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Advice for new leaders: Forget the irrelevant meetings, the 300 e-mails, and the 50 voicemails.
The best executives know that their first 100 days on a job will make or break them. As their first 100 days go, so goes their first year. New execs who want to keep their jobs focus hard on productivity in the first crucial months.
Sander A. Flaum
But other, more familiar strategies will tempt those who try to bring their old jobs with them. Operations and finance people stepping into chief commercial officer positions, for instance, tend to focus on cost reductions and process improvements. Maybe they move from a line organization to a matrix or visa versa. Or they take out certain people and move in their own.
Manufacturing people and engineers stick to their skill sets. They look for new ways to sustain cost-cutting modalities, for instance. Finance folks, who are known for their intelligence on helping the CEO cut expenses when projections fall short, look at the forecasts. Marketers press for the big idea and consumer engagement. Sales jocks concentrate on outside relationships and expanding market share.
None of these strategies are designed to meet a trial by fire. Just consider the temptations of the typical 100 days: First come the seemingly endless meetings to resolve (re-solve) crisis situations, to meet underserved management priorities, and to tackle human-resources issues. There may be plant inspections. Old and new vendors come seeking an audience. Analysts call. And, inevitably, a key clinical trial will be delayed. Our most successful leaders say to forget the irrelevant meetings, the 300 daily e-mails, and the 50 voicemails. Instead, start and end the day deliberating on new ways to accelerate sales. Great leaders surround themselves with people as smart or smarter than they are. To paraphrase Jack Welch,"I'd like to be the dumbest person in the room when I meet with my most productive direct reports and consultants."
In the Conference Board's CEO Challenge 2006 study, CEOs from all industries were interviewed on what they considered to be their top-ten priorities. US CEOs' number-one priority was "sustained and top-line growth"—exactly what newly promoted officers of the company should be focused on. That is followed closely by "consistent execution of strategy by top management." No surprise there. European CEOs differed from their US counterparts on some key priorities—not surprising to folks who follow business in Europe.
If all goes well, a new executive comes up with a breakthrough idea that rockets the revenue number. But then comes the less glamorous and sometimes tedious execution phase. Many promising executives fail at the execution phase—when it comes time to put that idea to work. Yes, you guessed it. Instead of pushing ahead to implement the plan, they return to the comfort of irrelevant meetings, voicemails, and e-mails. At the end of the first 100 days, they look around the table at their people and query: "What happened to that great idea?" Research on creative brainstorming processes teaches us that the execution should be led by an outside process team, with offices in the client's space. The other option is to assign the best and brightest to the execution team and relieve them of their other responsibilities until the task is satisfactorily completed. And that can take more than 100 days.
Sander A. Flaum is managing partner of Flaum Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org