My First 100 Hours as CEO

jenga_croppedAbrupt changes happen overnight…

It was April 18, 2008, my birthday. I was on vacation with my family when my phone rang. It was IMA’s Board of Directors, asking me to take on the title of acting president and CEO, an “overnight promotion” of sorts. 

And what a challenge it was. I was faced with restructuring the organization’s management and its strategy in order to remain competitive in a changing market.

Nothing quite prepared me for the task: not any advanced degree or my leadership experience as CFO at a major telecommunications company.

The first 100 hours would include the decisions that defined me as a leader.

Make Each Hour Count

Establish expectations and confidence.
First I had everyone (stakeholders and employees) look me in the eyes and not only agree that there was a need for change, but that they believed in the transformation.

With the understanding that this entire process was being watched and critiqued, I tried to be genuine, transparent, and authentic. It was essential for building trust.

Choose your priorities.
I couldn’t lose focus on the things that mattered most: cash and culture.

You can’t move forward as a company until you are in a healthy financial position. In order to put IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) on this track, I needed to eliminate excess spending. Things like renting plants and having a caretaker for them were no longer part of IMA’s agenda. So I bought the Senior Leadership Team plastic watering cans from Wal-Mart.

Neither cash nor culture can change overnight, but it was important that people started to see progress. Actions tell a story.

Create a “We will…” list.
I knew that to do my job, and to do it well, it required courage, conviction, and laser-like focus in achieving results. A “We will…” list communicates your non-negotiables with a set of actions that the entire staff is committed to achieve, not just consider. My list became the common thread that united our organization – they weren’t empty promises or feel good statements. We were defining our culture minute by minute, hour by hour.

Decide who will have a seat at your table.
Keep company culture and values in the front of your mind, now and always. The first item I crossed off my list was choosing my leadership team (who would “sit at my table”). This team should have skills and values consistent with the future direction of the organization, as well as the ability to tackle unexpected challenges.

No one plans for the unexpected. But with transparency, conviction of purpose, and reciprocal trust, difficult circumstances can become opportunities for organizational growth.

That birthday five years ago is one I’ll never forget. I was given an invaluable gift. I began my journey as a leader overnight with the support of the people around me. Together we created an environment, strong enough to give us a visible future again.

Until next time…
Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE

Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson