The one thing I always say to leaders about to start a new job is that the actions you take in those first days and weeks will set the tone for the months and years ahead.
And why does it matter? The sad truth is that — as a new executive — there is a 50% chance that you won’t be in post after 18 months.
And so many of the problems I see come down to the same issues … not connecting and not taking people with you.
I totally get the temptation to want to start big and bold — shake things up straight away so people can see the value in your appointment. But if you don’t have the right foundations in place, the only thing you’ll be shaking is your p45!
So what are the six steps you need to take to make sure you don’t fall at the first hurdle?
You need to start with clarity in your purpose — have a vision for what you want to achieve in those first 100 days and set a strategy that will take you there. This isn’t about big organisational transformation — that can come in time — it’s about being intentional and realistic about where to focus first.
For me this about the processes and systems you put in place to set yourself up for success. How are you going to manage the day-to-day requirements — making sure you don’t get pulled down into the weeds? What support do you need in place — how can your office work for you? what do you need from your PA?
Think about your learning and working style too — if you’re an introvert and need recovery time between big events there’s no point allowing your office to fill up your diary — no-one’s going to get the best of you.
You need to understand your boundaries before you start, so you can begin with those in mind. It’s really hard to put boundaries in place once the precedents have been set.
Part of your communications and engagement plan (see 5) is knowing who and what you need to influence. Developing new networks and building relationships with the right people at the right time. Everyone’s going to want a piece of you and that can be overwhelming. So creating a plan aligned with your purpose will make sure that you proactively manage those connections and get your face in front of the people that matter most in those early days.
What team do you need in place and how are you going to create a common understanding amongst them? You’ve got your vision, so how will your team represent that and you? You might feel that it would cause too much uncertainty and disruption to make changes to your senior team too early on, but it’s vital for organisational success to have a senior team that is fit for purpose and importantly works as a team. So knowing what you might need and how you’re going to test that is crucial.
Making sure you have your personal communications and engagement rhythm in place before you start. This isn’t something that you delegate to your PA or the corporate team to handle. This is about knowing your key messages and having a plan to connect people to them. It’s how you take people from knowing you, to liking you, to trusting you.
Only once you’ve done that do you have a chance of people taking the actions you ask of them. And this isn’t about some big ‘tell and sell’ campaign. It’s about showing that you’re listening and you understand what’s important.
When you start in post your listening mode should be on all the time. How can you offer the right solutions if you don’t truly understand what the issues are? As a new starter you have the unique opportunity to see everything with fresh eyes; you’ve not been sucked into the everyday.
So this is your chance to truly understand the state of the organisation. But make sure you have some criteria or questions ready so that you can more easily collate and filter all that you see and hear.
So there you go, there’s my six steps to make the right impact in your new leadership role.