Posts Tagged ‘first 100 days’
When new CEOs start in their jobs, their early actions or what they say at their first retreats with the senior team are memorable. Everyone is on high alert and wondering if things will be different, how their new CEOs will establish legitimacy and set a new tone. So my CEO First 100 day antennae were up and ready for incoming signals at our first senior team meeting with our new CEO. It was a great meeting, lots of discussion, priority-making and theme setting. But what pleased me most was what I would call establishing a CEO signature. Sometimes it could be as simple as handing out books to the team that they should read, inviting certain types of guests or inviting new people to the table. Everything matters because everyone is reading the tea leaves — what does this mean? what signal is he/she sending?
So I was pleased when our new CEO, an insider, began the meeting reading parts of an email that someone had sent him earlier that morning about a meeting with a potential new client. The email was about the 6 reasons to love my company, Weber Shandwick — Smart people who respond even when they are insanely busy, a core group you can always depend upon and never let you down, knowing what great looks like, pride in the people in the room with you and share the company name on their business card, our new business people who always have your back 24/7, and colleagues who always set the bar higher. Then later in the morning, our new CEO read another email he had received from a major business publication praising the firm on their responses to interview clients for a story. He wrote that he just had to let our new CEO know that he has never seen a pr firm respond with such rapidity, thoughtfulness, thoroughness and smarts.
At that moment I decided that this had to be our new CEO’s signature….sharing these kinds of notes with the team. First, it felt great hearing what people had said about the company and second, it was all about the work and colleagues. It just felt so right. I immediately thought of how President Obama reads 10 letters a day to see what people are thinking. I had just read a note he had sent to a young girl who has two dads and asked the President about being teased at school and asking him what he would do. The President wrote the little girl with his advice.
CEOs must get amazing notes — good and bad. It makes sense to let everyone hear how the firm makes an impact in unexpected ways that do not get shared every day. There was some drama in the emails being read which I loved. It deepened the sense of a shared experience and community which is what a CEO should try to instill, especially at the outset.
Just caught up with my November HBR. There is an excellent article by the CEO of Siemens, Peter Loscher, on how to use a scandal to activate change in an organization. There is a section in the article on Loscher’s first 100 days, a favorite topic of mine. He says that he was the first chief executive at Siemens who came from the outside and mentions how it actually worked to his benefit because he brought an outside perspective to his early start.
In the article, he mentions that one of the things he wanted to do in year one (post 100 days) was to get the organization more focused on customers. And then he proceeded to explain how he did it. I thought it was such a cool idea that I wanted to share it. Here is what he said:
“In my first year, I tried to find other ways to emphasize to the entire organization that customers should be our primary focus. Once a year, our top 600 or 700 managers gather for a leadership conference in Berlin. Before my first one, in 2008, I collected the Outlook calendars for the previous year from all my division CEOs and board members. Then I mapped how much time they had spent with customers and I ranked them. There was a big debate in my inner circle over whether I should use names. Some felt we would embarrass people, but I decided to put the names on the screen anyway.
The rankings were a classic bell curve, with most people in the middle. I was number one, having spent 50% of my time with customers. I said to the people at the leadership conference, “Is this a good sign or a bad sign? In my opinion it’s very bad. The people who are running the businesses should rank higher on this measure than the CEO.”
I put the rankings up again in 2009, in 2010, and in 2011. And now things have changed. The curve has shifted. Some people have passed me, and most are near me at the top of the distribution—because everybody knows this matters and that names will be up there at the next leadership meeting. With this simple approach we have achieved a much, much stronger emphasis on customers in the top management echelons.”
What a smart way to get management focused on being customer-driven. As he concludes, “But if you want to change a big, complex organization like Siemens, you have to make your agenda known, and you have to communicate in simple terms.” I’d say taking stock of everyone’s calendars and tallying up the time spent on customer activities, sent the right message, clear as a bell.
Just read this article in Forbes about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ number one leadership secret. I’ve followed him for years and enjoy reading about how Amazon has grown from a bookseller to an everything store online. I had already been thinking about about the importance of employees and customers for new CEOs when I read that Bezos’ number one leadership secret is that the customer is always right. There is this example described in the article that when Bezos calls meetings, he leaves an empty seat at the conference table for what he calls the customer’s seat. A potent reminder to bring the customer’s point of view to the table. The article hints at the fact that Bezos has built his hugely successful business bent on “coddling his 164 million customers, not his 56,000 employees.” This has me wondering that in this age of the Internet and social media galore, if customers are now more important than employees, maybe because of sheer size? The pendulum seems to be swinging again anyway. It used to be that all business activities were primarily all about customers, then all about employees and now… it’s all about equal parts’ employees and customers but with customers gaining the upper hand again. The Internet has created a sense of urgency about how satisfied your customers are. Probably because they spread word of mouth more quickly and seem to have more power than employees. They can advocate or criticize your business approach or customer service online for all to see. They have more power because they have so many choices from which to buy from. The answer for new CEOs, however, appears to be focusing on employees with a healthy dose of understanding what your customers want and quickly scaling to reach them online to confirm what employees are telling you. Something to think about over the next few weeks. Whose more important — employees or customers for new CEOs and CEOs who’ve been in office for some time?
