11 Ways To Make An Impact In Your First 90 Days: A Guide For CEOs And Business Leaders

Your first 90 days as CEO will set the tone for your entire tenure in the organisation.

Therefore, this is a crucial time, and the goal is to establish your credibility and trust, so the team and the shareholders have confidence in you moving forward

But how do you start the path to strong leadership and successful tenure as CEO? We turned to our TAB community for advice, and each of them provided detailed steps on how to take on the role to ensure future success.

#1 Learn, engage, communicate.

If you have walked into the role in good times, here’s how you should approach your first 90 days. In a crisis, these steps still apply but need to be implemented in days or weeks, not months.

  • Learn everything about the business: the financials, the products/services, the people, and the customers.
  • Engage with your leaders as soon as possible. Listen. Get your finger on the pulse of the company and keep it there.
  • Communicate to the entire team, live if possible. Introduce yourself, share what you are working on, and when you’ll have more to share.
  • Meet all employees individually or in small groups. Listen, learn, and encourage.
  • Work with your leaders to develop or amend plans, get board /owner approval as needed.
  • Communicate the overall plan yourself, have leaders communicate details to their teams.
  • Execute and deliver.

Mark Stockhowe, Owner at TAB Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul Area

#2. Observe, listen, and learn.

Many CEOs want to jump right in and get their feet wet to take action right away, but it’s best to take it slower in many instances. Take 3-6 months and meet with as many people as you can and ask a lot of questions and listen. Your team and your employees will tell you a lot if you ask the right questions, truly listen to what they have to say, and be receptive to the feedback. Based on this feedback, learn the business’s key challenges and develop a plan to address them. I promise you that if you create an action plan based on insights you learned from your team, your team will appreciate that you were listening, and they will value your leadership style.

John Mousseau, Owner at TAB Jersey Shore North

#3. Get to know the team.

  1. Introductions and Garnering Information: As an incoming CEO, meetings should be arranged to introduce themselves personally and professionally, highlighting vision and critical mandates. From here, essential listening is crucial to learn about the company and its culture. Meetings should be held first with direct reports at the executive level, followed by next-tier executives and department heads. Assemblies should follow these meetings with large groups of employees in a town hall format where possible. Identification of key influencers at all levels and getting to know them is highly recommended.
  2. Deep Discovery: From the introductory meetings, more detailed discussions should be arranged with smaller groups of each of the following: direct reports and other executives, department heads, along with influencers, to get a deeper understanding of some of the vital information garnered in the introductory meetings.
  3. Evaluation: Review mandate and draft strategies against insights from meetings. Revise strategy as necessary, frame actions with defined priorities and deliverables in timeline buckets. Identification of a few challenges or opportunities for quick, small wins helps build momentum, confidence, and acceptance.
  4. Refinement: Discuss new draft plans with the key stakeholders for feedback and buy-in. Finalise plans with KPIs along with a monitoring/evaluation type framework.
  5. Approval: Meet with the Board for agreement and sign-off at the end of the first 90-day period.

Angeline Gillings, CEO at TAB Miami West 

#4. Start at the cash flow.

What a CEO should do when first appointed depends on the company and their situation, but, in most cases, the first place to go is the cash flow. Ensure that the company runs an ageing analysis on receivables and payables and put in a DSO calculation for receivables. Cash is the lifeblood of a company, and if you don’t have that, you don’t have much else.

Steve Davies, CEO at TAB Nassau

#5. First diagnose, then act.

Start with a diagnosis by using DISC assessments to understand the personality and motivators of the management team. Meet them one-to-one and learn about their vision.

Attend the operational and strategic management meetings to learn about the content, process, and the participants’ behaviours.

Review the goals and the strategic plan with the management team. Work on their alignment.

Focus on execution and accountability.

Alfredo Puche, Director at TAB Nelson Marlborough, New Zealand

#6. Make a great first impression — and establish your leadership style.

The new CEO’s first 90 days is a honeymoon period where she will be feted and indulged and tested.

During this period, the CEO should make a favourable impression and instill confidence while she identifies challenges, determines her key objectives, and drafts a timetable. When the CEO makes known her values and demonstrates her leadership style, everyone in the organisation knows what to expect.

Joe Farach, CEO TAB Georgia Northeast

#7. Build trust and learn.

As a new CEO, the first 90 days are the most critical for building trust and understanding what is “really” going on in the organisation, not just what people want you to know. You will be stepping into an environment where people are worried that you will replace them with people you trust. They may already be interviewing in other companies.

Here are ten steps to get you started on the right foot:

  • Listen, Listen, Listen –Meet with each department’s leader and earn their trust in you. Find out what they would do to run the organisation better. Write down their ideas and do your best not to advise, re-direct, judge, etc. Just listen.
  • Listen more –talk to as many people who report to your leaders to see what is going well and what needs improvement.
  • Review goals- Review and understand the long-term and short-term goals, strategy, and plan.
  • Review past financials – Review and understand the past financials (for instance, 12 months before the pandemic), current year, and the rolling forecast.
  • Review the talent- Review talent and understand the gaps.
  • Review marketing and sales -Review the marketing and sales history.
  • Review the SWOT- Review the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Jot down ideas -Write down all the ideas your leaders and others gave you.
  • Share findings with the team – At 60-90 days, bring your team together and show them what you have uncovered and their ideas for improvement, risks, etc. Ask them what approach is the best option. Buy-in is key.
  • Create an updated plan -Put the updated plan into action, frequently meet to review progress, and adjust as needed.

