Tag Archives: CEO

The Myth of 100 Days, and the Reality

presidential sealMuch of the news for the past couple of weeks has revolved around how is President Trump doing in his first one hundred days in office. President Trump himself set high expectations before he was inaugurated, and recently he has been trying to tamp down the importance of the 100 day marker. He hit that marker this past Saturday.

One hundred days is an arbitrary period. It is less than a year, less than one-twelfth of a president’s term of office. Nevertheless, it is used as a milestone not only for new Presidents but also for new corporate executives.

I’ve read many articles outlining what a new CEO or CFO or head of Human Resources—or any other “chief” of a corporate function, for that matter—ought to accomplish when he or she takes office. Here are just a few articles telling new executives what to do in their first one hundred days:

Five Myths of a CEO’s First 100 Days, by Roselinde Torres and Peter Tollman, January 30, 2012, in Harvard Business Review

Your First 100 Days as CEO—Eight Must-Avoid Traps, by Scott Weighart, Bates Communications

An Action Plan for New CEOs During the First 100 Days, by M.S.Rao, October 8, 2014, on TrainingMag.com

Assuming Leadership: The First 100 Days, by Patrick Ducasse and Tom Lutz, The Boston Consulting Group

Rather than go through all the recommendations, which they are not entirely consistent, I want to focus on two topics: setting up for long-term success and strong communications. These, in my opinion, are critical marks of new leaders.

1. Long-Term Success

One area in which there is a difference of opinion among the experts is whether to strive for “quick wins” or whether to focus on setting up for success in the long term. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and a few quick wins can win over supporters who will improve the chances of long-term success.

It all depends on whether the wins are what the organization needs or wants, or whether the new leader achieves them by running roughshod over the organization. If the early wins are gained at the expense of long-standing corporate culture, then the new executive will be seen as insensitive.

I believe that long-term success is more important than early victories. It is better for the new executive to be seen as listening to stakeholders than to introduce change without an understanding of the impact on the organization. Obviously, if there are some early wins that most stakeholders approve of, then the new CEO should undertake them immediately. But these actions will have the best impact if they are consistent with the CEO’s long-term strategic plan and vision.

2. Communications

Most commentators agree that it is critical for the new executive to take control of communications, but to balance listening with revealing his or her own vision and priorities. The executive must be seen as a leader, but also as someone who understands the organization’s needs. Particularly for executives hired from the outside, it is critical that the new leader not come across as arrogant and dismissive of the company’s past.

Building relationships with those in the organization is essential. That requires an open dialogue in which the new executive really listens to the stakeholders and also reveals his or her own intentions and beliefs. The incoming CEO will have his or her preferred communications style, but must also adapt to the needs of the organization. Also, it is important to set realistic expectations on what will and will not change and how fast change will come.

So, on these two points, how is President Trump doing?

Each of us will have our own answer to this question. In my opinion, President Trump gets decidedly mixed results.

He has had some short-term successes (the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch, the limited strike on Syria) and some failures (the travel ban, the failure of the House health care reform proposal). But I don’t believe he has defined his vision of long-term success clearly enough. We don’t yet know what he hopes to accomplish in four years, which campaign promises he means to keep and which he does not . . . and maybe also how he has changed since taking office. Without this clarity, it is hard to decide if he is focused on the long term.

On the communications front, his core audience still seems supportive of the President, but he does not appear to be expanding his reach beyond his base. People who didn’t like candidate Trump tweeting now find tweets by President Trump are even scarier. Maybe he doesn’t care about broadening his appeal, but I think it would be wise if he did. And to broaden his appeal, he will have to communicate in more than 140 characters. He will have to appear to listen as well as to speak and to speak at length and with heart.

As with any change, some people will show patience toward President Trump, others will have no patience. Some will be skeptical, but silent. Others will be vocally displeased. Much like what happens in any organization when a new executive enters the scene.

What do you think of President Trump’s first one hundred days?


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Succession Planning: Developing Future CEOs

I’ve been interested in succession planning throughout most of my career. As many readers of this blog know, my novel Playing the Game deals in part with CEO succession in a family-owned business—an issue the organization was not prepared for and had to face as the novel begins. The novel, of course, is fiction, but the topic is real in many businesses.

A National Association of Corporate Directors survey reports that two-thirds of U.S. companies admit they have no formal CEO succession plan in place. See CEO succession starts with developing your leaders, by Asa Bjornberg & Claudio Feser, McKinsey Quarterly, May 2015. And even those corporate boards who have some plan underway are not satisfied with the results of their succession planning.

leadership sign 2The McKinsey article focuses on the need for a long-term plan for developing CEO successors. Succession is not a short-term project that can wait until the current CEO is ready to step down. Any board members, executives, or Human Resources professionals with significant experience have seen situations where illness, death, poor performance, or a significant lapse in judgment has required an immediate change in corporate leadership.

The authors state:

“Ideally, succession planning should be a multiyear structured process tied to leadership development. The CEO succession then becomes the result of initiatives that actively develop potential candidates.”

Developmental tools that companies can use include new assignments (including international and cross-divisional moves), coaching, mentoring, and outside leadership development programs.

Based on my experience, the important components to include when developing executive talent are

  • providing broad knowledge of the world in which the business operates,
  • a deep understanding of the organization’s unique strategies and goals, and
  • the interpersonal competencies needed to motivate and focus large groups of people through a multi-tiered organization.

The authors of the McKinsey article stated and “clumped” these attributes somewhat differently, but the themes are the same:

“. . . three clusters of criteria can help companies evaluate potential candidates: know-how, such as technical knowledge and industry experience; leadership skills, such as the ability to execute strategies, manage change, or inspire others; and personal attributes, such as personality traits and values.”

It is likely that each potential internal candidate for the CEO role will need an individual leadership development plan. The goal of the succession plan as a whole should be to have two or three strong candidates ready when the role needs to be filled.

Even organizations that want to develop a good CEO succession plan face risks. The plan will not work unless the current leaders have some idea of the future needs of the business. Those involved in selecting potential candidates must base the selection on these future requirements rather than on interpersonal factors not related to strategy. For example, sometimes current CEOs want to perpetuate the roles they have played in the organization. Other times, current leaders who plan to remain a while want weaker candidates in the succession plan, so no one is nipping at their heels.

And, of course, the analysis of future strategic needs and of the candidates themselves cannot be static, but must evolve over time. Too often, once someone is the “golden boy” (or girl) that person remains in the line of succession, regardless of performance.

It is also important to constantly compare the internal candidates with potential outsiders. So those involved in succession planning must know other leaders by staying involved with industry associations and community groups.

But the biggest risk is ignoring CEO succession needs altogether. Starting a plan now is better than waiting until the CEO role is suddenly vacant.

Which succession strategies have you seen work in your organization? Which have failed?

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management