Why Planning for Success is Key for Today’s Leading Businesswomen

At First100, we aim to work with some of the brightest and best female business talents to ensure that they hit the ground running from the moment they take up a new role. While the majority of our clients are still male, an increasing number of senior women executives are asking us to help them navigate their vital first 100 days in a role.

‘First 100 days’ plans are becoming more commonplace within global organisations such as Vodafone, Accenture, Telefonica 02, BP, BT and Merck.

A few decades ago, investors sought 10-year strategic plans, and then five-year and subsequently three- and two-year plans were in vogue. In that context of growing time pressures, the first 100 days plan becomes increasingly important, and investors want to know what returns they can expect to see within a matter of weeks or months of a new leader taking charge.

Interestingly, from my own personal experience and the feedback I receive from our consultants working with clients in the UK, Ireland and the US, female business leaders often make far more willing clients.

Women are often easier to coach than their male counterparts, and more willing to listen and take on board new skills to help them succeed in challenging roles. Sometimes senior male executives are instinctively more defensive and need a little longer to be persuaded as to the merits of the coaching.

Undoubtedly, one of the principal reasons why women are generally quicker to understand the benefits of working with companies such as First100 is that they face the added pressures of competing in a still male-dominated business world, many with the challenge of juggling huge responsibilities both at work and at home.

Putting in place a sound strategic plan for your first 100 days in a new role can significantly reduce the risk of things going wrong. You might have been recruited externally, promoted internally, be returning to work after having a baby, setting up a new team within an organisation or playing a key role in a newly merged firm.

Creating Your 100 Days Plan

In my upcoming book ‘A Great First 100 Days in 100 Minutes’, I take readers on their 100-day journey.

The first phase is about preparing for your new role. Among the most important steps you must take are:

Letting go of your previous role as quickly as possible

It may seem like stating the obvious, but often people do not detach fast enough. In my experience, senior people stay involved in their previous role for all the wrong reasons, such as preference to stay in their comfort zone, concern about managing their legacy, emotional ties to team and a false belief that no one else could be good enough to take over. It is therefore critical that you negotiate a clear finishing date for your current role and agree a formal starting date for your new role.

Setting up an energy management system

The first 100 days is an intense phase – all eyes are on you and there is huge pressure to perform and deliver early. So, in preparation, create time inbetween roles to rest and recover and get set for the new challenges ahead.

You should see yourself as a ‘corporate athlete’ and my recommendation is that clients should take a minimum of a fortnight’s holiday between roles. You need to be fit for purpose with a surplus of energy to take on your new responsibilities.

Understanding transition givens

You will be faced with many challenges when you start in a new role, including an intense learning curve, legacy issues from your predecessor, inheriting or building a team, and getting the balance right between moving too fast and too slowly. Depending on the quality of your predecessor, your team may or may not have a good reputation and may have developed poor habits, behaviours and disciplines that will take time to address.

Alternatively, you may be filling the shoes of a much-loved predecessor and find yourself being resented for wanting to change the way things have traditionally been done. You may also find resentment from certain quarters because you are a senior female executive assuming a role traditionally filled by a male. Your first 100 days plan is your plan, not your predecessor’s, and while you will be interested in hearing their views, they should play no role in creating your plan.

Preparing your plan

A good starting point is to take a step back and take a wide-lens view of the ‘whole system’ within which you will be operating. See it as a construct where you are at the centre: the person (you, as leader) in a role, in an organisation and set in the context of your marketplace. Build a profile of each component in order to map out the landscape of your opportunities and challenges.

  • Profile the role: What have you been asked to do? What are the deliverables? What do you know about the capability of others in the business?
  • Profile the organisation: What is your vision for the role? How does this vision link to the vision and mission of the organisation? How can you create value for the organisation?
  • Profile the market: Who is your customer now and in the future? Who are your competitors? What is the biggest market challenge facing you in your new role? What are the market dynamics?

When preparing your plan, you need to envisage a two-year horizon and agree your 12-month business priorities. You are now ready to write your 100 days plan.

Writing Your Plan

In developing the First100 programme, I crafted 10 constituent roles, each of which need to be considered. Here I will give you a flavour of a few of them:

Transition maker: What is your leadership skills step-up?

For example, by the end of my first 100 days, I would like to have made an effective transition from managing 500 people to leading a team of 3,000.

Content learner: What is your learning curve/content knowledge gap?

For example, by the end of my first 100 days, I will have tackled the content/learning curve on company strategy and markets for our products and services.

Business achiever: What are your key role deliverables?

E.g. by the end of my first 100 days, I will have delivered a quick win on business market strategy and gained greater insight into major business customers.

Team builder: What can you do to build a high performance team?

E.g. by the end of my first 100 days, I will have restructured the finance department and made key new appointments.

Relationship builder: Who really matters?

E.g. by the end of my first 100 days, I will have met my top 10 stakeholders and forged strong early relationships.

Road to Success

My time working with many business leaders has taught me that there are five factors that will help determine success:

  1. A clear vision: In this time of uncertainty for the industry, business leaders need to look at where they want to take their organisation. This involves evaluating the risks and the changing shape of the industry before identifying where your organisation fits in the scheme of things.
  2. Having no fear: Confidence is hugely important, as decisions taken in fear are rarely conducive to high performance. Of course, never mistake complacency for confidence: be strong in what you do.
  3. Exercising patience and resilience: Those organisations that cannot meet the challenges ahead will disappear. Business leaders need to be aware that they will meet internal resistance to shaking up the status quo. Yet, there is no other option, and the changes afoot need not be seen through a negative prism. The effective leader will inspire their team to bring about necessary change, and help them to overcome entrenched attitudes and ways of doing things without getting exasperated.
  4. Being a fast learner: Leaders who can adapt most strategically will thrive. That means being intellectually nimble, highly attuned to the market and willing to take outside help.
  5. Not being afraid of your mistakes: As you seek to adapt your business in the new climate, mistakes will be made. This is inevitable as you move forward with imperfect information. The important thing is to be courageous in how you deal with any setbacks.

There is a need to review against your plan at 30, 60 and 90 days. It is critical you stay focussed on your plan and avoid being derailed from your strategic priorities.

Conclusion

By the end of your first 100 days, you will need to ask yourself a number of important questions including:

  • Have you achieved everything you set out to achieve?
  • Have you laid the foundations for the rest of your first 12 months?
  • Are your stakeholders satisfied with your performance?
  • Do your team respect you?
  • How would you rate your performance?
  • How would your boss rate your performance?

The answers to these questions and others will determine how well you are set to kick on from your first 100 days and stay on track towards your 12-month business plan and two-year horizon.

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