Debunking the Myths of the First 100 Days

The Right Way and the Wrong Way for New CEOs to Approach Their Role

By Peter Tollman and Roselinde Torres

It’s tough at the top, and getting tougher. CEOs today have to operate in an unprecedentedly intricate and intense business environment, and newly installed CEOs are particularly hard-pressed. At any one time, 14 to 15 percent of CEOs are in their first year of office, and they face a  challenging initiation.1 1 For this figure, see  CEO Succession Report: 12th Annual Global CEO Succession Study, Booz & Company, 2012, p. 9. Notes: 1 For this figure, see  CEO Succession Report: 12th Annual Global CEO Succession Study, Booz & Company, 2012, p. 9.

A New-Look 100-Day Plan for a New CEO

Confronted not just by the novelties but also by the ambiguities of the role they are stepping into, newly installed CEOs will respond in diverse ways. Some will view their debut as a balancing act. Others, undaunted, will view it as an impetus for bold, disruptive moves.

By tradition, they will enjoy a 100-day honeymoon after taking office—a time of being feted (often by an initial fanfare of optimistic press coverage) and indulged, perhaps, but also of being tested. During this grace period, they are expected both to orient themselves and to make a favorable impression and instill confidence among internal and external stakeholders. They will use the time to identify the challenges, determine their key objectives, and draft a timetable. Ideally, they will also take the opportunity to convey their values and define their leadership style so that staff and stakeholders know what to expect. To facilitate all of this, they will need to devise—preferably before the starting date—an appropriate 100-day plan.

A particular danger for new CEOs is basing their 100-day plan on a set of general “best practices” without taking sufficient account of the “contextual fact base”—the specifics of the new job, the culture of the company, today’s complex and dynamic business environment, and their own leadership style. In our work with numerous new CEOs over the years, we’ve encountered several plans of this kind and identified five common misconceptions that underlie them. These misconceptions—we call them the “five myths of the first 100 days”—might have an appealing ring to them, but they risk destabilizing any CEO launch.