CEO training can be fraught with complications and wouldn’t it be a shame if you overlooked someone who could make a difference. Today I read about the new CEO of IBM, Virginia “Ginni” Rometty. Apparently CEO Sam Palmisano wanted to make sure that she had a worthy mentor in the year or so leading up to her possible naming as CEO. He asked the CEO of Frontier Communications, Maggie Wilderotter, to mentor her. They met several times over lunch. According to the Wall Street Journal today, Ms. Wilderotter recommended that the possible CEO elect work more closely with Wall Street, the big banks and leading IBM customers she did not know as well as others. Apparently Wilderotter told Ms. Rometty that “Wall Street is a big part of the job when you are CEO.”
A CEO buddy system is a good idea for building a reputation to get the job. Now she will need help with her CEO reputation-building for her first 100 days. I have to admit, the ring of “her first 100 days” sounds good to me.
I am always fond of CEOs who ask questions of interviewers. Here is an example I just read about the CEO of IKEA Mikael Ohlsson. There was a CEO who I admired who used to always ask people what their impressions were of the company he led. What better way to learn about the reputation of your company. Of course, for CEOs, those first 100 days are the best time to ask questions because you are not expected to know the answers to everything. Only on day 101 of a CEO transition! I try to ask as many people as I can about the reputation of Weber Shandwick where I work. I find that I broaden my perspective and get ideas on what we can do to communicate our story better. It is easy to live in a bubble today because we spend so much time at computers and absorbing information that we can easily lose that all important outside-in perspective.
At the end the Financial Times interview, Ohlsson asks, “I have two questions that I always ask in any interview.” Quoted below is the exchange between Ohlsson and interviewer:
The first resembles a box in a customer satisfaction survey: What can we do better at Ikea? I am tempted to complain about the paper-thin wine glasses that crack when you wash them. Instead, I ask why it has been necessary for Ikea to shroud itself in mystery for so long. Mr Ohlsson assures that he plans to ring the changes soon. He sees no reason why his company should not disclose more so long as the long-term vision of the Stichting Ingka Foundation remains intact. “We need to be much more transparent,” he says. “We need to simplify and inform more about figures and structure.”
The second question is more personal. What is your advice to me when doing interviews? I say: “Relax, be yourself and choose who you want to talk to”.
Found myself up at 4am reading about Governor Cuomo. Jet lag sure is a hanger on. When I was in Asia, people told me that for every two hours in time difference, it would take one day to recover. So because I was in Australia and Asia, I figure I have about 7 days before I feel like myself. I am at the half way point but 4am is not pretty to be wide awake, jet lag or no jet lag.
So I found myself reading this article on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first 100+ days in office, a transition similar to CEO transitions. The headline read “Cuomo Stands Out Among Peers for Low Profile.” The author was a bit incredulous about Cuomo’s low visibility: “In fact, since taking office in January, Mr. Cuomo has neither taken a single trip out of New York nor appeared on any talk shows.” Can you imagine– no talk shows! That is downright renegade.
Among the CEO class, the governor’s actions are standard operating procedure. Apparently most political figures have not gotten the memo telling them about the importance of getting their house in order before getting out in the headlines. When I talk to CEOs, my advice often is to do exactly what Cuomo is doing. That is, keep a low profile because “What’s there to say?” New CEOs have not done anything much in 100+ days to crow about. 100 days is not a track record. The most important duties in the first 100 days are to set your agenda, build your executive team, listen and learn and communicate internally. That’s how enduring reputations are built. Therefore I agree with Governor Cuomo’s inclination to keep a low profile. The best insight in the article came from Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant, who was quoted as saying, “Keep the focus on policy, not on personal matters of any kind, and ensure that there is nothing else but that discussion. He is the all-business governor.” That’s exactly it. Build your reputation on good governance, getting down to business (jobs and budget) and showing that you mean business. Cuomo’s reputation as the all-business governor will stick if he keeps this up. Sounds like a welcome change. This kind of first 100 days gets my vote.
The new CEO at Nalco, Erik Fyrwald has this to say about being an outsider CEO and getting up to speed. I think that all this advice is right on target, especially his statement about thinking you have all the answers at the start and then unlearning those assumptions so you can learn how things really are. Fortune interviewed him about water and carbon but I liked the part about being a new CEO best. Most outsider CEOs come into a job knowing what the board has told them. As we know, the board is usually the last to know (so says Warren Buffett). In my research, I have heard over and over from CEOs that their perspective 100 days later is usually 360 degrees different from what they thought day one. This probably goes for anyone starting a new job. If you want to build a good internal CEO reputation, try to keep your opinions to yourself for a couple of months until you REALLY know what you are talking about. First impressions are usually just that, first impressions.
You came into Nalco as CEO from the outside. What was at the top of your to-do list?
