Leadership Blog

Forget The First 90 Days, Try 100 Days Before That

Michael Watson’s best seller, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders is a powerful reminder of the need to take charge quickly and decisively when appointed to a position that requires organisational transition or transformation.

The message is to get the change through whilst you are new and fresh.  Make your big changes during the first 90 days when people are expecting change from a new face.

That has held sway with new leaders taking up new positions but a new trend is now emerging.  Organisations are more frequently expecting a new chief executive to arrive with a blueprint for corporate change and to put it into action immediately. 

Forget the first 90 days, it now starts 100 days before you arrive and before you get the job.  Boards are buying the person with a plan rather than a person capable of making a plan.

Consider the story of Marissa Mayer.  It is reported that on a summer’s evening in 2012, she attended a dinner at the Fifth Avenue apartment of Michael Wolf, a Yahoo board member.  In effect she auditioned for the role of chief executive of the beleaguered media company, in front of an audience of Wolf and three other Yahoo directors.  They were all impressed: Mayer presented a well-researched plan for overhauling the company’s fortunes. The job was hers.

Her CV may have got her the interview, but it was the business blueprint that got her the job.  And it is not just the would-be bosses of multibillion-dollar tech empires who are presenting detailed strategic plans at interviews.  Whereas in the past, you might have seen a lot more hiring for the person, now we are seeing organisations shifting to approving a plan for a turnaround or for a business reinvention prior to extending the job offer.

This may well have been the case at Morrisons, the struggling UK supermarket chain, when it appointed the Tesco veteran David Potts as chief executive.  He has been swinging the axe since starting work on 16 March 2015, with five senior managers culled in his second week and up to 720 job cuts at the head office announced in April.

Whilst job cuts may seem sudden, new chief executives are likely have been plotting their first moves for months before arriving. It looks fast, but more and more executives get appointed at board or operating board level because they have immersed themselves in the business for at least 100 days before their first day.

It seems that the first 100 days start from the second a new chief executive is appointed. They will use a notice period, or their “gardening leave” before starting, to begin looking at the strategy and investigate what’s going to happen in the business they are joining.

Once they get through the door, new bosses need to make tough decisions sooner rather than later.  If disruption is going to happen, it’s important that it happens quickly.  Then they should stick to the strategy and what they are going to do next, rather than it happening slowly and therefore creating more disruption than necessary, more confusion and worse, a lack of clarity of purpose.

In these early months, the support of the rest of the top team is vital.  At Morrisons, Potts is lucky to be able to count on his chairman, Andrew Higginson.  The two men know one another well: they were part of the leadership team at Tesco under Sir Terry Leahy and worked together for 15 years.

Though this may mean Potts is also under pressure to prove he was not appointed just because he is an old friend of the chairman, it helps with some of the main challenges facing a new chief in a turnaround situation, that is confidence and communication.

A new signing needs to have a clear and simple strategy, and quickly articulate it.  The new CEO has to say, ‘this is what we’re doing’, and be very up front about the pain that’s going to come but also the fact that there may be a period of continued changes.  It’s about managing that message.  Even with 100 days to plan, they will still need to strike fast in the first 90 days on arrival.


Habits of Emotionally Intelligent People

In an article listing seven habits of emotionally intelligent people, psychology expert, Kendra Cherry[1], identifies some practical reflection that leaders can engage in if they are to improve their emotional intelligence.

She starts with a quote from philosopher Aristotle, "Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not easy." 

Emotionally intelligent leaders engage in a number of habits and behaviours that contribute to their ability to manage their own emotions and understand the feelings of others. This list of seven habits of emotionally intelligent people is as follows. Leaders should consider adopting at least some of these habits.

1. Emotionally intelligent people pay attention to what they are feeling.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman identifies self-awareness as one of the key components of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness involves the ability to recognise moods, emotions, and feelings.  Part of self-awareness also involves being aware of how your emotions and moods influence other people. This ability to monitor your own emotional states is a basic requirement for emotional intelligence.

2. They understand how other people feel.

Empathy is another of Goleman's major elements of emotional intelligence. This involves the ability to understand the emotions of other people.  In order to interact well with other people at work, you need to be able to know what they are feeling.  If a co-worker is upset or frustrated, knowing what he or she is feeling can give you a much better idea of how to respond.

3. They are able to regulate their emotions.

Self-regulation is absolutely central to emotional intelligence.  Understanding your emotions is great, but not particularly useful if you cannot make use of this knowledge.  Emotionally intelligent people think before they act on their feelings.  They are in tune with how they feel, but they do not let their emotions rule their lives.

4. They are motivated.

Emotionally intelligent people are motivated to achieve their goals and capable of managing their behaviours and feelings in order to achieve long-term success. They might be nervous about making a change, but they know that managing this fear is important.  By taking a leap and making the change, they know that they might come one step closer to attaining their goals.

5. They have great social skills

Emotionally intelligent people also tend to have strong social skills, probably in part because they are so attuned to their own feelings as well as those of others.  They know how to deal with people effectively, and they are invested in maintaining healthy social relationships and helping those around them succeed.

6. They are willing and able to discuss feelings with others.

Sometimes people are empathetic and in tune with their emotions, but struggle to actually share these feelings with others.  Emotionally intelligent people not only understand feelings, they know how to express them appropriately. What exactly do we mean by appropriately? Imagine, for example, that you just had a particularly awful day at work. You are tired, frustrated, and angry about how things went at an important meeting.  An inappropriate expression of your feelings might involve coming home and getting into an argument with your spouse or sending a nasty email to your boss.  A more appropriate emotional reaction would be discussing your frustrations with your spouse, releasing some tension by going for a jog, and coming up with a plan to deal with it is a calm and collected way.

