Management February 3, 2010 Last updated September 18th, 2018 3,627 Reads share

Why are the first 100 days so important?

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Writing in “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” Harvard Business School professor Michael Watkins points out that ‘transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make needed changes in an organisation. But they are also periods of acute vulnerability, because you lack established working relationships, and a detailed understanding of your new role. If you fail to build momentum during your transition, you will face an uphill battle from that point forward.

Watkins’ concerns seem well-founded: ‘Executive Transitions’ research recently conducted by the Institute of Executive Development and Alexcel Group found that almost one in three executives who change companies – and one in five who move within the same organization – are not delivering, even after two years on the job’. Similarly research by business coaching and leadership specialists, Manchester Inc., found that four in ten newly appointed managers fail within the first 18 months.

I remember reading an article that proposed that new managers should imagine that their every move was projected on a 10 ft screen that was viewable by all their peers and reports.  And while this seems to border on the paranoid it does communicated the idea of the greatly magnified presence a new (especially external) leader will have in their initial days.  Every move and decision will be examined and discussed as people try to uncover the motivations and plans of the new appointee.

But given that most of us will go through many of these transitions in our careers, wouldn’t we benefit from a ‘standardised’ approach that attempted to ensure that we that accelerated our transition into new roles? And helped us to manage this ‘presence’?

While every transition is complex and therefore unique, are there approaches that deliver higher probabilities of producing successful outcomes i.e. virtuous cycles as opposed to vicious circles? Are there systematic approaches that one can adopt?

So the first 100 days are important for many reasons, they are periods of great opportunity but also risk, actions or decisions taken in this period can have far reaching consequences, they establish a foundation or momentum for the new leader and lastly they are not once offs i.e. most of us will make multiple transitions in our careers.

I’m not saying (or paraphrasing) that the first 100 days are the end, but they are the end of the beginning and while it is possible to falter and recover, it is far better to not falter at all – and instead leverage this transition period to lay the foundations of a successful tenure.

In the next couple of posts, we’ll look at ways in which this can be achieved – and hopefully people will contribute their own ideas and experiences.

Note: While this post can be read standalone, it is the second part of a ‘Transitional Theme’ and Part I can be found here

Kelvin Gillen

Kelvin Gillen

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