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Your First 100 Days in a New Role: Tips for General Counsels

Blog: Latest Legal Trends

Guest post by Niamh O’Keeffe, Leadership advisor & author of ‘Your First 100 Days: how to make maximum impact in your new role’, second edition published by FT Pearson 2019, addressing how general counsels can thrive in their first 100 days. Niamh advises corporate CEOs and senior leaders in London and New York at CEO ASSIST.


1. Set out an ambitious role vision

What do you want to achieve with this role opportunity? When setting out your role vision, think big and start with the end in mind. What kind of leadership legacy do you want to leave behind – in this role, and by the end of your career? How do you define success, what might that success might look like by end of 3-5 years in this role?

Your vision is about long-term thinking, and it helps set context and priorities on what you need to achieve in the next 12 months, and first 100 days. Think about really matters to you and why, and what you could do in this role to really make a difference to your team, organisation, industry, the world.


2. Add value to the CEO and organisation

Consider how you establish yourself as trusted advisor to the CEO. What is on your CEO’s agenda, what is missing, and how can you assist, advise, support, influence and challenge. You will require the right combination of candour and tact. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Be prepared to give bad news, when necessary.

Always keep the higher company vision and greater good in mind. Your job is to ensure that the company is operating legally at all times. You also have another parallel job called ‘leader of the firm’ and consider what extra value you can offer the organisation as a key member of the CEO’s leadership team.


3. Set out your key strategic priorities

With your long-term leadership vision and CEO agenda in mind, set out your strategic priorities for the first 12 months, and your first 100 days – and stay focused on them. By setting out your key priorities early on, and regularly reviewing them, you are less likely to get derailed by less important activity and low level tasks.

A new role, in a new company, can feel overwhelming but don’t just get busy doing the doing. Jumping on the company treadmill is too short-termist in approach. Before you know it, your diary is in charge of you and you have missed the opportunity to reset, refresh or reframe strategic priorities and where you and your team really ought to be investing time and energy.


4. Ask for feedback, not reassurance

During your first 100 days, you should seek out feedback on how you are performing. If your boss and key stakeholders say ‘You’re doing great, just keep going’, it may feel encouraging but please realise that this is not actually feedback. Push for a more constructive response. Often, the problem with feedback is no one really wants to give it and no one really wants to receive it. My advice is that it is always better to know what impression you are making.

Perhaps you have an unhelpful people leadership style issue or you are making unwitting cultural gaffes which are not serving you well. You need feedback sooner rather than later on anything that may be preventing you from building more productive relationships with your team and stakeholders.


5. Don’t be a hero, it’s not all about you!

On arrival, remember that you are a leader of a team. You are not an individual operator, nor superman, nor a lone expert genius. Building a high performing time will be critical to your success. Your productivity will arise from the quality and hard work of your team members.

Take time in your first 100 days to appreciate and bond with your team. Your day to day behaviour will accelerate this bonding; be straightforward, demonstrate fairness, impress people with your passion, ask for help, be friendly, be optimistic. Never lose your temper. Top tips are to stop saying ‘you’ to the team, and start saying ‘we’ and to refrain from talking about how great your last company was.


6. Don’t invite the in-laws to stay!

Your first 100 days transition is not business as usual. No matter how experienced you are, stepping up into a new role is still a heightened stress event. You need to be fit for purpose, and you will need to manage your energy levels accordingly to the challenges and intensity of the new learning curve. Adrenalin will compensate for any lack of reserves, but don’t exacerbate the pressure on you by having the house redecorated or the in-laws coming for a visit. Keep a cool clear head and maintain a calm personal life if you want to enjoy accelerated success in the first 100 days.


7. Pay attention to culture, power and politics

In any new culture, or internal step up, think about who matters here, and what matters here. Consider how decision-making works at this level. Don’t make assumptions or be naive enough to simply take things at face value. Get advice from people who have been at the company for a long time to try to better understand how this company culture works – above and below the surface.

For example, what people are saying versus what they really mean? Learn to read and decode the organisation clues to understand the politics of this new organisation. Wherever there are people, there are politics. It is better to be on the alert to the key players and their agendas rather than be blindsided later on.


8. It is not enough to do a good job, you need to let people know

Don’t expect your work to speak for you. You need to bring people with you on the journey of your first 100 days and communicate your successes to stakeholders along the way. When the first 100 days is complete, share a record of your main achievements. You could make a formal ‘End of First 100 Days’ presentation to your boss or other key stakeholders.

There are no medals for modesty in the business world. You won’t want to come across as arrogant, but you do need to ensure that your stakeholders are aware of you and your team’s achievements. Think about it like showcasing the ROI – return on investment – on the cost of hiring you and remind people of what is also yet to come.


9. Reflect on lessons learned

When your first 100 days is over, pause and take stock of what you have learned over the past 3 to 4 months. What worked well, what didn’t work well. Are you still keeping your long term vision in mind and staying focused on your key priorities? If you have got derailed, and are getting lost in the detail rather than progressing the bigger picture, then get yourself back on track now before any more time goes by.

When your first 100 days is over, shift your focus to the end of your first 12 months as your next key milestone. People may be quite forgiving of you early on, and see the 100 days as a honeymoon period but a harsher judgement day looms large at 12 months, when people start to say ‘s/he has been here for 12 months, but what has he really achieved?’


10. Celebrate end of your first 100 days

Being a General Counsel is very serious role, of course, but you and your people need to enjoy your work and have fun from time to time! Celebrate end of your first 100 days with your team and give credit to the people who supported you during your transition. When your first 100 days is over, draw a line under it, learn from it, celebrate it (the highs and lows) and move on. Shift your energy from sprint to marathon.


Last but not least

The ‘first 100 days’ is a very helpful device for defining your role beginning phase. It carves out 3 to 4 months as a period of transition, which is useful for giving yourself a chance to land in, listen and learn, take some early action and make a positive first impression. Don’t just arrive and get busy. My core message to you is to think more strategically about what you want to achieve, and why – then set out your key First 100 Day priorities and stick to them. I wish you every success on your leadership journey.

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