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Your first 100 days: what counts?

7 Mins

The importance of your first 100 days is the difference between success and failure in a new role – and that has consequences for your whole career.

If you have a successful first 100 days, it naturally follows that you are setting yourself up for a successful first 12 months, and then for the rest of your role.

You can make a fanfare of your first 100 days plan as soon as you arrive, but I’d advise against that. Instead, it’s best to arrive and ground yourself in the role for five to ten days to check what the experience is like on arrival, and to confirm and make any final tweaks to the plan. For example, you may not yet have met all the stakeholders, so your first 100 days plan may not have included all stakeholder expectations.

On arrival, I recommend the following steps:

  • Check/reconfirm priorities with key stakeholders, and their expectations of you;
  • Meet your direct report team, and get up to speed on their issues;
  • Physically go into the building and organisation to get your own sense of the place;
  • Finalise your first 100 days plan.

Whether or not to communicate your First 100 Days Plan to all role stakeholders is up to you – this will depend on on what is appropriate to your context.

How you communicate your plan is another matter. While it was useful for you to construct your plan on paper, in terms of communication to others you may wish to avail yourself of the full suite of communication architecture available: for example, in person, roadshows, town halls, podcast, blogs, email or position paper.

Show up as a leader

On arrival on the first day in the role, your challenge is only just beginning! You now need to bring your first 100 days plan to life, and execute it successfully. 

The word “leader” is an over-used and misunderstood term. Most business executives in major global corporations are professional managers, not leaders. You may believe you are a leader, you may have been told for years at your company that you are a leader, but I have rarely met anybody who is a real leader. Just because you are in a position of authority does not make you a leader.

What I mean is that executives are relying on the power and authority of their role to get things done and, like managers, they usually take up their role as someone involved in organising and marshalling resources in servicing a task passed to them by another. That’s a manager, a follower, not a leader.

Thousands of books have been written on the subject of leadership. It gets overly complicated to the extent that it feels like an impossible mission to lead anybody from point A to point B. I like to keep it simple.

A leader should:

  • Set a clear direction;
  • Bring people with him/her;
  • Deliver results.

In an attempt to keep it simple, I list these as the three key tasks of any leader, but these aren’t separate tasks. These three tasks are inextricably linked and iterative and one cannot exist in isolation of the other.

Set a clear direction

No one knows the right answer about the future. But a leader will have the courage to put stakes in the ground early on and say, “I don’t have all the answers either, but let’s go there”. 

“There” could be a new market, new products and services, or a total relaunch, or all of the aforementioned. It doesn’t matter what “there” is – the leader has the guts to go for it.

The more clarity on the end point, and the plan to get to the end point, then of course the easier the journey will be for everyone to get there.

Bring people with you

Of course, if only the leader goes “there”, nothing much happens in terms of progress. Never underestimate how much you have to keep communicating your direction in the first 100 days, and the reasons for your direction, to others. 

Even when you don’t know all the answers, keep communicating. And, of course, this is not one person trying to move a mountain, people will spontaneously follow you when they understand more about your direction and believe in you.

Deliver results

Reaching “there” and attempts to get “there” will have been a good idea and a good plan only if results prove it. Otherwise, we all realise the leader made a big mistake on direction and we were foolish to follow. 

The delivery of the right results demonstrates the quality of the leader in terms of ability to set a clear direction and bring the people with him/her.

That’s it! In your first 100 days – and beyond – keep in mind those three leadership tasks:

Set a clear direction on where you want to be by the end of 100 days;

Bring your people with you (team, stakeholders, customers);

Deliver the right results by the end of the first 100 days.

Niamh O’Keeffe is the founder of First100, a leadership performance firm. “Your First 100 Days” is published by FT Prentice Hall and is available in November from Amazon, Easons, Waterstones and WH Smith Travel.

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