The rate of change in technology is unmatched. Companies are constantly being funded, getting acquired and, unfortunately, going out of business. These dynamic conditions create both challenges and opportunities for leaders. Changing roles is becoming more frequent across industries. Being able to successfully transition into a new leadership position is a must-have skill for entrepreneurs and company leaders.
Whether joining a company during a turnaround or at a time of explosive growth, the first 100 days are a critical time to make a positive impression and lay a meaningful foundation for the future.
Here’s a six-step philosophy to help ensure a strong start in your new leadership role:
1. Listen and learn.
You were hired because you bring a lot to your new role and company. But, there’s so much to learn! And it’s incumbent upon you to create an environment that maximizes your ability to do so. Create as many opportunities as you can to meet, build rapport with and establish immediate connections with employees, customers and other key stakeholders. Ask what’s working, what’s not working, where they need help, what could be better about the company and what they’d do if they were you. And then listen. While many leaders are often prominent communicators, the importance of listening is often undervalued, overlooked and underused. This will greatly inform your strategic agenda, help you get to know your new team and give you a great sense of the existing culture, good and bad.
In my first 100 days, I committed myself to setting up at least 100 1:1’s and team meetings with employees of all levels, customers, investors, partners, vendors and analysts. I also set expectations on my first day that this was on my agenda so people were ready with their feedback — and believe me, they were!
2. Overcommunicate, connect, establish trust and open the “virtual door.”
Tell people what you are going to do, do it and tell them what you learned. Transparency, action and follow-up are key for building relationships and trust with both customers and employees. Be visible and be responsive. Ensure people know where to find you and that you are open to ideas, thoughts and feedback, good and bad.
While I’ve embraced the open-door policy by locating my desk in the same open environment as all employees, I’ve also pushed open the “virtual door” by communicating activities and progress early, and often to set a precedence for transparency. It’s critical for employees to consistently have a good level of visibility into where the company is thriving as well as areas that require improvement. It’s equally important that they have the confidence to voice their opinions.
3. Slow down to speed up.
As a leader, there are often expectations to deliver results immediately. While this can be true, it’s important to fight the temptation to jump into action. Slow the pace in the beginning and fully analyze what the current state of the business and opportunities. Leaders who take a more thoughtful approach in the beginning will see higher quality results in the long run, and will also have more organizational buy-in.
When I stepped into my role at Couchbase, there were a lot of projects underway. I intentionally put a few on hold to ensure they would align with our go-forward plans.
4. Establish a parallel plan for product and market learning.
Don’t exist within a bubble. New leaders must not only understand their company and products, but also the wider market landscape. Know your customers and understand what your competitors are doing.
While you have a lot to learn, the company must continue to perform. Don’t overburden your team with your personal education. Determine what you can do on your own to get up to speed. Test out your sales enablement training. Get your hands on as many analyst reports as possible. Review past board decks. Look through team presentations. There’s a lot of content out there, so take advantage of it.
5. Integrate into the cadence of company.
Understand how the company operates. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the pace and comfort level of the company’s and employees’ operations. As a new leader, if you enter a position and vastly redesign your employees’ roles and pace too quickly, they’re more likely to experience greater amounts of stress and new leader rejection. While innovation is important, understanding the pace at which change can effectively be implemented is essential.
I started with what is working for the company. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. I have not modified the setup for staff meetings, timing and cadence (though content changed immediately). The same held true for our sales forecasting process, at least for the first quarter. Results matter, so ensure your entry isn’t disrupting short-term execution.
6. React to mission critical situations.
Learning and building a foundation for the future is essential, but never forget that you have a company to run and that responsibility can be delegated. You must take action in critical situations, whether internal or external, that threaten the success and growth of your overall business. Issues will arise, whether it’s a big deal, a sudden change in the market or a sensitive employee issue. Be prepared to be flexible.