The CEO survival guide: the 100-day honeymoon

With the eyes of an expectant board and apprehensive workforce fixed firmly on your performance, the first 100 days of a CEOs reign can be a perilous minefield where one wrong move brings you crashing down from your new pedestal. Fear not. Follow CEO Middle East’s team of experts as we lead you through the choppy waters of the chief executive honeymoon

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By  Andrew Mernin Published  October 1, 2006

|~||~||~|While overcoming the scores of other applicants vying hard to snatch the CEO berth of your dreams from under your nose is no easy task, the months that follow as you take up your tenure are even harder. As the hearty boardroom handshakes heralding your first day at the office fade away, the ensuing three month-period can play a major role in making or breaking your life at the top. Describing the so-called ‘100-day honeymoon’ as a “ride down the rapids you’ve never seen”, Nigel Banister, CEO of the Manchester Business School says: “You just have to hope that all your experience and character will hold you in good stead, be prepared to work harder than anyone else and then have the confidence in yourself to deliver.” But as well as relying on your natural poise, assurance and potent leadership skills as an executive, there are a number of other specific steps you can take to ensure you make an immediate and positive impact on the business. Join CEO Middle East as we guide you through the potential minefield that is the 100-day honeymoon. GO IN WITH EYES OPEN From the morning the acceptance letter arrives in your mailbox to your first boardroom visit, there are a number of ways to prepare for the arduous journey ahead. One of the first things you should do is assess why you were hired, what your role as a CEO will be and exactly what is expected of you by the board. “If you are joining an established company, then you have 100 days to learn about the company, carefully, evaluate what is and isn’t there and what needs to be fixed,” says Dr Dirk Buchta, UAE managing director of global management consultancy group, AT Kearney. “If you are joining a young, rapidly growing company however, you are likely to have been brought in to take it from start-up mode into being a real company — so the shareholders will expect you to create value quickly. And you may only have a ten-day honeymoon period before you make your first real decision,” he adds. For non-Middle Eastern CEOs taking up their first senior position in the region, it is also important to be aware of the differences that exist in the role of a chief executive particularly between the Arab world and the West. “In Europe and the US, the board of directors has a supervisory role with limited review powers and is often constructed with external board members,” explains Robert Ziegler, director at AT Kearney in the UAE. “In the Middle East, the board of directors and the chairman have a much stronger role than the executive team,” he says. “In the region you will find that boards are primarily made up of shareholders and have a much stronger influence on the day-to-day running of the business. So a CEO coming in has to be prepared to adapt to a more restricted mode of doing business where their authority is much more limited.” Survival tip: Sit down, relax and ask yourself some important early questions BEWARE THE PREDECESSOR’S PRESENCE Replacing a CEO whose reign represents a long, successful chapter in the business’s history can be a difficult situation in itself, adding to the weight of expectation on a new CEOs shoulders. This situation can be made even more difficult however, when the predecessor still holds some level of power and influence within the business’s corridors. “If a dominant predecessor is there and he stays on the board, then in many cases they will not really hand over their responsibilities,” says Dr Buchta. “Raising a CEO to board level needs to go along with striping him of some of his (previous) authorities otherwise conflict will be created,” agrees Ziegler. According to Ziegler, as a new CEO, you must immediately establish a clear definition with your board of what power and authority you have and what authorities are attributed to board members, including your predecessor. SURVIVAL TIP: Assert yourself early on or your position may be challenged by an old rival MEET THE TROOPS According to Banister, one of the most common mistakes made by CEOs during the honeymoon period is trying to learn about the business from the confines of their desks. He tells CEO Middle East: “Get out there with staff, customers, business partners and the press — they will forgive you for not knowing the business at such an early stage but not for not taking direct control and being involved from day one. The early days also provide a one-off opportunity to hear what people really think.” Perhaps the most essential part of meeting the people making up your business is building up a positive rapport with your workforce. He says it is fundamental that you establish a committed team and workforce