I spent the first weeks and months listening a lot — to the leadership of Nalco, talking to people across the organization. Traveled a lot. Got out there with customers all over the world trying to understand what we do well, what we didn’t do well, where they saw the opportunities. Spent time with my leadership team, getting their view on what we needed to do and also assessing the leadership and who we really needed, and what other capabilities we needed to bring in.
A lot of people in your position, coming in as CEO, have told me that focusing on the team is critical …
… and in many cases focusing on the culture. From the outside you’ll see that it needs to be steered a little bit. Was that the case?
Yeah. The positive is, we had a great culture to build on, a culture of service, customer comes first. But we had not been nearly aggressive enough going after the growth geographies and bringing more of the water system solution to the customer. Talking to the leadership, it was very clear that that was a huge opportunity.
You only get one chance at those first few months. When you look back, what did you learn?
I learned that as you get into the job and start to think you know the answers, don’t get locked in. You haven’t been in the company that long. You think because you’ve been in other places that you can figure it out quickly, start to form a theory of what the right answer is. Keep testing that theory, because it does two things. One, it gets the management team aligned. And two, you can get deeper into the organization, you can get customers connected to it, and then you get a much better answer. So don’t make conclusions too quickly. At first I thought I knew the answers, but then the answers got much better as we dug deeper. That was very important.
Author and columnist Thomas Friedman wrote today: “In this kind of world, leadership at every level of government and business matters more than ever. We have no margin of error anymore, no time for politics as usual or suboptimal legislation.” Leadership matters is one of the cornerstones of great company reputations. There is no getting around it. The destiny of the CEO is inextricably linked to the company’s reputation. If you have ever worked with a CEO who was not the right fit for the company and who worried about themselves more than the company, you know the damage that the wrong CEO can do. It is almost better to work for a so-so or good, not great, CEO than the wrong one.
Also in today’s New York Times’ business section is some advice from the CEO of The Calvert Group, Barbara Krumsiek . She was asked for her best advice to executives starting out. She said to ask each executive on your leadership team the following question, “Tell me about your job, but now tell me about what you think you do here that is not in that job description that you think is really critical.” Good starting out question but I actually like the second question better, “Tell me one thing that’s going on at Calvert that you think I don’t know that you think I should know.”
The best advice for CEO newcomers is that there is no such thing as a stupid question. One CEO told me that. You get about 3 or 4 months to ask those “stupid” questions.
Getting back to the importance of leadership, we don’t need Thomas Friedman or even me to relay this important news about what drives the global economy and business today — good leaders. Every day we get examples of the impact of good and bad leadership. Unfortunately there are so many examples of bad leadership decisions that we forget to notice the daily good deeds of many company CEOs. Is too bad. The margin of error might actually be wider than we think.
We just released Chief Communications Officers: First 100 Days, an “e-book” reflecting advice from dozens of veteran corporate communications officers (CCOs) around the world on how best to navigate their first 100 days. This mini-book is a favorite of mine because early tenures are a topic that interest me greatly. My first book on a CEO’s early tenure, CEO Capital, describes many of the same challenges and advice on how to hit the ground running. For corporate communications officers, those first few weeks are critical because a crisis could arise at any moment and communications is always front and center these days. Therefore “onboarding” (a new HR term) needs to go smoothly because every day could be a red flag day.
Because we regularly survey corporate communications officers around the world, this e-book seemed like a natural extension of our insights on this rapidly rising and influential position. In our last survey, we learned that nearly 6 out of 10 CCOs (58%) in Fortune 500 companies now report to the CEO. This was a 10 percent increase from the year earlier. The e-book captures advice in CCOs’ own words on do’s and don’ts for those newly coming on board and what to avoid so as not to derail the best of plans.
When we asked CCOs what the three greatest challenges were, this one response seemed to sum it all up:
1. Reputation management in an era of deterioration of traditional media,
2. Increasing effectiveness of voices of outrage, and
3. Light speed evolution of social media.
If anyone has additional advice, please send it this way and enjoy the book. (If you need a pdf of the book, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
The CEO of HSN, Mindy Grossman, did something very smart when she joined the company as its 7th CEO in 10 years. As detailed in today’s Sunday New York Times business section, Grossman said the following:
“For example, my first day, I went through orientation just like everyone else, because I wanted to see what everybody else feels when they come into this company for the first time. There were 15 people — a guy who is in backstage TV, somebody in production, somebody in planning, and I just came in and sat down.
Everybody had to go around the room and say what their job was, including me. There were a couple of abrupt reactions, with people saying, “Really?” But the impact that had, and how viral it was throughout the organization, made a huge difference, because it was a signal of a new management philosophy.”
I have been advising and observing CEOs for a long time now and have to add that this is one smart lady CEO. Talk about sending a message of accessibility and heirarchy-lessness. If all CEOs presented themselves shoulder to shoulder with their employees on day one like this, we’d all have a better impression of CEOs. It should be standard operating procedure but sadly it is not. If it was a normal part of a CEO’s playbook for the first 100 days, this symbolic behavior would not stand out as much as it does.