What to Do in the First 100 Days

What to Do in the First 100 Days

You're starting a new job. You have to make a great impression, but exactly what do you need to do and how?

So, you're starting a new job, maybe after sitting on the bench for too long. You have to make a great impression, but exactly what do you need to do and how do you need to do it?

All you know is that you need to do it soon. The position you now occupy may have been open for a while since your new boss was methodical in filling the role. Finding just the right person takes time. But, now you're it.

There are three ways to start: You can spend time figuring out what you just got yourself into, or go right in and "fix" everything or continue "business as usual". The right answer is a combination of all three, naturally; it all depends on what you just inherited.

Investigate. Experience should tell you that if there is no current crisis (if only we could be so lucky) then the right way to get your feet wet is to become an observer and a student of your new environment. In other words, stop and listen. Don't try to fix what isn't broken yet. This is a time for meetings to understand what is good and bad about your new organization and formulate a go-forward strategy. Spend time with your direct reports and their direct reports, find out what they do, what their skills are, what they think is right and wrong. Since you are the new person, they may not trust you yet, so keep the groups small and make it personal. And don't have managers in with their reports!

Once you have a sense of what your team is feeling, then it's time to talk with your clients. Look first for the business unit leaders and get recommendations from them as to which of their people you should talk with. One school of thought is to do your internal client's business for a day. There is no better way to learn about issues than to experience them first hand. Lastly, talk to you new boss. Now that you have some data points you can have a better, more detailed discussion on what your focus should be.

I recommend asking the same questions to each group you meet with. In his book The First 90 Days, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Watkins suggests that you ask six questions to everyone you meet. The one that is most relevant is: "If you were me, what would you focus attention on?" The questions you ask should provide you with a starting point for prioritizing the things you need to do and the things you want to do. For example, in a Wall Street Journal article Carol Hymowitz quotes Kevin Sharer as asking the following questions (to the top 100 executives) after he became the CEO at Amgen:

1. "What do you want to keep?" 2. "What do you want to change?" 3. "What do you want me to do?" 4. "What are you afraid I'll do?" 5. "What else do you want to ask me?"

The questions you ask need to give you the knowledge that will enable you to create the strategy that will make you successful. We need to take lessons from wherever they come, including from critics. For example, Steven Parrish, senior vice president, corporate affairs at the Altria Group, (parent of brand names Kraft Food and Philip Morris), recently presented some lessons learned as the Philip Morris Companies started to shift away from the rest of the cigarette industry. Among them were these:

  • Listen to critics, as most have legitimate concerns about the organization that you are inheriting. Realize that it took them a while to become critics and now their views are pretty much irreversible. Changing people's minds is a slow process; it is about showing results not talking about results.

  • Commit from the beginning to act on what you learn. Even if you have to change the look and feel of your organization, do it.

  • Don't try to win arguments about debates that occurred in the past. Asking people to change their views about the past is the same as asking them to admit they are wrong.

  • Show them the future so they can focus on what's important.

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