de Blasio's One Year of Grace Closes In

In New York City, we have a new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He has been interesting to watch, especially as he exited his first 100 days and is moving into the last quarter of his first year. [Also because he is from my Brooklyn neighborhood where is a local figure.]

But this article in The New York Times this week was written almost as a mid year round up and makes it clear that the new mayor is still trying to find his balance. From watching CEOs, the first year is one of reckonings too. De Blasio, like new CEOs, has many more constituencies to worry about now besides rallying the troops to get out the vote.  The complexity of managing all those constituencies can be overwhelming and fraught with fault lines. As the mayor deals with racial tensions, police reform, availability of low income housing and budget constraints, he is disappointing the left who were his stalwart base. The alleged police-related death of Eric Garner on Staten Island does not help and heightens the scrutiny on the mayor's progress so far. The article interested me in particular because Bertha Lewis, former CEO of Acorn, is cited asking friends to give the mayor a full year before "discounting Mr. de Blasio as just another politician." From my work on CEO tenure, people begin to cement their impressions at about nine months. Luckily, mayors and CEOs do get a grace period when they first start but the mayor's next moves are critical to setting his legacy and reputation in stone.


Transition web site to admire

blasioWorth taking a look at NYC mayor-elect Bill De Blasio's transition web site. It is very transparent and user-friendly. You can apply for jobs, review who the transition team is, send an idea. volunteer,  or read blog postings. It is a great idea that matches with what he promised in the run off. Nice fit. Transitions are important times to set the tone and style of the incoming individual or executive. The large photo on the home page with De Blasio reaching out to constitutents sends the right message that he aims to be a man of the people (I think he said "we all rise together"). How it turns out will be another story but for a start, it's a good one. CEOs should consider this transition site as a good way to mark their first 100 days internally.  

CEO transitioning

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CEOs and other executives coming onboard face many challenges. Egon Zehnder recently surveyed international executives about the transition process and one of the findings is that 57% said that it took six months or more to successfully transition to a new position and make full impact. 43% said it took 3 months or more which is about the first 100 days. Realistically, it takes about six months at least. The results are probably different depending on whether the executives comes from inside the organization or outside.

And no surprise here, a minority of executives (30%) had a good transition integration in their new positions. When they did get onboarding, over 80% said it was beneficial. They'd like help with navigating the internal politics and networks (56%) and obtaining insights on the new team they are taking over (41%).  It is always the softer skills that need the most support when executives transition to new positions.

How executives make the transition impacts their reputation. Those first impressions in the first 100 days or so are extremely sticky! Therefore, you might want to use social media internally to reach as many people as possible, depending on the culture you find yourself in. But reputations are created when the cement is wet so be cautious and move smartly.

 

 

CEO First 100 Day Signatures

When new CEOs start in their jobs, their early actions or what they say at their first retreats with the senior team are memorable. Everyone is on high alert and wondering if things will be different, how their new CEOs will establish legitimacy and set a new tone. So my CEO First 100 day antennae were up and ready for incoming signals at our first senior team meeting with our new CEO. It was a great meeting, lots of discussion, priority-making and theme setting. But what pleased me most was what I would call establishing a CEO signature. Sometimes it could be as simple as handing out books to the team that they should read, inviting certain types of guests or inviting new people to the table. Everything matters because everyone is reading the tea leaves -- what does this mean? what signal is he/she sending? So I was pleased when our new CEO, an insider, began the meeting reading parts of an email that someone had sent him earlier that morning about a meeting with a potential new client. The email was about the 6 reasons to love my company, Weber Shandwick -- Smart people who respond even when they are insanely busy,  a core group you can always depend upon and never let you down, knowing what great looks like, pride in the people in the room with you and share the company name on their business card, our new business people who always have your back 24/7, and colleagues who always set the bar higher. Then later in the morning, our new CEO read another email he had received from a major business publication praising the firm on their responses to interview clients for a story. He wrote that he just had to let our new CEO know that he has never seen a pr firm respond with such rapidity, thoughtfulness, thoroughness and smarts.

At that moment I decided that this had to be our new CEO's signature....sharing these kinds of notes with the team. First, it felt great hearing what people had said about the company and second, it was all about the work and colleagues. It just felt so right. I immediately thought of how President Obama reads 10 letters a day to see what people are thinking. I had just read a note he had sent to a young girl who has two dads and asked the President about being teased at school and asking him what he would do. The President wrote the little girl with his advice.

