Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on August 21, 2018
In August 2016, I wrote an article headlined, “Your first 100 days as CEO. What should you do?” I wrote that article after being asked by a newly-minted CEO for advice and guidance.
This is an update of that article, including what she felt was critical to her success during her first two years on the job.
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 possible 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.
As the new CEO, what should you do during your first 100 days? The knowledge gained during this learning process will help you formulate changes to both the operational and strategic initiatives of the company.
1) Listen, ask questions and form impressions
Get to know the company and your direct reports. 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? Will the culture of the organization need to be changed?
2) What is the state of the company’s strategic plan?
How current is the company’s strategic plan, and are the various areas within the company pursuing strategies to achieve the plan? When was the last time the company performed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis?
Is the strategic plan written to act on the SWOT analysis findings: build on the company’s strengths, minimize the impact of its weaknesses, exploit its opportunities, and defend against its threats?
When you are sufficiently knowledgeable about the business, you will need to discuss the changes you want to make to the company’s strategic plan with the board. It is critical that as CEO, you “own” the strategic plan, because you and your team will be held responsible for executing it.
3) What is the competitive position of the company?
What is the competitive position of the company’s various businesses vis-a-vis 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 are the company’s growth opportunities? What is the cost position of the company in its markets? How competitive is the company’s process and information 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?
4) What is the company’s financial position?
How strong is the profitability and cash flow of the company and how much debt is on the company’s balance sheet? How capital intensive is the company and what major capital projects are on the horizon?
What is your signature authority for capital projects beyond which you will need to take a capital project to the board for approval? What is the signature authority of your direct reports, and are you comfortable with it?
5) Learn about the senior leaders who report to you
What are the leadership styles, tone and culture of the senior managers of the company? Can they execute and deliver results? Do they inspire their employees?
Do they micro-manage their direct reports, or do they empower them to make decisions, so they have a feeling of ownership in what they do? 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?
6) Develop a good relationship with your board and stakeholders
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?
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?
In my recent conversation with the newly-minted CEO that inspired that 2016 article, she validated the advice I had shared with her two years ago. She also commented, “Critical to my success was building trust with my colleagues and the board. The importance of having the support of my leadership team and the board cannot be overestimated.”
I cannot overemphasize this CEO’s comment on the importance of building trust, the foundation of which is honesty, ethics and integrity. Without trust, initiatives undertaken by the CEO will not have the full support of the board or her leadership team. It is the foundation of long-term sustainable success. Once trust is lost, it is nearly impossible to regain it. A lesson for all.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.