First 90 days not enough: CEO's guide for driving transformation

By Leanne Ansell-McBride

August 17, 2015

Experience leading large scale transformational change is a critical capability of executives across the Victorian Public Service. According to Boston Consulting Group, leaders have a short window of opportunity to deliver step-change in performance through transformation following their appointment.  In their article ‘the new CEO’s guide to transformation’ they suggest “leadership transitions increasingly happen when companies are at an inflection point” and new CEOs face “considerable pressure to deliver transformational change”. They describe transformation as a “fundamental reboot” — a “profound change in a company’s strategy, business model, organisation, culture, people or processes”.

With the pressure on new leaders to perform, BCG suggest Michael Watkins’ 90 day plan is not enough. They encourage new CEOs to start defining their ambition 100 days before starting — with a plan for the first few weeks, first 100 days, and the first 18 months. Click read more to learn what you could do to energise the organisation, win in the short to medium term to overcome the cynics, and ultimately drive long term sustainable change.

To hit the ground running, BCG indicate leaders should thoroughly investigate the organisation’s situation in the first 100 days before starting to “define the ambition”.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Step 1:  Define the ambition

To identify the opportunities for transformational change adopt an ‘investigative and analytical mindset [of] I need to learn more’. Meet with as many critical stakeholders as possible including employees, customers and industry and functional experts to start to diagnose the opportunities and creating ‘hypotheses regarding which aspects of the [organisation] require improvement’.

In addition to identifying broad transformation efforts, the new leader should identify “rapid, no regret moves” that is “initiatives that are relatively easy to implement in the first 100 days and can generate results in 3 to 12 months” according to BCG’s research into sustainable change. These quick wins will help to build momentum for the longer term change and energise the organisation and address cynicism to change.

Step 2:  Energise the organisation

BCG suggests new CEOs “should start building a compelling case for change from their first day on the job” taking care to recognise the “company’s heritage and hard work of employees”.  Leaders should consider the organisational context when communicating the case for change, with BCG indicating “some companies have well-established ideas about their over-all direction and sense of purpose … [so they] can focus primarily on short term performance and delay setting a more visionary agenda” while “other companies are tired of short-term thinking and constant cuts and need a more compelling story about where the new CEO intends to lead the company”.

Step 3:  the first 100 days – prepare and launch the transformation

Many readers will know Michael Watkins’ iconic ‘first 90 days’ and in a similar vein BCG suggests “the first 100 days of the process are critical in that they set the trajectory for the overall transformation” adding “indeed for the CEO’s tenure”. They encourage leaders to balance “a long-term vision with day-to-day reality”, focusing on the rapid moves that will deliver impact in the first three to 12 months to create momentum for change. These initiatives generate credibility for the new CEO and the top team. BCG identify a number of pitfalls CEOs should avoid during this phase including:

  • Insufficient accountability among owners and sponsors of the initiatives,
  • Failure to have in place clear plans and roadmaps, backed with specific actions that are linked to … objectives,
  • A lack of resources and expertise on initiative teams,
  • Management incentives [or performance objectives] that do not support the objectives of the transformation,
  • Failure to engage stakeholders and overcome institutional resistance.

Step 4:  the first 18 months – drive the transformation

As the short term initiatives begin to have impact, the next step to drive the transformation is to identify objectives that will win in the medium term.  BCG indicate these can entail “a wide range of initiatives to transform including … launching a new business model, revamping commercial processes or operations, building digital capabilities … and transforming internal support functions such as IT or human resources, among others.”

The final stage is to build sustainable performance to ensure the organisation has the right people and capabilities to support the successful transformation. BCG suggests this includes:

  • Ensuring “the commitment and change capabilities of the executive team … [and] their ability to set the right priorities, mobilise and energise … teams, and hold themselves accountable for the results,”
  • Installing “a HR team that can act as a transformation partner, anticipating talent and leadership needs rather than as a mere service provider,” and
  • Simplifying “the organisation and culture to sustain high performance in conjunction with the new strategy”.

This article was first published at the Victorian Leadership Development Centre’s Leadership Blog.

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