Your first 100 days: Challenges & opportunities


The Basics: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities in Your First 100 Days

Moving to a new role within an organisation is a huge challenge, especially when it is a senior position. Within the first three months you must assimilate a new job, influence a new team and create the right culture.  You must make an impact both upwards and downwards, review the relevant business strategy and start implementing changes if required.

New senior executives represent a very significant investment and a major act of belief and trust.  You are expected to hit the ground running. As you know, the cost an unsuccessful appointment can be huge in terms of direct impact on the business and for the individual in terms of their career.

Senior executives get to top positions because you are bright, decisive, talented and experienced and you should have a clear idea of what you are expected to deliver. But the first 100 days are a surprisingly short time in which to make a mark and build those vital new relationships. It is a time of stretch and learning, which all too often can lead to ‘learning by mistakes’ – a risk for both you and the firm.

The 5 Stages of Transition

There are 5 phases to the executive transition, each with their individual problems and opportunities.

  1. The Countdown Period—failing to prepare for the job before you start

This is the time to prepare for the journey before you start the job (usually at least a month). It’s important to spend time on preparation, because once you get to day one, you will be rushing from meeting to meeting, drinking from a fire hose, and will not have the time. Before you get started, it is a good time to think about what your strengths have been as a leader in your previous jobs and how these might be vulnerabilities in the new one.

For example, a top down leadership style may have worked in your old job where you were the top dog and the ultimate decisions maker, yet a collaborative style is what will be required in your new job where you may not have direct authority.

It’s also a good time to create a learning agenda for your new posting that will help get you ready for day one: 1) What do I know about this company and what do I need to learn? 2) What do I know about my boss, and job and what do I need to learn? 3) Is there anyone I can talk to who can mentor me on these things?

Create a first draft of the First 100 Day Action Plan in the countdown period, so that they can hit the ground running, even if they don’t have all the information at this time.

  1. The Honeymoon Period—the problem of over confidence

This is the first one to three months fantasy period where everything appears to be going smoothly. This can lead to over confidence, causing executives to over-reach their job mandate, or to make mistakes in negotiating the political chessboard and culture. This over confidence results in people failing to ask for coaching or getting 360 feedback, which often leads to them bumping into obstacles they didn’t know where there.

Examples: A newly hired Director of Strategy in an asset management firm came up with a game-changing product development idea and went to the executive committee without realizing he was starting a civil war with Director of Marketing who thought product development decisions were his sacred control ground. A new head of a sales desk at a US investment bank took his team out to build camaraderie while on his first off-site. The new guy thought the trip went well, but when he got back, he discovered that his boss was angry, “You have already earned yourself a reputation as a party animal, staying up to 2am drinking.” It turns out that in his previous company, the philosophy was “work hard, play hard.” In the new firm, people went to their rooms at 8 o’clock and were ready to go for a five-mile run before work in the morning.

I strongly advise making sure that friendly, informal, frequent feedback is just around the corner. “How am I doing?” Make sure to ask for near brutal candour. If someone says you are doing great when you really not, it fuels overconfidence and you don’t learn anything.

  1. Reality Bites—the problem of disillusionment

The first signs of disillusionment come when you realize that your new boss is really a combination of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s impossible to please such a boss, not only because of their bi-polar personality, but because they change the rules every day.

Example: A client of mine was hired by a founder a hedge fund as a Head of Business Development The founder ran the hedge fund like an absolute monarchy but one day in the first week he put his arm around the CCO in a very paternalistic way;

“I want you to know that I am not only inspired by having you on the team, I am fully empowering you to do everything humanly possible to increase profitable revenue.”[1]

However, the founder didn’t tell him that all he really cared about was new revenue from new clients in order to increase market share. When the CCO suggested increasing fees on certain funds, he was on the receiving end of a blast from the founder. Coaching someone in this kind of situation usually involves preparing them for having a candid conversation with their boss or others. You have to stand up to the boss and be respectful at the same time. If you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life in the company disempowered and demoralised.

  1. Adjustment—the problem of adaptability

As a coach, I tell people that when reality bites, they have two choices. One is to give up and start looking for a new job (not a pleasant thought). The other is to find a way to adjust to the new situation. For example, as a new executive, you may have a boss from hell, but you will get along better if you get coaching on how to work with that person, thinking in terms of how to make the boss successful, not letting that person’s idiosyncrasies bother you.

The same applies to your new team. Instead of decrying the fact that you don’t have a team of a ‘A’ players, you can adjust your attitude by telling yourself you have got to play the hand that you have got, and bring out the best in people. If you are willing to make these kinds of adjustments, relationships will start to gain traction, results will start to come in, and confidence will be recovered. If you are not willing to make adjustments, you will be fired and told something like, “don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.

  1. Integration—you’ve made it!

Executives who succeed run the gauntlet for about 12 to 18 months, then wake up one day and realise they are in the right place. The signs leading up to this revelation are having created a good relationship with the boss, hitting sales forecast and budget, and having a good idea of how to navigate the political chessboard and culture.

For additional questions and invaluable insight on how to maximize your recruiter relationship, to build stronger organisations and develop a winning hiring strategy contact:

Peter Elliott 01189 291810

EJC offers a First 100 Days Coaching Programme for all Executive Search & Exclusive Contingency Assignments 

[1] Or words to that effect !