as early as possible as well as allocating time, not just to issue plans and directives, but to listen to your employees. “This is essential and will help, not only to get them on your side, but also to take tough decisions on personnel as soon as possible,” says Banister. In gaining staff rapport, Ziegler believes it is important to remember that in the Middle East in particular, most established companies have a vastly multicultural workforce where up to 30 or 40 different nationalities could be working together – so clear communication at all levels is essential. Survival tip: Build an instant and positive relationship with your team CREATE BOARDROOM ALLIES While most CEOs cite pleasing their customers or clients as their most important objective, there can be few things higher on their agenda than keeping the board happy. So how should boardroom members be approached in the initial stages of your executive reign? “Initially you should fit in with them rather than the other way around. They want action too however, so don’t take too long to set some clear immediate strategic priorities and show you are acting on delivering them,” adds Banister. Saira Akbar, CEO of Dubai-based Global Management Consultants, believes that listening to the board and understanding their expectations is far more important than impressing them. She urges board members to put together a “short, crisp” presentation for the CEO outlining their 100-day agenda, related actions and expected outcomes. Additionally, the chief executive should create a boardroom master plan and ensure that it is followed diligently. Survival tip: Clearly set out your goals to the board before they do FRONTLINE LEADERSHIP “The worst new chief executives are those that do not act immediately and remain locked in their new ivory tower surrounded by the inner circle of staff,” warns Akbar. “An aggressive ‘bull-in-a-China-shop’ tactic, and the opposite, ‘watching from the backbench’ approach can both be intimidating to staff, sending out confusing signals of what is expected of them.” So how should a ‘fresh in place’ chief executive approach the reigns of power in their new role? According to Akbar you should: 1. Get to know the profit and loss figures of the company, identify the problems and communicate them 2. Communicate your vision for a better company both formally and informally — your staff need repeated assurances during this period 3. Understand what makes the business tick — what makes money and what does not — develop a series of simple reporting processes 4. If you are coming into the role as an industry outsider then immediately surround yourself with those that understand the business and all of its intricate mechanisms Survival tip: Hit the ground running ORGANISE YOUR ARMY Having taken up your lofty position at the helm of the corporate hierarchy, the journey forward can be made infinitely easier by good organisation right from the word go. One of the best ways to achieve this according to Ziegler, is to make the most of your mid-management team. “You have to get close to your middle management and make sure you involve them in the strategy and in the way forward. Do that and they will disseminate that plan down to the other levels of the organisation,” he says. Yousif Taqi, CEO of Al Salam Bank, based in Bahrain, says: “At an organisational level, it is paramount to ensure that a strong and sound corporate governance framework is in place. This must seek to balance entrepreneurship, control and transparency, while also creating value for all stakeholders and protecting their rights and interests.” Survival tip: Assert your influence with middle management and they will naturally filter your message down through the business CAPTURE THE CUSTOMER’S VIEW While getting to know the internal ins and outs of your new employer is key to the settling-in process, there is much to be gained from establishing a customer’s perspective of the company. Akbar suggests outlining and speaking to ten key customers/clients about their experiences with the company. An alternative approach is to adopt the ‘mystery shopper’ method by placing yourself in the customer’s shoes to test the business’s level of customer service. Let’s hope you like what you see. Survival tip: Become a customer for a day to gain a ‘real’ insight into your company ALWAYS REMAIN ALERT Having emerged victorious and taken your place on your CEO throne, there may be an overwhelming desire to prove that you are the right choice for the role. According to Akbar however, it is important not to let this cloud your view of the task at hand. “Trying to prove to your inner-circle that you are good for the job only gets in the way and can zap energy which is badly needed elsewhere in the business. “By being yourself, having an inner voice telling you ‘I don’t need to prove a point, I need to be myself and listen’, you can open doors to new opportunities and perspectives within the company.” Survival tip: Trust your judgement and value your own decisions and convictions ||**||

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