You’re in Charge — Now What? The 8-Point Plan

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By Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin
Crown Business, 2005
320 pages, $25.00

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and nothing could be more important for an incoming CEO. In You’re in Charge, Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin, senior partners in the U.S. executive search firm Spencer Stuart, outline an eight-point plan for newly appointed organizational leaders. With a special emphasis on building credibility in the critical first 100 days (one CEO likens it to working with quick-drying cement), they lay out a plan of action for the next 100 days, and the periods beyond. Their conclusions are drawn from an in-depth study of 100 recent leadership transitions.

The authors’ “what to do” list sounds relatively simple: prepare during the “countdown” period, set and align expectations, shape the management team, craft a strategic agenda, start changing the culture, manage the board/boss, communicate well, and avoid major pitfalls. The challenge is that all these agenda items must be pursued at the same time. Thus, the “how-tos” in each of these areas, which depend entirely on the organization’s context, are complex to explain. The authors tackle this complexity by telling a number of stories featuring several new CEOs, including prominent executives like Jeffrey R. Immelt (GE) and James M. Kilts (Gillette), and describing the different ways they went about accomplishing key tasks.

The authors emphasize the need for new leaders to come into the organization with a strategic process rather than a strategic plan. They encourage leaders to listen rather than proclaim, and to focus on building the preconditions for change rather than trying to force change at a speedy pace. The pitfalls for CEOs of any tenure are well known, but the authors’ advice is especially applicable to new leaders. They warn: Don’t set unrealistic expectations, tardy decisions are as dangerous as premature ones, don’t be a know-it-all, don’t stick to past formulas that have worked for you, don’t surround yourself with yes-men or stifle dissent, don’t imagine that you are the lone savior of the business, don’t misread the true sources of power or pick the wrong battles, and never, ever disparage your predecessor.

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