It’s an exciting day when you first take the helm as CEO. That day, though, also starts the clock on the countdown to success — or failure.
According to the CEO Purpose Report released by creative consultant agency Brandpie, 78% of CEOs have a mere 90 days to prove their mettle in their new role. That’s three short months — during which you’re likely to face a range of challenges, including office politics, competing organizational priorities, and financial metrics — between you and the proverbial door.
To succeed under that kind of pressure, you need a strong sense of where you’re taking your organization. You’ve got to find a central mission that can anchor your strategy. As Brandpie’s report shows, most CEOs recognize the link between purpose, profits, and success, yet they fail to act on this knowledge.
Many distractions will vie for your attention in those early months of leadership, but none is more important than clearly establishing your purpose. Without it, you’re steering a ship without a rudder, trying in vain to take your new team somewhere worthwhile. To set out in the right direction — and chart a course for a successful tenure as CEO — follow these three steps.
1. Establish your executive purpose.
Finding your purpose is critical to achieving long-term goals. However, too many executives fail to make this connection — or only begin to do so after long tenures.
Finding this core aspiration should never be an afterthought; rather, it should guide your leadership from the start. How do you determine which core values will drive your leadership and transform your new company? Purpose can encompass many things for your organization, such as a sense of corporate social responsibility. For many CEOs, though, the definition is much broader.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 76% of consumers want to see CEOs take the initiative in creating meaningful change. Whether it’s building consumer trust, leading in innovation, or hiring and keeping great talent, you can find a purpose to propel your company forward. Make it your priority to look within yourself and your organization to find that driving force. Just remember that the public will likely suspect that you’re just looking for a marketing angle. Take the time to find a deeper meaning than marketing for you and your company — and then demonstrate that purpose with your actions.
2. Set key metrics accordingly.
Knowing your purpose is like finding true north. Once you’ve got it, you’re ready to chart a course. And while you shouldn’t neglect the far horizons in your planning, it’s helpful to set your sights on the waters just ahead of you at the outset.
When you set out in your new role, you’ll quickly find a flood of work waiting to sweep you away. A 30/60/90-day plan will help you stay afloat and on course. It should give you a few critical touchpoints — areas directly related to your purpose — that will guide your daily work and help you track progress.
Those metrics might fall under broad categories, such as the trifecta of people, processes, and technology. They might entail certain key projects or a marketing goal, such as establishing your personal brand. They might even reflect more traditional metrics, like revenue growth, net profits, or employee engagement. Whatever those metrics are for you, make sure they connect to your mission and that you can clearly measure them over the first, second, and third months.
3. Get your team on board.
A torrent of work isn’t the only thing waiting for you on your first day as captain. You’ll also find that you need to navigate the turbulent waters of office politics and relationships.
Be an astute observer of who seems to hold more sway around the office. Who has influence? Do some individuals get what they need more easily than others? Which members of your staff are trying to position themselves over others? Who’s enabling effective teamwork, and who’s not? The point isn’t to play along with these games but to understand the dynamics at work. If there are personnel changes to be made, make them quickly. Beyond that, use what you learn to start winning people over to your vision.
As you look to bring the team along, always start with your “why.” The Edelman report shows that employees are hungry for this: 71% of those surveyed want leadership to respond to the big issues of the day, whether they’re employee concerns or broader political issues. Capture employees’ attention with a bold vision. What’s more, you can’t overcommunicate the company purpose or your rationale behind it. Remind your team early and often. Once you have buy-in, keep employees on board by listening to their concerns, celebrating the risks they take, and leading by example. All of this will build trust and a firm foundation for your success.
Your early days as CEO will be some of the most exhilarating of your career. Enjoy the moment, but don’t let the momentum knock you overboard. Set your course early, grab the wheel, and show your team members that you’re ready to lead them for the long haul.