe in their CEO. They are looking for leadership and will give the CEO tremendous effort and loyalty unless he violates one of the three Cs. These are especially critical if you are brought in after things have gone wrong in the company and morale is very low.

The Boston Consulting Group just published a report about the five myths of a CEO’s first 100 days and provided an excellent set of guidelines for CEOs that incorporate elements of credibility, competence, and caring. Here’s a quick synopsis, with my thoughts and help from a cheat sheet version of the report published by Business Insider:

Look inward as well as outward: Don’t rush to change or undo everything your predecessor did just to be different or seen as doing something right away. This is “I’m-not-the-other-guy leadership” according to the BCG report. New CEOs who assimilate the best are thoughtful and self-aware. They take time first to determine exactly what they want to accomplish. Only then can they set out a clear vision and strategic plan for everyone else.

Act boldly, but first see clearly: Acting too quickly without all the facts can be rash and reckless, with dire consequences. Many new CEOs struggle because they don’t have a clear picture of what they should do in the job. Before taking the CEO position they have only observed a small fraction of the things a CEO does and can be overwhelmed by all the demands on their time once they start the job. It is easy to fall into a very tactical routine as CEO, confronting each problem as it comes your way or instituting plans and policies for the sake of taking action. This is exactly the wrong way to build a great company. The CEO has the opportunity to gain a unique, big-picture view into the operation and how best to position it for success. They should take advantage of it.

Build a team of team players: New CEOs should hire team players, not individual stars who may not fit in with the company’s goals and values. As BCG recommends: “Contrary to the myth {that you should form a ‘super team’ of the very best leaders and executives}, outstanding individual caliber is not a sufficient qualification for entry to a CEO’s inner circle of executives. A necessary additional qualification is suitability: the more well suited the executives are to their particular portfolios, to the company’s objectives, and to the team as a whole, the more supportive and constructive they will prove to be.”

Judge as you will be judged: New CEOs often feel a temptation to crack the whip and institute tough new standards and policies to encourage employees to work harder. However, the results may be that the company focuses too closely on short-term activities instead of long-term outcomes. Instead, new CEOs should determine how they will be evaluated and set metrics for everyone else accordingly, says BCG.

Be wise by being attentive, not just smart: A CEO doesn’t always have to be the smartest person in the room. It is impossible to know everything about running the company, and those who try are doomed to failure. CEOs should resist the temptation to be a know-it-all. Success will depend not on passing his experience along but in leveraging the expertise of others both inside and outside the organization. “Specialized knowledge is useful, but general savvy and good listening skills are essential,” says BCG. “The qualities that best enable CEOs to refine their decision making are humility and openness to advice.”

Here are a few other suggestions for the CEO’s first 100 days:

  • Implement an anonymous employee survey to measure employee engagement and get candid feedback. Listen and act on the results.
  • Make sure there is someone on your team who will be candid with you in discussing your own behavior and will raise the issue when there is any concern.
  • Develop relationships not only with your direct reports but with all levels of the organization so you will know when the behavior of your executives is affecting your credibility.
  • Develop a group of mentors and peers that you can engage when needed.
  • Force yourself to make decisions rapidly when you have 40% to 70% of the possible information. Then quickly change your decision if new information proves the decision was faulty.

What other advice would you give a CEO starting his or her first 100 days on the job?

Related article: The first 100 days of a CEO’s tenure


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