New CEO? Here's what your first 100 days should look like

AboveBoard | Jun 15, 2022

Listen and learn, then take action.

Let’s set the record straight. The expectation for a CEO's first 100 days to involve an aggressive, hit-the-ground-running mentality to make their mark is not only outdated—it’s also a myth.

As it turns out, the 100-day goal post is actually an arbitrary marker. The truth is, executive transitions take time. In fact, it takes more than six months for 62 percent of externally-hired CEOs to become fully productive, according to data from McKinsey & Company. As for internal hires, 72 percent report it takes more than 90 days to become fully productive.

However, the journey to becoming a fully-integrated, effective leader doesn't negate the need to craft a new CEO 100-day plan. Rather, it underscores just how important it is for incoming executives to maximize their CEO first 100 days through “research, consultation, and introspection,” recommends Harvard Business Review. 

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Prepare your CEO 100-day plan as CEO-elect

Successful executive transitions begin before the first day as CEO. As CEO-elect, now’s the time to partner alongside the outgoing chief executive to build your understanding of the company’s culture, goals, key players, and more. This will help you avoid one of the most common mistakes new CEOs make—not “read[ing] the political situation well enough to build necessary relationships and coalitions,” per HBR

As CEO, one of your most important working relationships will be with the board of directors. Start building this connection as CEO-elect by increasing your visibility and participation with the board. Harvard Law School’s Forum on Corporate Governance recommends doing so by boosting “the scope and nature” of your participation at board meetings. Again, here’s where working in tandem with the outgoing CEO will come in handy; look to them to outline “boardroom norms and expectations.”

It's imperative to build connections not only with the board (and each director on the board), but also with “the company’s broader leadership group and key stakeholders" to fully “understand their perspectives,” according to the Forum. 

New CEO 100-day plans take stock

As an incoming CEO, one of your main focuses will be taking stock of where your organization is now and where it needs to go. Research published in Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths confirms this, concluding that executive transitions “should center on taking stock and action in a handful of areas without a firm timeline.” 

Executive transitions "should center on taking stock and action in a handful of areas without a firm timeline." 

As you begin the process of taking stock and planning action steps, it’s advantageous to take a human-first approach, recommends Deloitte’s Monitor Institute.

“Traditional transition plans are often quite technocratic and fail to adequately take into account the very real human dimensions of the transition, which are brought into even sharper relief when a more diverse leader is coming into the CEO role,” according to the Monitor Institute.

So, how do you embrace the human dimension of executive transitions? Deloitte recommends:

  • “Understanding the organization’s unique context and human systems.”
  • “Planning for the transition of critical relationships.”
  • “Investing in support for the incoming CEO.” 

Ultimately, these practices put relationship-building and connection at the forefront. Listening and learning in this context will help you navigate workplace dynamics throughout your first 100 days as CEO and beyond. 

Throughout the process of taking stock, it’s key to “strike the right balance between telling [your] story to build authentic, credible relationships and engaging in listening sessions to learn and gain insight,” per American Healthcare Leader. This two-part act is key to fully taking stock as a new CEO, allowing you to build meaning, rapport, and connection with your new team. 

New CEO 100-day plans lead to action

Directors, investors, and key stakeholders expect performance and action that leads to results, but they don’t expect it immediately. As you move from taking stock to taking action, it’s important to “take the time to make sure the actions you’re choosing to do are the right ones,” McKinsey associate partner Thomas Meakin said in an interview on CEO transitions.

McKinsey & Company recommends new CEOs take action in “five basic dimensions of leadership:” strategy and operation of the business, corporate culture, team, yourself, and other stakeholders. “When they’re complete, your transition is complete," the firm says.

  • Your business or function Once you’ve assessed your organization’s current standing, abilities, and goals, it’s time to communicate your vision as CEO. This is a pivotal moment in which to align and mobilize your colleagues, directors, and stakeholders.
  • Culture Most leaders fail, not because they lack the financial or operational know-how, but because “their style or political skills render them unprepared to manage the organization’s culture,” per HBR. Take time to intimately understand the workplace culture and dynamics you’re stepping into. Determine how your soft skills can help you navigate and transform it as necessary.
  • Team Do you have the vision, structure, and human capital needed to see your organization’s goals through? If not, what can you do to become a high-performing team?
  • Yourself Examine your leadership strategy in light of your new context. In which ways can you uniquely lead, and in which areas can you rely upon your team to take the lead?
  • Other stakeholders Do you understand your mandate? How can you build productive working relationships with stakeholders, including directors, key investors, and other members of the community?

Partner with AboveBoard to build cultural competence and advance DEI as new CEO

While many CEOs talk about 100-day plans, Mark Thompson, former president and CEO of The New York Times Company, told Harvard Business Review he believes longer transitions are more realistic. It takes time for new CEOs to get to know an organization's people, culture, and processes well enough to establish a strategic action plan.

Change takes time, and it starts at the top. That’s why at AboveBoard, we’re on a mission to equip executive leaders with the tools they need to foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. On AboveBoard's innovative hiring platform, underrepresented executives have access to hundreds of new career opportunities every month. From our one-of-a-kind hiring platform to ongoing support, career programs, and executive resources, AboveBoard is dedicated to building equitable workplaces from your first day as CEO to your 100th day and beyond.

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AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

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