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  • Richard Spilg

Planning for the critical first 90 days

The search to fill a leadership position rightly consumes a lot of time, effort and money. An executive search firm will take a good 2-3 months to locate, shortlist and recommend candidates. The employer will then want to conduct a series of interviews, typically involving its most senior executives. Once the preferred candidate is identified there is the inevitable to and fro of negotiation. As the preferred candidate is most likely already in a senior role, his/her start date could be anything between 3-6 months from acceptance. If all goes to plan, the employer will typically have spent around 20% of the new incumbent’s salary in fees, have borne the indirect time costs of its own executives and may have to deal with a 3-6 month vacuum in that particular role.

The new incumbent will have a number of his/her own challenges during this potentially protracted period:

  • Ensuring that s(h)e effects an orderly handover at his/her current employer and treating it as an opportunity to enhance his/her reputation through his/her professional conduct

  • Staying emotionally and intellectually engaged through the entire exit period as direct reports start looking to their next leader and the executive’s thoughts start to turn to the challenge of the new role

  • Planning for the transition and doing the necessary research to give the best possible chance of early success in the new role

All good employers will have an induction programme to assist new employees find their feet as quickly as possible. However, when dealing with leadership appointments I believe that additional forms of support should be offered. The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins1 is one of the most practical guides for any executive starting a new job, either within or outside of his/her current organisation. Watkins makes a few key assertions that highlight the importance of this initial period:

  • Transitions are critical times when small differences in actions can have a disproportionate impact on results

  • Building credibility and securing early wins lay a firm foundation for longer-term success

  • Leadership is about leverage – to be successful, a leader needs to mobilise the energy of many others in the organisation.

This latter theme is reinforced in Primal Leadership2, in which the authors contend that the fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feelings in those they lead. In other words, at its root, the primal job of leadership is emotional. Daniel Goleman, one of the book’s authors, is probably the leading authority on Emotional Intelligence. In an article for The Harvard Business Review3, his research-based findings conclude that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way – they all have a high degree of Emotional Intelligence. Goleman describes four domains of Emotional Intelligence, each with a number of associated competencies:

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-management

  • Social awareness

  • Relationship management

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