Your first 100 days as CEO

For the first time in your life, you're the main man (or woman).

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

You've stepped up to the top job; now you've got to work out what it is that top dogs do. The expectation is palpable.

Calm down. Too much attention is paid to a new CEO's opening spell, says George Binney, an associate at Ashridge and co-author of Living Leadership, a practical guide for ordinary heroes. 'The first thing that's required is to lower the temperature. There's a myth that you can change everything, that if you don't do radical things in this short window, then you're lost.' Manage expectations so they are more realistic.

Become an introvert. 'Most successful CEOs first focus inwards during their first 100 days,' says Leslie Gaines-Ross of Burson-Marsteller in her book CEO Capital. 'Establishing a relationship with employees and then organising the top brass should receive priority status.' Investors and the media come second.

Draw some lines. It's routine for a new CEO to write off everything that has gone wrong previously; it gives you a baseline from which to make yourself look good.

Listen - and act. 'When Archie Norman took over at Asda, he did nothing but listen,' says Kate Donaghy, head of the senior directors unit at consultants Penna. 'He must have met everyone in the company, and as evidence that he'd listened, he put lots of little things right to win their trust.'

Don't pre-judge. Beware of making hasty decisions, even in pursuit of quick wins. 'You don't want to be coming up with solutions without truly understanding what the issues are,' says Donaghy.

Test your team. It's common to cut half the existing team and bring in your own people when you take the reins, but you could lose good people and create perceptions of 'us and them', advises Binney. 'The approach we suggest is to ask whether you can "trade" with the people who are there.

See what they can do for you, and you do something for them. This approach gives you the chance to try them out on specific projects before making judgments.'

Demonstrate. Grand pronouncements on your vision or values are likely to elicit scepticism, says Binney. Seek instead to demonstrate your values by where and how you direct your energies. 'The grapevine is often more important than grand speeches, so look for opportunities to manage that.'

Ask a friend. As CEO, everyone will seek your counsel; it's vital that there's a sympathetic ear you can bend when necessary. Top of the list is your chairman, then a network of other CEOs and a mentor. Penna has developed a faculty of mentors for CEOs. 'We find mentoring of greater value than classical coaching,' says Donaghy, 'because a mentor can take a strong view on issues related to content and balance sheet.'

Do say: 'I'm listening ...'

Don't say: 'I'm changing everything that you lot have been doing wrong. In three months, you won't recognise this firm.'

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