Kim Seale, CEO at TAB Indy West

#8. Gather information from multiple perspectives and levels.

Where can we make improvements, and what would you do if you were able?

I worked for a $2B firm that had just filed Chapter 11 when the new CEO flew to see some customers and spent an hour with me on the above two questions.

Your dictating versus collaborating depends on how severe the problems are.

Bob Dodge, Owner at TAB Denver West

#9. Do absolutely nothing.

That might sound a little extreme. What it really means is this:

  • Do not make any big decisions
  • Do not make any sweeping changes

As a newly appointed CEO, you are qualified and competent for your job. You understand the business you are about to be running. You likely understand the product, the customers, the market, the operations, the company’s systems, processes, finances, etc. These are sometimes referred to as the “hard” pillars of management.

What you may not yet have a complete grasp of is the “soft” pillars. As you might guess, these are all people-related —relationships, feelings, sentiments. Maybe you’ve been with this company for decades and think you know everyone well. However, they have never known you as “the boss,” and you’ve never known them as your subordinates. Your new position, role, and title change everything.

Spend your first 90 days talking to everyone in the company. Ask questions, don’t pontificate. Look at the company with fresh eyes from a new perspective. Learn.

Being the new CEO does NOT make you the most competent person in the room.

On the contrary, it makes you the person in the room with the most to learn from everyone else. Save your ideas, opinions, and perspectives for your journal each night, which will come in handy later when it’s time to re-engage your team on the challenges the company truly needs to resolve. If done well, you will have a united leadership team attacking the mutually agreed upon challenges. You did your leadership job in the first 90 days; now, you only need to get out of their way!

The people will make or break your tenure as CEO — and that is guaranteed. These “soft” pillars of management deserve every minute of your first 90 days!

Joe Palmer, Owner at TAB North Texas

#10 Follow my seven-step process for a new CEO’s first 90 days.

Step 1: Clarify the mandate and build trust.

-Meet with the Chairman of the Board and verify the mandate as well as limits of authority.

-Start building a trust relationship and tap into the knowledge available.

-Communicate regularly to ensure you are playing within the rules of the engagement.

Step 2: Connect with, evaluate the team and clarify the way of working.

-Speak to your senior management/executive team. Ask the question: “What are the most important things you would have done if you had been appointed in this position?”

-Start the evaluation process and use a formal personal assessment tool to help you understand your colleague. This team will more than likely determine your success.

-Lay down the rules of how you work and what will be expected of them. Communicate well and make sure there are no hidden agendas.

Step 3: Gain a complete understanding of the companies product offering and key partners.

-Verify the company’s competitive advantages and identify potential new ones.

-Engage with all key partners (customers, suppliers, and other service providers) and get their view on the current status/performance of the business and how the relationships can be improved.

Step 4: Go for short-term wins and celebrate success.

-Identify low-hanging fruit and vigorously drive implementation of plans to achieve this.

-Gain as much forward momentum in the first 90 days.

-Celebrate success and make sure everybody knows about it.

Step 5: Formulate the plan and arrange a launch event to unveil it.

-Do not go public until you are clear about the plan

-With all the information gathered and soundboard your thinking throughout, formulate the critical success factors, goals, and strategies to achieve success.

-Present the plan to the Board, and once approval has been obtained, arrange a launch event to share it with the business.

-Use every opportunity to repeat this and answer all questions to ensure everybody is on the same page.

Step 6: Back up the plan with processes, systems, and people.

-Structure does not follow strategy. The process does, and systems do.

-Once process and systems have been agreed upon, make sure the right people are in place.

Step 7: Implement and make adjustments and celebrate success.

-Ensure there is a formal process in place to monitor and ensure effective execution.

-Respond quickly to new information and allow for adjustments if needed. -Be quick and communicate well.

-Celebrate success and reward people who go the extra mile.

Eduan Steynberg, Owner at TAB South Africa 

#11. A newly appointed CEO should do the three things in their first 90 days: be a leader, prioritise, and find trusted advisors.

The first 90 days will set the tone for your tenure as CEO. So start with the legacy you want for yourself in mind and make these three things happen:

  • Be a leader:
    First impressions make a difference, so use them to your advantage. Be transparent about your intentions and the characteristics you value in people. Share your vision for the business in a way that gets the team excited about the future.
  • Choose your priorities:
    Tap the full potential of the organisation early. Get them all moving in the same direction toward an initiative that will make a difference for the business.
  • Find trusted advisors:
    It will be lonely at the top. And you are going to need people you can go to for help with tough decisions. These folks may not be direct reports, and chances are they may not even work at your company or in your industry. Look for thought partners who also hold you accountable, people who are only looking after your best interest.

Ted Simpson, Owner at TAB Central New Jersey 


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