90 Days in 90 Hours

90 Days in 90 Hours: A CEO's Blueprint for Early Success

15 Oct 2023

Newly appointed CEOs no longer have the luxury of conducting a leisurely 90-day listening tour to familiarize themselves with an organization. When assuming leadership of an organization, rather than focusing on a traditional 90-day plan, it is crucial to concentrate on the first 90 hours. 

Why are these initial hours so critical? Because the first impression is irreplaceable. If the initial 90 hours are incorrectly handled, the subsequent ten weeks cannot compensate for lost ground. 

Likewise, this principle can be applied in reverse: The Top management should empower the new leader to execute the tasks effectively when delegating responsibilities and defining expectations.

With three months of wavering behind you, internal critics will have exposed areas where you could benefit from added resources and will be actively working to slow down your initiatives.

For instance, the recommendation for new leaders to embark on a slow-paced 90-day listening tour, engaging with various employees, is no longer relevant. 

It poses a danger to both the leader and the organization. After three months of delay, internal critics will identify your vulnerabilities and begin to obstruct your progress. Competitors may have seized your top clients, and headhunters may have lured away your best executives.

Here are seven steps for a successful start that newly appointed leaders should consider, ideally completing within their first 90 hours (equivalent to the first two weeks):

1. Lay the Foundation: Before stepping into the role on Day One, acquire as much knowledge about the position and organization as possible. If you are an external hire, consider extending your monthly start date to make additional visits, assess organizational strengths and weaknesses, scrutinize financials, and evaluate the current C-suite executives. Schedule introductory meetings with key stakeholders, including customers and employees. Seek insights from former employees or board members. Be prepared, but remain flexible, as surprises will inevitably arise once you start your role.

2. Secure Board Support: If the board had interviewed you effectively, they would have requested a strategic plan or a clear direction that excited them. Be proactive in warning the board about potential naysayers among your direct reports and ask for their support.

3. Identify Key Talent: The executives who enthusiastically greet you on Day One may differ from those you need to impress. Focus on discovering hidden talent within the organization. Conduct focus group meetings with managers to gauge morale, cultural strengths and weaknesses, and individual executive capabilities.

4. Assemble Your Management Team: Build a team of respected senior executives who support your vision and introduce fresh talent to your leadership ranks. Ensure your team is in place by the end of week two.

5. Communicate Your Values: Send clear signals about your values through small, impactful actions. Invest in changes that positively impact the organization or make an effort to connect with overlooked employees.

6. Evaluate Support Staff: Your executive assistant should align with your values and style. Ensure your support staff reflects your priorities, and if needed, search for replacements who are loyal and maintain confidentiality.

7. Hold a Town Hall Meeting: Organize a town hall meeting for the entire organization within your first two weeks. Share information about yourself, your values, and respect for your predecessor's contributions. Emphasize growth, opportunity, and prosperity while acknowledging the possibility of short-term challenges.

In addition, there are three critical missteps to avoid in the first 90 hours:

1. Avoid Announcing Brand Changes: Refrain from making bold brand name or logo changes early on, which can invite skepticism and opposition.

2. Carefully Vet New Hires: Don't rush into hiring decisions without thorough vetting and input from multiple insiders. Swiftly address any hiring mistakes to maintain credibility.

3. Don't Succumb to Distractions: Resist accepting early speaking engagements or engaging in lengthy email discussions about strategy and personnel matters. Focus on settling into your role before addressing these distractions.

Adhering to these recommendations will provide valuable insights during your initial 90 hours. The distinction between 90 days and 90 hours lies in efficiency – you'll avoid spending unnecessary time collecting input from every source. Maintaining organizational momentum and swiftly reassuring stakeholders during a leadership transition is paramount in today's fast-paced environment.

Today, most organizations can allocate a 90-hour window for adjustment, whereas a 90-day hiatus has become excessively lengthy. You were brought on board to execute a specific role, so let's begin without delay.

Amidst the rapid pace of modern organizations, the first 90 hours are paramount; waiting for 90 days is no longer tenable. You've been entrusted with a mission as a leader, so let's embark on it without hesitation.

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