CEOs must get amazing notes -- good and bad. It makes sense to let everyone hear how the firm makes an impact in unexpected ways that do not get shared every day. There was some drama in the emails being read which I loved. It deepened the sense of a shared experience and community which is what a CEO should try to instill, especially at the outset.

Getting the Message Across Loud and Clear

Just caught up with my November HBR. There is an excellent article by the CEO of Siemens, Peter Loscher, on how to use a scandal to activate change in an organization. There is a section in the article on Loscher's first 100 days, a favorite topic of mine.  He says that he was the first chief executive at Siemens who came from the outside and mentions how it actually worked to his benefit because he brought an outside perspective to his early start. In the article, he mentions that one of the things he wanted to do in year one (post 100 days) was to get the organization more focused on customers. And then he proceeded to explain how he did it. I thought it was such a cool idea that I wanted to share it. Here is what he said:

"In my first year, I tried to find other ways to emphasize to the entire organization that customers should be our primary focus. Once a year, our top 600 or 700 managers gather for a leadership conference in Berlin. Before my first one, in 2008, I collected the Outlook calendars for the previous year from all my division CEOs and board members. Then I mapped how much time they had spent with customers and I ranked them. There was a big debate in my inner circle over whether I should use names. Some felt we would embarrass people, but I decided to put the names on the screen anyway.

The rankings were a classic bell curve, with most people in the middle. I was number one, having spent 50% of my time with customers. I said to the people at the leadership conference, “Is this a good sign or a bad sign? In my opinion it’s very bad. The people who are running the businesses should rank higher on this measure than the CEO.”

I put the rankings up again in 2009, in 2010, and in 2011. And now things have changed. The curve has shifted. Some people have passed me, and most are near me at the top of the distribution—because everybody knows this matters and that names will be up there at the next leadership meeting. With this simple approach we have achieved a much, much stronger emphasis on customers in the top management echelons."

What a smart way to get management  focused on being customer-driven. As he concludes, "But if you want to change a big, complex organization like Siemens, you have to make your agenda known, and you have to communicate in simple terms." I'd say taking stock of everyone's calendars and tallying up the time spent on customer activities, sent the right message, clear as a bell.

 

 

The Empty Seat

Just read this article in Forbes about Amazon's Jeff Bezos' number one leadership secret. I've followed him for years and enjoy reading about how Amazon has grown from a bookseller to an everything store online.  I had already been thinking about about the importance of employees and customers for new CEOs when I read that Bezos' number one leadership secret is that the customer is always right. There is this example described in the article that when Bezos calls meetings, he leaves an empty seat at the conference table for what he calls the customer's seat.  A potent reminder to bring the customer's point of view to the table. The article hints at the fact that Bezos has built his hugely successful business bent on "coddling his 164 million customers, not his 56,000 employees."  This has me wondering that in this age of the Internet and social media galore, if customers are now more important than employees, maybe because of sheer size? The pendulum seems to be swinging again anyway. It used to be that all business activities were primarily all about customers, then all about employees and now... it's all about equal parts' employees and customers but with customers gaining the upper hand again.  The Internet has created a sense of urgency about how satisfied your customers are.  Probably because they spread word of mouth more quickly and seem to have more power than employees. They can advocate or criticize your business approach or customer service online for all to see. They have more power because they have so many choices from which to buy from.  The answer for new CEOs, however, appears to be focusing on employees with a healthy dose of understanding what your customers want and quickly scaling to reach them online to confirm what employees are telling you. Something to think about over the next few weeks. Whose more important -- employees or customers for new CEOs and CEOs who've been in office for some time?

CEO-Elect Buddies

   CEO training can be fraught with complications and wouldn't it be a shame if you overlooked someone who could make a difference. Today I read about the new CEO of IBM, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty. Apparently CEO Sam Palmisano wanted to make sure that she had a worthy mentor in the year or so leading up to her possible naming as CEO. He asked the CEO of Frontier Communications, Maggie Wilderotter, to mentor her. They met several times over lunch.  According to the Wall Street Journal today, Ms. Wilderotter recommended that the possible CEO elect work more closely with Wall Street, the big banks and leading IBM customers she did not know as well as others. Apparently Wilderotter told Ms. Rometty that "Wall Street is a big part of the job when you are CEO." A CEO buddy system is a good idea for building a reputation to get the job. Now she will need help with her CEO reputation-building for her first 100 days. I have to admit, the ring of "her first 100 days" sounds good to me.