Getting Up to Speed: The First 30–90 Days of an Executive’s New Function

By: Lysa Stewart

Quite often, highly regarded, high-functioning, effective executives are given additional responsibilities, or their roles get expanded. Whether this is long anticipated or unforeseen, executives who want to enhance their ability to make an impact and add value need to act prudently in the first three months of their new role or function. This is when the foundation gets laid for future success.

Getting up to speed quickly is crucial so as not to lose business momentum and to achieve the results the organization needs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that having been successful in the past doesn’t assure effectiveness in the new area. The following tips for executives taking on new roles or functions will help mitigate blind spots and ensure a successful transition for both the organization and the individual.

Take a listen-and-learn tour

If you’re new to a role or function but not new to the company, keep an open mind to ensure that your familiarity with the company doesn’t give you a false sense of knowledge and security. The wisest course of action is to embark on a listen-and-learn tour. You’ll want to meet quickly with your leader to discuss and align on important issues—e.g., how success will be measured, what decision-making authority and parameters apply, and what transition bumps can be expected. Also reach out to key colleagues across the organization to seek their input, gain critical points of view, and encourage transparent discussions that include questions such as, What does success look like to you? What advice do you have? What are your concerns?

Try to see the new area with unbiased eyes; tolerate being a non-expert and seek input and learning outside your own technical/functional comfort zone.

Build relationships with key stakeholders

Create a plan for building critical relationships with key stakeholders whose functions interface with yours. Schedule meetings to 1) find out what they need from you, 2) align on ways to best achieve both of your objectives, and 3) discuss potential areas of disagreement: How will we work most effectively together to achieve mutual goals? What is likely to get in the way? Map out a communication strategy and an appropriate meeting cadence across stakeholder groups to ensure ongoing alignment and mutual support.

Engage with team members

Communicating early and frequently with your new direct reports will help ease their trepidation over the shift. Try to provide as much information as possible about what will change and what will remain the same. Let them know your values, style, and work approach as a way to build trust and confidence—if applicable, compare your style with that of the prior leader to help your team understand any different expectations or procedures. As you get to know the team and the needs of the new function, you can begin a review of key staff and performance issues and ensure that roles and processes—as well as strategies, structures, and required capabilities—are in place to drive the strategic imperatives.

Try not to allow personal biases and prior knowledge to overly influence your judgment. HR is a great resource for historical and current knowledge of the function, its people, and its history. In addition, they can help identify high potentials, provide valuable insight into development plans, and conduct a new-leader-assimilation team exercise with direct reports to facilitate becoming better acquainted.

Clarify the vision

By taking the time to assess and analyze the surrounding landscape and business needs, you should be able to clarify the mission and establish the vision and strategic imperatives of the function. At this point, you can create (with your team) goals, objectives, and metrics for success (e.g., profitability). Of course, it’s important during the transition process to maintain business momentum. Identify the critical issues that require immediate action and prioritize business issues in line with the strategy.

The first 30–90 days not only set the tone but also are a critical time for understanding the challenges and particulars of a new function. By reaching out to key players (your leader, colleagues, key stakeholders, direct reports, HR), building relationships, collaborating effectively, and determining the vision and direction you want for the function, you can drive toward the desired outcomes and results that your leader had confidence you could achieve.


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