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7 tips for for new CEOs in the crucial first 90 hours

Written by Editor

July 18, 2023

The critical importance of making a lasting first impression

By Raine St.Claire

Prioritising the initial 90 hours, rather than solely focusing on the first 90 days, is paramount when assuming a leadership role within an organisation. This crucial period holds significant weight as it shapes the initial impression, and any progress lost during this time cannot be easily regained in the subsequent weeks.

In today’s rapidly evolving world, marked by the speed of information dissemination, intense global competition, talent mobility, and the potential for unexpected crises, leaders are required to exhibit greater agility and act swiftly. While Michael Watkins’ advice in his best-selling book, The First 90 Days, still holds relevance, the recommended actions need to be condensed into a shorter time frame.

In his guidance for newly appointed CEOs, John A. Quelch, Emeritus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, presents seven crucial recommendations to achieve a successful start within the initial 90-hour period. He also highlights three missteps that should be avoided for an effective transition into the role.

1. Lay a solid foundation

Prioritise attaining comprehensive knowledge about the position and the organisation before assuming the leadership role. If appointed externally, consider extending the start date to enable multiple visits for additional insights. Thoroughly assess the company’s strengths, weaknesses, financial landscape, and the capabilities of existing C-suite executives. Engage in frank conversations with senior leaders to determine their commitment. Seek insights from key customers, employees, former employees, and board members. While having a sense of direction is crucial, maintain flexibility to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

 

2. Secure board support

When implementing changes, anticipate potential resistance from direct reports and address this proactively by informing the board in advance and requesting their unwavering support.

 

3. Identify top-tier talent

Assess crucial areas and conduct focused group sessions with diverse managers to identify talented individuals who contribute to the firm’s success.

4. Curate the management team

Surround yourself with esteemed senior executives and introduce fresh talent with growth potential to build a pipeline of successors.

 

5. Demonstrate core values

Convey your values through concrete actions or targeted investments that positively impact the company prioritising the well-being and growth of employees.

 

6. Evaluate support staff 

Choose an executive assistant who reflects your values and consider a replacement if uncertainties arise. Ensure your support staff embodies diversity, equity, and inclusion principles.

 

7. Convene an inaugural meeting

Address the entire organisation, sharing information about yourself, values, and respect for predecessors and current employees. Emphasise growth, opportunity, and prosperity, while acknowledging short-term challenges. Consider announcing new appointments, but avoid overwhelming the staff with too many ideas at once. Stick to the strategic direction set by the board, keeping in mind the firm’s capacity for change to achieve sustainable progress.

 

Critical mistakes to avoid within the initial 90 hours:

  1. Steer clear of making changes to the brand name or logo, as such bold actions can elicit scepticism and opposition before establishing your authority.
  2. Thoroughly assess and evaluate new hires by seeking feedback from multiple sources, including colleagues. Avoid hasty decisions when hiring external candidates and ensure a comprehensive evaluation process. Promptly address any hiring mistakes that may arise.
  3. Exercise caution when accepting early speaking invitations or engaging in lengthy email discussions concerning strategy and personnel matters. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the company and your colleagues before making critical decisions. In the event of a toxic culture, address concerns in person once you have settled into the role and gained a better understanding of the organisation.

By adhering to these guidelines, you will acquire a substantial understanding of the necessary information within the initial 90-hour period. The distinction between 90 days and 90 hours rests on the premise that you will avoid the inefficiency of gathering input from every individual. In today’s fast-paced environment, it is crucial to sustain the organisation’s momentum and provide prompt reassurance during a leadership transition.

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