”The beginning is the most important part of any work.”

– Plato, 4th Century B.C. Greek Philosopher

I’ve parachuted in to lead many teams. I love it! The first 100 days in a new role are exhilarating, challenging, and a ton of problem solving. You get dropped into a war zone, with a team, partners, and processes, and you have to figure out how to start driving value quickly. You have peers and other teams to your left and right who are part of a broader equation, but critical to your success. You have your boss, who has high expectations of you. And, you just walked in the door to the beginning of the rest of your life. Where do you start?

Let’s go over the First 100-Day Game Plan to equip you with effective strategies when you get dropped into a new situation.


100 day plan


Before Day 1

To set yourself up for success, you can accomplish a lot before day 1.


1. Clarify role, expectations & resources

Before starting a new role, clarify the role, expectations, and resources.  Use the ROLES framework to work with your new manager to properly define your role, success, and support. Also, clarify the expectations for the first 50 days, 100 days, and the year. What are the big issues and opportunities to tackle? Also, understand the resources you’ll be leading, regarding people, partnerships, budgets, and infrastructure. The likelihood of success goes up with clear roles, expectations, and resources. If they aren’t clearly defined, it can be a sign of potential issues and trouble with the role or your future boss.


2. Learn as much as you can

Typically before starting a project at McKinsey, the team sends the client a “data request” asking for existing documentation, presentations, SOPs, analysis, org charts, and financial and operational data relating to the project. Similarly, before starting a new role, send the boss a “data request.” This will get you up to speed and signal to the boss you want to hit the ground running. Once the data starts rolling in, read and absorb as much as you can and start a log of questions, hypotheses, and other data that could be helpful. You can learn a ton about an organization and business through a data request.


3. Set up the first few weeks

Schedule your first few weeks before day 1. For the first few weeks, focus on building relationships and learning. I typically schedule 20-30 30-minute conversations with members of my team, peers, leadership, internal customers, and other important stakeholders. I create simple interview guides to help with structuring the conversations. I cover questions such as “What are your role and accountabilities?”, “What are the biggest issues and opportunities with the team?”, “If you were in my shoes, what would your plan be?” You will learn a lot about the organization by keeping the questions open-ended and focused on the other person’s ideas. Also, make sure to get the important weekly or monthly meetings on your schedule.


The First 50 Days – Listen, Learn and Diagnose

As a strategic leader, the first 50 days on a job are crucial. You need to gain context, develop key relationships and create positive momentum. Focus on the below building blocks to set yourself up for success.


4. Listen to the voice of the customer

Everyone in an organization has customers, whether they are the end-consumers that purchase services or products, or internal customers that utilize the services and processes of a team. Customers ultimately decide the long-term success of a leader. Listen to their voices early on in a new role. For internal customers, many of the 30-minute conversations should be with customers. If the customers are end-consumers, you can lean on previous research, online reviews, and the views of internal team members. You should also create primary research, including immersing yourself in the frontlines, being a customer, conducting focus groups or a survey, and interviewing customers. By whatever means get the customers’ views on the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and issues of the products and services of the team.


5. Build relationships & learn

You need relationships to get things done in organizations. In the first 50 days, relationship building is a core activity. In the beginning, you build relationships by listening and finding commonalities. And, as the days go by, the more you can address peoples’ issues and be a collaborative problem solver, the stronger those relationships will become. Most of what you will learn in the first 50 days will be from others in the organization. Your job is to listen, learn and ultimately synthesize all that you hear to develop hypotheses on the big issues and opportunities.


6. Set the mission & expectations

From day one people are going to be interested in what you think about the organization. The safest path is to set a broad mission quickly and elevate expectations. For a sales team leader, the mission should be about improving the sales funnel to land more customers. For an operations leader, the mission should be about driving the efficiency and effectiveness of the process to deliver an exceptional customer experience. Furthermore, set high expectations for peoples’ work product, innovation, focus on the customer, and solving problems.


