Leaders in Transition – the FIRST 90 DAYS

Why the first 90 days is so important in the professional life of a leader?

It matters a great deal because….

"You will never get a second chance to make a first impression." Will Rogers

People are forming impressions of you early based on limited data. If you're successful in creating a sense of momentum, building credibility and confidence, it can propel you through the transition period. Transitions into new roles are also the most challenging times in the lives of leaders. Any successes or failures during the first few months is a strong predictor of overall success or failure in the job. It can set the cycle pretty much.

The sobering data quoted by Dr. Michael D. Watkins says that up to 40% of onboarding executives fail within 18 months. Many cases when there is a new managing director, or CEO, there is also an expectation from the shareholders, or key stakeholders to navigate the teams and whole organisation through a transition as well. So it can easily become a triple transition for the executive.

Research done by Egon Zehnder about why leaders fail when they join the companies says that it's really not at all about their competence, their experience, their strategic thinking abilities and so on. It's mostly to do with the culture and politics of the organization. They don't have a good sense of how the organization works. They can easily fall victim of the culture. They don't build the right kinds of alliances with their peers. Therefore, focusing on culture and politics, connection and integration is really the essence at having a successful transition. Do they need to do other things like setting direction, getting early wins, of course, they need. But early on, that process is really about helping leaders learn about and adapt to a new culture and new political system.

Only very few organizations are great at helping leaders integrate successfully into the company.

There are also many risks and challenges need to be taken into consideration in transition for example leading former peers, moved to a new function or specialty, moving into a completely different culture and so on.

The research says and my experience shows as well that support, like executive coaching can dramatically accelerate leader’s transitions even up to 50%, so halves the time required for leaders to become fully effective in new roles.

Key elements of building momentum in the first 90 days:

  • Focused learning at three levels (technical, cultural, and political)
  • Effective relationship building (shareholders, key internal & external stakeholders, teams at transactional level, understanding and adapting to different behavioural and communication styles at transformational level)
  • Strategy and vision (informed, co-creation, change)
  • Match your strategy to the type of business situations you are inheriting - e.g turnaround, managing a rapid expansion, realignment, reenergizing of a previously successful organisation, sustaining success, start-up
  • Gain alignment - determine how you work as a team, understand the business situation, clarify expectations, negotiate resources
  • Establish directions - What needs to be done? How will it accomplished? Why should people get excited about it?
  • Create supportive alliances - understanding the different agendas, gaining support of people, conscious influencing strategy
  • Building a team or rather leading a team you inherit - “Leading a team you inherited is like repairing an airplane in mid-flight.”
  • Increase your credibility - What makes you credible in the eyes of your new organisation?
  • Good decisions - especially small and quick ones at the early stage of the transition
  • Secure early wins that matters
  • Manage yourself throughout the transition - control your emotional and energy budget

You cannot pick and address only one or two from the above, you have to work through all in order to achieve a successful transition.

But if you are in transition you can start answering these questions:

  • Where are you in each of the elements above at this stage of your transition process?
  • What are the key challenges and risks for you in your transition?
  • What quick wins you can achieve in your transition time as a leader?

Sources: Admission to & Transition in the C-Suite Executive Coaching by Beáta Kalamár, World Business and Executive Summit 2019 / Building a Transition Capable Workforce with the First 90 Days by Dr. Michael D. Watkins

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