100-day hero: a plan for new company leaders

The 100 day hero, or a man in a suit with a cape

Sophie Devonshire lists three critical things that help new leaders of a company achieve a positive impact in the first 100 days and firmly build the foundations for long-term success

1. Manage expectations in 100 days  

Tell your board, tell your boss, tell your team what you are doing and when. Make them understand that you need time to listen, learn and think before you act. Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, scoffs at the idea of a 100-day focus as he says he’s seen smart leaders put themselves under unnecessary pressure to achieve results fast.

I’ve seen another senior leader receive criticism within two months of joining an operation in crisis where the impatient driver who appointed him had expected more, sooner. Typically, it takes new CEOs six months to start to affect business, so resist any urge to promise results quickly.

The speed at which your actions will change the business will also depend on what situation the business is in. A company that needs turning around urgently requires a very different approach to a business that is being realigned.

If your board or boss are impatient for action, set a clear timetable for when you will present your conclusions or start to drive change, but don’t let them drive the timetable or judge too quickly. Give them a clear, positive message that you are in control, reassure them that you will be acting decisively and that you will be applying both rigour and vigour to the business needs.

2. Only connect in 100 days

Talk to the right people around you; your team, potential ‘allies’, people across the organisation who have insight and ideas. CEOs promoted from within consistently succeed better than new leaders brought in from outside. Partly, this is because the ‘outsider’ lacks insight into the existing business. But it’s also because they fail to properly connect with and consult those who do have insight (and the golden nuggets of knowledge that are essential).

Setting up a number of half-hour/one-hour interviews with people with smart perspectives will buy you supporters and furnish you with priceless insights into what the blockers and barriers to progress are. It will also show humility by indicating that you are willing to learn from others – often a very compelling trait.

3. Find your focus in 100 days

You can’t do everything. You shouldn’t do everything. You need to give your team and yourself clear priorities and – as ever – less is more. What is the most important thing the business needs to achieve in year one? Or what are the three pillars of turnaround? What changes need to happen for your customer, consumer or within the culture.

You don’t need all the answers and the detail at this stage but by 100 days you’ll have a clear plan and usually some quick wins either in place or in progress.

Articulate your goals in a way that everyone around you can understand and believe in. Simple storytelling language is a potent way to share this. Clarity on the business brand and purpose will always help make this work – whether it’s linking the goal to the agreed purpose, or more accurately defining it.

The latest research on leadership shows unequivocally that empathy tops the list as a critical driver of success. In other words, business success comes from making the most of the people around you.

If you want to hit 100 days as a hero, don’t be a solo hero. You’ll achieve more by connecting more – both in 100 days and for as long as you want to stay in your role.

Sophie Devonshire is CEO of The Caffeine Partnership and a member of IoD London

About author

Sophie Devonshire

Sophie Devonshire

Sophie Devonshire is CEO of The Caffeine Partnership. She is an experienced business leader, entrepreneur and brand specialist who works with senior leaders to grow businesses at pace

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