7. Set Up your governance

New leaders change organizations largely by making different decisions than previous leaders. In the first 50 days, define the team’s governance. How will decisions be made? In what forum? What are the necessary facts to make decisions? What are the controls for spending money? When are the different team meetings, and what are their agendas? Laying out and quickly implementing new governance will go a long way in improving the decision-making of the organization.


8. Assess the team

If you inherit a team, start assessing them quickly. First, understand their roles, and have them take you through what they do and how they spend their time. Also, get to know their aspirations, what motivates them, their interests, and their ideas. Read their past performance reviews. Then, given their role, begin assessing their strengths, and weaknesses, and use the Skill Will Matrix. You’ll receive a lot of unsolicited feedback from peers, stakeholders, and leaders, but always make your own judgments too.


9. Empower to get the low-hanging fruit & early wins

From day one people look towards a new leader to start creating value, while the leader is simply trying to get up to speed. The earlier you can create and start executing your Prioritization Matrix of ideas the better off you’ll be. To gain momentum start tackling those low-cost and high-value projects.

The most effective way to start creating value is by empowering others. You’ll often find empowerment opportunities during the initial one-on-one conversations, where a team member might say, “Doing XYZ would really help the team.” And, the leader’s response should be, “Well, what would it take to get XYZ done?” Then, the leader should ask the team member, “Could you take on XYZ? What do you need? When do you think you could get it done by?” Getting people to take ownership of opportunities they’ve seen but haven’t acted on is one of the most powerful ways to generate positive momentum and get some early wins.


10. Understand and measure core KPIs

You can abstract the processes and end-products of any team as KPIs. In the first 50 days, understand what KPIs exist, their trends, and what is behind the trends. Then build a path for establishing, measuring, and managing the necessary KPIs that don’t exist. It is essential to make sure you have the right scoreboard to help set goals and measure success.


11. Start problem solving the issues

At the end of the first 50 days, you should have a semblance of a strategy emerging from the ether. That means in the first 50 days; you need to problem solve the significant issues and opportunities. If you have the resources, put a team together a team to parallel a strategy project from day 1. They’ll come up with a solid plan, and it grows people and allows you to evaluate the strength of the team.

In the first 50 days, spend a lot of time on the frontlines, in the trenches with the team helping them problem solve their accountabilities and potential improvements. Utilize coaching and walkabout management to get better context and provide problem solving help with the team. Walkabout management creates solutions, speeds up decision-making and thought processes, establishes mutual respect, and shows how people think.


The Second 50 Days – Develop Strategy, Change, and Execution

The second 50 days in a new leadership role are when everything should come together, and the team begins to pivot into a new strategic direction.


12. Explore & develop big opportunities

By your 50th day, you should have a pretty good handle on your options to drive substantial value. Once you figure out the 2-4 significant opportunities, then you need to start developing them with the team.


13. Get the right people, in the right roles

Once you have clarity on the big opportunities, you should take a deep breath and be honest with yourself about whether or not you have the right people in the right roles. If you don’t, make changes sooner rather than later. If you can develop existing talent then that is a nice plus, but more often than not you’ll have to reconfigure the team and bring in external talent.


14. Collaborate on goals, strategy, and plans

Drive to clear goals, actions, and plans to realize the big opportunities. This step necessitates a high level of collaboration. Involve those accountable for execution, to develop and decide on the BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And, then coach your team on the creation of their strategies and plans.


15. Manage change and focus

At this point, you’ll have to drive fundamental change in people’s behavior. Use the change management model to increase success. Also, ensure the team is laser-focused on the change agenda.


16. Execute & Measure

Keep the focus on execution. Periodically measure the impact of the strategy on the BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) and the important KPIs. You’ll start getting a rhythm to the execution and begin learning what is working and what needs to be adjusted. At this point, you’ll hopefully begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Keep the team focused, energized, and driving impact, and you’ll see them and yourself grow.

Set yourself up for success by following the First 100 Days Game Plan. As always, enjoy the journey and create value!

And, if you are looking for someone to help you create and execute a great 100-day game plan set up some time with me. I really enjoy supporting clients with their transition to new roles and they get the coaching and strategies they need to lead and be successful in their new organization.

 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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