MAGAZINE ON MANAGING THE FIRST 100 DAYS OF A NEW ASSIGNMENT.
keys to the first few months on a new job? Risk management.
Lisa Yoon, CFO.com
March 12, 2003
Once, while discussing his post-Velvet Revolution rise to
power in the Czech Republic, former Czech president Vaclav Havel described
"a sensation of the absurd, what Sisyphus might have felt if one day his
boulder stopped, rested on the hilltop, and failed to roll back down."
A CFO who's finally landed a job after a lengthy job
search can relate. In the current job market , where interviews are
increasingly more grueling, background checks ever more thorough, and hiring
criteria more exacting, a job search can sometimes resemble a bus tour
Once employed, however, CFOs face a new dilemma: how do
you start the job off right?
The answer, according to Dr. Laurence Stybel, CEO of Boston-based
career-management firm Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, can be summed up in two
words that CFOs know well: risk management. "It's the tenor of the
time," he notes, referring to the weak economy, when candidates invest
heavily in the job search and in some cases make sacrifices (pay cuts,
relocation) to get a job.
And from the employer's perspective, recruiting and hiring
a top executive is expensive. According to one estimate by Hay Associates,
the hiring process costs a company about 70 percent of the new hire's base
"In the first 100 days, mistakes count more,"
says Dr. Stybel. "The same mistake, even six months later, won't weigh
as much" as during those first crucial months.
To chart the right course from the get-go, many companies
are hiring coaches for top executives in their first 90 to 100 days on the
job, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Executive-search firms are
also getting in on the act, adding transition services to their list of
Aside from enlisting professional help, new CFOs can also
employ some career risk-management strategies of their own.
Start by arming yourself with knowledge. "Get up the
learning curve as much as possible, before you get on the job, if you
can," advises Michaels Watkins, a professor at Harvard Business School
and author of the upcoming book The First 90
Days: Critical Success Strategies for Leaders at All
recommends meeting with the boss and your team to establish expectations and
boundaries formally within the first five days of the new job. Use this
meeting to get specific details. What things can I unilaterally change
without consulting my boss? What things should I consult my boss on before
making changes? When should I defer the final decision to my boss?
Get to know what needs to change, what must stay in place,
and what to avoid at all costs. Again, the goal is to avoid mistakes during
the first few months.
For instance, if your new employer recently deployed new
financial management software, it may not be a good idea to trash the
application in a meeting, or rave about a rival program. "[Co-workers]
may say, 'I don't care how good the other software is. I just spent money on
this; I'm not switching,'" explains Stybel. "If you know this ahead
of time, fine."
Indeed, ignorance of such boundaries may result in a
misstep that could cost a new CFO time and credibility.
During the first two weeks, spend as little time in your
office as possible. "The office has a computer with a spreadsheet on
it," Stybel points out. "I think for CFOs, that's a sort of
emotional teddy bear. It makes you feel like you're doing something."
Instead, Stybel recommends that new finance chiefs talk to colleagues and
team members and ask questions. And make sure you go to them; don't summon
them to your office.
Stybel also says it's crucial to build relationships and
coalitions early. Get to know the line executives and find out how to empower
them. Think also about coalitions with those outside the company, such as
journalists and investors.
Leave the biggest challenges for several months into the
job. Instead, take on problems where you know you can succeed. "Think
about how to get those early wins to build credibility and momentum,"
Finally, enter with an open mind; don't assume you have
The Answer. "To walk in to a group of people who think they're
successful and say, 'This is all wrong,'" says Watkins, "or to tell
them their competitor does it better, is a one-way ticket to oblivion."