7. They are able to correctly identify the underlying causes of their emotions.

Imagine that you find yourself getting frustrated and irritable with a co-worker. As you assess your feelings, analyse what you're really upset about.  Are you perhaps overreacting to your co-worker’s actions, or does your irritation stem from underlying frustrations and pressure from another situation that is troubling you.  Emotionally intelligent people are able to look at the situation and correctly identify the true source of their feelings.  At first this might seem like an easy task, but the reality is that our emotional lives can be both complicated and messy.  Locating the exact source of your feelings can be particularly tricky when you are dealing with complex situations and powerful emotions.


Engagement - Not At Any Cost

We have regularly written about the importance of engagement and the leadership role in making it happen.  In a recent article authored by Tony Schwartz he argues that the original concept has to change.   Twelve years ago he co-wrote a book called “The Power of Full Engagement.”

For the last two decades, measuring employee engagement has been the primary way that larger companies try to determine their employees’ level of commitment and productivity.  In turn, dozens of studies have reported a correlation between high employee engagement and performance.  We have reviewed most of these in the past and it seems that nearly every large organisation now administers some form of engagement survey to its workers.

So What’s the Problem?

The most common definition of engagement is “the willingness to invest discretionary effort at work” — that is, to go above and beyond what’s expected.  That sounds good if you’re an employer.  But too often, it refers to employees who get to work early, stay late and remain connected at night and on weekends.  That’s a recipe for burnout, not enduring high performance. Put another way, “willing” does not guarantee “able.”  And “willing” does not equate with “balance” as we shall see.

An engagement study conducted in 2012 by the consulting firm Towers Watson — involving 32,000 employees in 29 markets around the world — found that high engagement as it has been traditionally defined is no longer sufficient to fuel the highest levels of performance.

Sustainably Engaged

The companies with the highest profit margins had a different employee profile. “Sustainably engaged” is the what Towers Watson came up with to describe employees who felt their companies energised them by promoting their physical, emotional and social well-being. The top two drivers of performance were:

  • having leaders who built trust by demonstrating a sincere interest in employee well-being, and
  • having manageable stress levels, with a reasonable balance between work and personal life.

Companies in which employees reported feeling well taken care of — including not working too many hours — had twice the operating profit margins of those with traditionally engaged employees, and three times the profit levels of those with the least engaged employees.

The real problem is that in offices all around the world there are people – managers and other employees - running on empty.  Maybe was the recession and fear but too many companies are pushing people to their limits in the name of efficiency and survival.

We celebrate “great places to work” but as Tony Swartz points out, “if you are expected to work 60 or 70 hours a week, or to stay connected in the evenings and on the weekends, or you can’t take at least four weeks of vacation a year, or you don’t have reasonable flexibility about when and where you work, then your company can’t be a great place to work.”

Higher Purpose or Oppression for Purpose

Swartz argues that this is true even if the company has a noble mission and a higher purpose beyond profit.  Several weeks ago, at a conference held by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which was founded by Paul Newman, more than 30 chief executives from such companies as Allstate, Western Union, the American International Group and Merck spent the morning sharing the often ambitious initiatives they had started.  Swartz reports that it was inspiring and a cause for optimism that many chief executives were recognising their responsibility for more than the financial interests of their shareholders.

Even a basic understanding of motivation theory would tell us that it’s not realistic to expect employees to invest in a higher purpose if their employers aren’t meeting their core (hygiene) needs.  You can maybe think of several companies that have a mission to make a positive difference in the world, but essentially do so on the backs of their employees.  In a beautifully evocative phrase, “Oppression by purpose” is the way one employee at one company described it.

You might have observed a parallel phenomenon among employees who work in mission-driven organisations like hospitals, schools and social services.  These people are highly inspired to go above and beyond in their work on behalf of others, but they often feel less well supported by their own organisations when it comes to making sure that they are able to take care of themselves.  Over time, many begin to suffer from “compassion fatigue” — another version of “willing but not able.”

So often a chief executive will speak of being busy, with a hectic schedule, to demonstrate their commitment - by example - to the organisation.  They will tell stories, with visible pride, to demonstrate how they and you must work hard for the success of the company.  These chief executives are plainly fully engaged, but at what cost — not just to themselves over time, but in the message they are sending to everyone else in their organisation?

What companies really need to measure is not just how engaged their employees are, but also how consistently energised and satisfied they feel. That means focusing not just on inspiring them and giving them opportunities to truly add value in the world, but also on caring for them and providing sufficient time to rest and refuel.

Leaders: Don’t Leave it Too Late

In 2005, Eugene O’Kelly, then the chief executive of the accounting firm KPMG, was told he had a brain tumor. In the final months of his life, he wrote a book called “Chasing Daylight,” reconsidering the life he had lived.

“What if I hadn’t worked so hard?” Mr. O’Kelly asked.“What if, aside from doing my job and doing it well, I had actually used the bully pulpit of my position to be a role model for balance? Had I done so intentionally, who’s to say that, besides having more time with my family, I wouldn’t also have been even more focused at work? More creative? More productive?”

Mr. O’Kelly died shortly after writing those words, before he could answer his own question.  Swartz argues that no chief executives of any large company that he’s aware of have truly stepped up to use their bully pulpits (a position of authority that provides its occupant with an opportunity to speak out on any issue) to be models and spokesmen for a balanced life — actively creating a culture that truly meets people’s multi-dimensional needs.

That is what is needed now, more than ever — chief executives truly willing to make the care of people their highest priority, beginning with themselves. 

Surely you know this to be true – don’t leave it too late to act.


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On Leadership

Max de Pree
“The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?”

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