Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on August 8, 2016 (Updated on August 25, 2016)
You were just appointed CEO at a new company. The press announcements have been singing your praises, outlining your previous positions, expertise and track record of results. The employees at your new company are wondering about your leadership style, your tone at the top and what changes you might make to the culture and strategy, as well as changes to the senior leadership team reporting to you. Your board of directors will be wondering the same thing. What you say and do will be watched intently by everyone within the organization. Expectations that you will move the company forward will be very high.
Your first 100 days as CEO is a time for listening, for asking questions and for forming impressions. Get to know the company. Talk with your board members and the individuals reporting to you, as well as those individuals reporting to them. What was the tone at the top and organizational culture under the previous CEO? The context of the comments by board members and employees will depend on how the previous CEO departed – retirement, a performance issue or a change in the company’s ownership. Judge these comments in an appropriate manner.
Does the company have a strategic plan, and are the various businesses within the company and the company’s functional areas pursuing strategies to achieve the plan? Has the company performed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis? Is the strategic plan written to act on the SWOT analysis results: build on the company’s strengths, minimize the impact of its weaknesses, exploit its opportunities, and defend against its threats?
What is the competitive position of the company’s various businesses vis-a-vie their competition? How active is the competition in attacking the company’s markets with new product offerings or aggressive product pricing? Does the senior leadership team know why its customers buy from the company, and why other customers buy from its competition? Is this knowledge known throughout the organization, so every employee, even those who do not directly touch the customer, can perform their jobs in a way to strengthen the company’s competitive advantage and deliver a great customer experience?
What is the cost position of the company in its markets? How competitive is the company’s process and IT technology? Are the employees committed to continuous improvement? Is the ethos of the company to be on a journey to be the best in the world at what it does? Do all employees and board members buy into and share ownership of this ethos?
How strong is the profitability and cash flow of the company and how much debt is on the company’s balance sheet? Is the company capital intensive, and are there major capital projects on the horizon? What is your signature approval level for capital projects beyond which you will need to take a capital project to the board for approval? What is the signature approval level of your direct reports, and are you comfortable with it?
What are the leadership styles of the senior managers of the company? Can they execute and deliver results? Do they micro-manage their employees, or do they empower them to make decisions so they have a feeling of ownership in what they do, and can develop as leaders? Are employees allowed to take risks, and do they know how to de-risk their decisions? Do some of your direct reports need to be changed?
How does the board operate, and what are their expectations of you, the new CEO? What level of information detail do they require to oversee the company? How much experience does each have as a board member? Do they tend to drift beyond oversight and governance and get into operational issues, which is the responsibility of the CEO?
While you are learning about the members of your senior leadership team and their leadership styles, they are learning about you and your leadership style. Develop a good working relationship with all your direct reports as well as the members of your board by building trust. Ask questions for understanding, and don’t make commitments you may not be able to keep. Set expectations, so your direct reports will know what is important to you.
You should also spend time focused externally, speaking with major stockholders and customers. What are their expectations? What would they like to see that’s different from the previous CEO?
This is a lot for you to learn as the new CEO, and it will certainly take more than 100 days to do so. After your assessment, you may want to change the culture of the company. When sufficiently knowledgeable about the business, you will need to discuss with the board the changes you want to make to the company’s strategic plan. It is critical that as CEO, you “own” the strategic plan, because you and your team will be held responsible for executing it. It is difficult to hold a new CEO responsible for achieving results unless they own the plan and its goals.
So, as a newly appointed CEO, spend your first 100 days getting to know your company and getting to know your people by asking questions and listening before making big decisions. This will be the expectation of your board members and your employees, and will form the basis of your credibility as you move the company forward.
Stan Silverman is the founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a writer, speaker and advisor to C-suite executives on business issues and on cultivating a leadership culture within their organizations. Stan is Vice Chairman of the Board of Drexel University and a director of Friends Select School and Faith in the Future. He is the former President and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com