Making the most of your first 100 days in a new leadership role

By Alice Driscoll

Sep 1, 2021

Why and how to build a 100 day plan stepping into a new leadership role

Having a strategy and roadmap for your first 100 days in a new role is essential for making the most of those crucial and valuable early months in a new job. In my experience, we have max 6 months to add the most value we will probably ever add, in the entire time we hold a post, and what leaders do in those early days has a disproportionate impact on everything that follows.

The external and fresh perspective we bring is often why we've been hired in the first place, along with our specific expertise and experience that will enable the organisation to make a desired leap or transition.

But being able to see the wood for the trees with the clear vision of an outsider has an expiry date on it.  Inevitably, over this time period, we find our ways of thinking and doing start to mirror the dominate behaviours of our new colleagues because no matter how independent we think of ourselves as being, group think is hard bias to resist, and one we usually sleepwalk into without even realising.

Harvard Business Review conducted a survey to identify the biggest errors and pitfalls leaders made in their first 100 days that went on to impact their ability to get their desired results.

The results identified that the following 7 early leadership errors:
  1. A poor grasp of how the organisation works
  2. Misfit with the organisational culture
  3. Difficulty forging alliances with peers
  4. Lack of understanding of the business model
  5. Ineffective decision making
  6. Disagreement over strategy
  7. Lack of experience or skill

So how do we make the most of our precious and unique first 100 days?

First and foremost, we should set clear goals and plans. Here’s why; When we know what success looks like, we'll know if we've got there or not. When we're clear about what we want, we're less likely to sleepwalk into supporting someone else's goals/agenda at our own expense. We can track progress and course-correct. By staying focused on our goals, we can make better decisions day-to-day about how to use our valuable time. 

Here are some questions that can guide your goal setting:  

  • What areas do I need to get into the weeds on (for a limited time) to really understand the operational mechanics of the business?  
  • Who do I need to invest in getting to know and building relationships with?
  • Who do I need to influence to enable my/our plan?
  • How ready (willing and able) is the team to work towards the future organisational goals?
  • Are the right people in the right roles?
  • How much time do I need to invest in listening and observing before sharing my ideas/plans?
  • How will my performance be evaluated by others in 3-6 months?
  • How is the culture here different to where I have come from?
  • What of my personal expertise, skills and strengths are going to be most valuable here and now?
  • What skills gaps do I and/or the team have to enable us to achieve our goals?
  • What might derail me/us achieving my/our goals?

Finally approaching a new role with the right mindset also plays a critical role in whether we will succeed. The number one thing I hear from leaders in new roles is that the size of the challenge looks a lot bigger now they’ve looked under the hood and are on the inside.

It’s inevitable that from the outside we’re going to have a limited and distorted view on the obstacles we will face when we join a new organisation so an important early job is to cross-reference our initial understanding the reality of the context we find ourselves in. Getting a realistic diagnosis of the context you are operating in will enable you to generate a roadmap that takes all the challenges into account.  

After all, if leadership is (as I believe) a reciprocal process ‘that is co-created in the space between the leader and the led’ (Jones & Goffee, 2006) getting the right people on the boat, believing they can, they want to and they will, will increase your chances of success.

If you want to find out more about how I could support you through my 100 Days Coaching Programme, contact me here:  

Resources on this topic:

Watkins, M. and Norris, K.T., 2003. The first 90 days: Critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Forbes: The First 100 Days: A Leadership Test