90 Days In: A Formula For Successful Executive Transitions

Published on March 15, 2019 by CEOWorld Magazine

By Alisa Beyer

For anyone newly promoted into a C-suite or executive level job, the first few months in the position are critical. Not only are new executives faced with taking on the reins of a whole host of new responsibilities, but also often bigger teams and a rush of changing priorities. And rarely does any of this change come with a guidebook or cheat sheet; executives are just expected to adjust and innately know how to handle their new responsibilities smoothly, successfully, and seamlessly—even if they’ve never been in this level of position before.

But we know this approach isn’t necessarily the best route for success. In fact—it’s far and away the least effective option. Fifty percent of executive leadership transitions fail within 18 months, and 70% of teams agree they are not clear on priori- ties. So something needs to change. After building and selling five of my own companies, and working with dozens of newly minted executives, CEOs, CFOs, and the like, I’ve discovered that in order to plan for long term success, newly transitioned execs need to focus on short-term goals as their first priority. And that means creating a pathway forward that clearly outlines how new executives will navigate stakeholder relationships in the first 90 days.

I always tell my executive clients, “Ok, so—you’ve taken over the reins; congratulations. Now the hard work really begins.” Right off the bat, one of the most challenging tasks executives face is creating and establishing effective stakeholder relationships. Not investing in stakeholder relationships very early on in the transition process can undermine success both presently and long into the future. Indeed, trying to manage the myriad important relationships in any organization can really drain the mental energy of a newly appointed executive, which is why there needs to be a plan in-place to navigate this new terrain that is both actionable and approach- able. In other words—what four things must every new executive do if they want a successful transition?

Four important “must-do” tasks for new executives in the first 90-days:

  1. Identify. The first step will be to take stock of your team; figure out which stakeholders are most critical; and then schedule time with them ASAP to discuss your plans, and how you see them fitting into this undoubtedly new narrative. Don’t forget: while your promotion or appointment is all excitement and energy for you, often to stakeholder partners, it can be confusing, nebulous, and even uncomfortable, particularly if they aren’t sure where (or how) they fit into your new vision for the company, department, or team. It is during these kinds of transitions that new leaders tend to lose some of their most valuable team members as they get lost in the shuffle. Commit now to avoiding the shuffle by huddling close with your key leaders as soon as possible, and reassuring them of where they fit into your plans.

  2. Listen. Stephen R. Covey is famous for observing, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” As a new CEO or executive manager, you’ve got to prove Mr. Covey wrong. Meet with your constituents and your stakeholders; let them talk and really listen to what they say. Find out what is most important to them, what they want and don’t want with their position or teams, and then use this information to help you craft your first decisions. Earlier I mentioned that for most new executives, their jobs don’t come with Cliffs notes. Listening to what critical stakeholders have to say? It’s the next best thing.

  3. Adapt. The beauty of a new executive level position is it’s new. The trick of a new executive level position is, it will also come with stakeholders and team members that are used to one way of doing business, and uncertain about how things are changing. So new executive? Adapt, adapt, adapt how you communicate, and then adapt some more. While it may be uncom- fortable or even seem downright frustrating, adjusting your communication style to the needs of your critical stakeholders is one of the smartest, easiest, most helpful tasks a new CEO or exec can undertake. At this point, these folks are the backbone of your team. Making sure you are adapting to their needs at the outset will help create smooth connections between you, as well as lay the groundwork for how you your communication will change and how you will work together moving forward.

  4. Connect. Finally, don’t forget that no woman or man is an island! As the figure head of your company or team, it is imperative that you make the effort to connect with and relate to your employees. That means being present, being real, and being authentic where the real conversations are happening (i.e.—not just in your office), and attending social and other events that bind the key people together, and ultimately, build strong teams and companies. Because even though you have been hired or promoted to create amazing work product, it’s the bonds and connection of your team that creates a healthy company. And in turn, the right environment for every new executive to flourish.

In LemonTree Partners newest research study, Leap Into Leadership: A Benchmark of Breakthroughs and Barriers to Executive Leadership Transition, we found that for most new executive transitions, the hardest challenge was navigating who the stakehold- ers are and the politics of the new position. In fact, 65% of new execs agreed that navigating organization politics was the most difficult adjustment after stepping into their role. By focusing on these four must-do tasks right at the beginning, new corporate leaders can help mitigate these landmines and create an actionable plan for a smooth transition into leadership that will lead to a successful role as leader, and a happy, connected team.