You’re In Charge – Now What?

You’ve been promoted to a new position that involves greater responsibility and a new group of employees. This is your big chance. What you do in your first 100 days can make you or break you, according to a new book called “You’re In Charge – Now What?” The book’s authors, Thomas J. Neff and James Citrin, interviewed 50 “high-profile” executives to develop eight success secrets for new leaders.

Here they are (along with my comments):

1. Have a 100-day plan. Before you begin, research the department, division, or company that you’ll be running. Look at the numbers. Talk to the people, both management and rank-and-file. Make an objective assessment of its greatest strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. Rough out a set of objectives for enhancing strengths, eliminating weaknesses, and meeting challenges – as much as can be done in 100 days.

Comment: I like the 100-day perspective. It reminds you that it takes a while to figure out a new business, even if it’s similar to one that you are already very familiar with. The last thing you want to do when accepting a new responsibility is come in like a bull in a china shop. The best you can hope to accomplish in 100 days is getting to the point where you can plan out the rest of the year. If you can do that without causing a great deal of trouble, you’ve done a lot.

2. Your 100-day plan will give you a good start – a set of ideas you can share with your new team. Present your ideas as “what-ifs” rather than mandates. You are still new to the business, which means your ideas may be unwise. Keep asking questions and be prepared to answer them. Let everyone know that you are open to conversation.

Comment: This is probably the single most important idea you need to communicate at the outset: “I have an open mind about the future. I want to hear what you have to say.”

3. Develop your management team.

Comment: As you refine your 100-day plan through formal discussions and casual conversations, you’ll come to realize which employees are on your side and which are not. Gradually develop a network of supporters.

4. Set strategic goals. You don’t need a complete agenda by the first day or even by the 100th. The important thing is to establish a direction that makes sense to people.

Comment: As long as you articulate the primary goals during the 100 days, your employees should be willing to follow you.

5. Transform the corporate culture. If you feel you need to change some of the ways people work or think about working, now is the time to begin. Identify the “unwritten and unspoken conventions that are the nervous system of any organization,” Neff and Citrin recommend.

Comment: It’s difficult to change the culture of a business, but it’s often necessary. The most common problem I’ve come up against is an implicitly negative attitude toward customers. (It’s shocking how often this occurs in business.) To change culture, you have to change minds and hearts. That requires a firm resolve – your employees have to know that you are serious – and a gentle hand. (They can’t change overnight. And you shouldn’t expect them to.) Employees will make adjustments, so long as you make those adjustments seem reasonable and appreciated.

6. Manage your boss/board by listening to him/them and finding out exactly what he/they want. Come to an agreement about what your primary goals and objectives should be.

Comment: Your goal, as the new leader on the block, is not to show how good you are, but to get the most important work done as quickly and as effectively as possible. To do that, you must begin with an understanding of what is expected of you, how your boss/board sees the business, what he/they think is important, etc. Begin by asking.

7. Continue to communicate. Remember, communication is not a “one-way process, but a continuous give and take in which ideas are explored,” the authors argue.

Comment: As time passes, don’t allow communication to diminish. It may eventually be necessary to institute newsletters, message boards, and other perfunctory communication vehicles.

8. Avoid the most common mistakes new executives make: Setting unrealistic goals.

Comment: You want to make a splash and this is the fastest way to do so. But making promises you (or your employees) can’t keep is a recipe for failure. Being a know-it-all.

Comment: If there is one thing that is certain, it’s that you don’t know everything you need to know about your new job. If you think you do, you are in really bad trouble. Be humble. Go slowly. Ask questions. Picking the wrong battles.

Comment: Someone will challenge you during those first 100 days. Everyone will be watching you to see how you respond. Don’t be defensive. Listen. Be considerate. But don’t be weak. Not being willing to change.

Comment: What worked in the past may work here too. But it will probably require some adjustments, particularly in how you implement old ideas. Stay flexible. Be patient. Count on your natural, emotional intelligence to find a new path to success.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]