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06.13.08

How to Survive the First 100 Days As the New Boss

The New Boss
The New Boss: How to Survive the First 100 Days by Peter Fischer is a practical how-to guide to help leaders avoid typical mistakes and pitfalls and provides a proven framework and systematic approach to managing leadership transitions. While not all of the material is new, it is a welcome and fresh perspective and contains relevant examples of dos and don’ts of successful leadership transitions. Fischer’s process is well thought out and easily adapted to your new role.

The chart below gives a brief overview of the issues addressed here.

Executives Who Make
Transitions Successfully
Executive Who Are Less
Successful in Transitions
  • Possess superior knowledge and familiarity with the field and readily distinguish between what is important and what is not

  • Recognize and develop key relationships, deal adroitly with hidden rivals and predecessors, build networks in the organization, and show that they are team-oriented

  • Know how to group the many issues and problems into a vision and to motivate the employees

  • Communicate with senior management on strategy and style of leadership

  • Have knowledge about the process of changing leadership and impart confidence and trust because they can assess developments
  • Often come from outside the field and take too long to get their bearings

  • Focus too much on the tasks to be accomplished, neglect the development of working relations built on trust, and tend to prefer to work things out alone

  • Pursue too many approaches at the same time without a persuasive strategy and focus on eliminating weak points

  • Accept unclear expectations from senior management

  • Are too easily surprised, concentrate only on changes and thereby neglect the employees’ need for stability and security


Fischer also cites John Gabarro’s work (The Dynamics of Taking Charge / HBSP / 1987) in this area. Gabarro notes that a crucial factor distinguishing successful from less successful leaders in a new positions was the relationship to key people. In his studies, 75% who were not successful in their new roles after 12 months had poor working relations with their key employees. They had conflicts over objectives, leadership style, and the criteria of effective performance.

I mention this in particular as this seems to me to be the most common reason new leaders are asked to move along before they really get anything done. The temptation is to go in “full boor” and show them what you know. After all that’s why they hired you. Right? But if you can’t get along and gain the trust and cooperation from the people and culture you are moving into, your competence won’t matter. Focus on the people first.

Also check out: The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:55 AM
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The easiest and quickest way to succeed is to eschew the traditional top-down command and control model for managing people and employ its opposite from your first day on the job.

The reason is that top-down by its nature demeans and disrespects employees. This model concentrates on ordering around employees with goals, targets, visions and a myriad of other orders. The employee's need to be heard, to be able to put in their two cents whenever they want to do so is ignored by top-down managers. In addition, since employees know better than anyone on top what is going wrong, they become very frustrated in not being able to get these problems addressed much less fixed.

So any new top executive who wants to succeed in spades, should start off by telling everyone that they are far more important to the success of the company than himself. He would also tell them that his job is to support them with whatever they need to do a better job and that they are therefore his customers. He would stop communication down of goals, targets, visions and the myriad of normal directives and start listening and responding quickly and respectfully to employee complaints, suggestions and questions.

The best employees don't need to be told what to do and most other employees would not need either if management would only listen to them.

This new exec would start providing the highest quality support to employees by asking employees how it can be improved. After all, it is management's responsibility to provide to employees the highest quality training, tools, parts, material, discipline, procedures, policies, rules, direction, technical advice and documentation, etc, etc.

Being treated with great support, meaning great respect, all employees including subordinate managers will commit themselves to their work or to the success of the company. Besides, they will love to come to work.

In this mode, the new exec will be stunned by the huge amount of inherent creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment unleashed. I have done this several times and was very pleasantly surprised each time. To learn how I escaped from using the top-down approach read read an Interview of me

Best regards, Ben
Author "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed"

I do not concur with the principles of "How to survive the first 90 days." I do not even like the title let alone the underlying message of the title, that executive survival in such a short time period is the key and yes, 90 days to a year is to me by nature shortsighted sounding anyway. As I review the posits side by side, I do not even like what I am reading on the executives who make the successful transition vs the one's that don't supposedly. While the executive may survive, will the company and its employees really succeed or thrive beyond that supposed timeframe. We are in a world where the only stability is change itself. There is an ncomfortableness for everyone with any changes or criticism and those feelings are normal to expect in the beginning, but given time, behaviors adjust and you begin to see progress in outcomes. Initially, it is not fun to enter any stagnant environment and suggest that the emperor has no clothes. Today's environment requires that every employee be a recognized leader.

Matthew, I agree, 90 days does seem a bit inadequate. It is no doubt part of the human condition that entrenched people don’t give new people much slack. They new hires are guilty until proven innocent. The caution here is to avoid a problem that happens all too often. When the new leader is brought in to help fill a void, they don’t treat the people they are brought in to serve with proper respect – recognizing them for the leaders they are – and consequently they can’t even get their foot in the door. Unfortunately the mindset they bring with them is that it is all about them. Their expertise is of no account if they can’t find a way to work with and respect the people already in place.

I wish that the media would adopt your approach to asking such important questions so that we could make our vote based on a real understanding of the candidates.

It would be good to add other questions such as (1) "What was a high stakes situation which you viewed as a moral choice, what did you decide and why?" (2) "What was the worst failure or setback you have had and what gave you the resilience to get beyond it? and (3) "Whose voice do you hear when you have make tradeoffs that involve values?", (4) "What is it about being in charge that gives you the most pleasure and satisfaction?" and (5) "What would be grounds for dismissal from your administration for a person who had served well and for a long time?"

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