How to Hit the Ground Running: Mark Roellig

How to Hit the Ground Running:
A Guide to Successful Executive On-Boarding
Mark Roellig
EVP and General Counsel
Gordon Curphy, PhD
Curphy Consulting
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
How to Hit the Ground Running:
A Guide to Successful Executive On-Boarding
Mark Roellig, EVP and General Counsel, MassMutual
Gordy Curphy, President, Curphy Consulting
A Typical On-Boarding Story
Passive - Active Score
John set his mind on becoming a CFO at a major corporation since graduating from college 22 years ago.
After obtaining an MBA from a top tier school, steadily rising through the ranks with four different
companies, multiple relocations, many years of 70+ work weeks, and a long string of personal sacrifices
John was recruited to become the CFO of Segog, Inc., a Fortune 1000 manufacturer. Segog Inc. had steady
been losing market share to several Chinese manufacturers and missed its numbers in five of the last eight
quarters. The company was also experiencing cash flow problems and the stock had dropped over 40
percent. Although the previous CFO had been in the position for six years and was well liked, Steve was
asked to leave the company shortly after a strategic divestiture went sour. Trying to minimize the disruption
with the street, John joined Seagog Inc. two weeks after Steve left the company.
The Board of Directors, CEO, and the other C-level executives were under a considerable amount of
pressure and saw John as someone who could turn around Segog, Inc.’s financial performance. Impressed
with John’s background and plans, they gave him relatively free rein to do whatever was needed to restore
investor confidence. During his first three months at Segog, Inc. John replaced many of the leaders in the
finance organization with people who had worked for him the past. He knew these previous associates
would be loyal and help him succeed in his new position.
John focused on the job and his new department, working very long hours and hoping when things settled
down he would then have an opportunity to begin to engage more with all the leaders in the organization.
Many of John’s early decisions helped cut costs and improve cash flow, but after six months the Board of
Directors and CEO started hearing grumblings about the finance organization. The head of HR was asked
to investigate the rumors and reported that John and his inner circle had managed to alienate many of the
other C-level leaders and morale within the finance organization was at an all time low. When the CEO
brought this feedback to John he got very defensive and blamed the CEO for not providing the political
cover needed to drive change across the organization. John believed his initial results were just the
beginning and the company could expect even better results over the next year. He also went on to say
that he wasn’t running for a popularity contest and needed to break some eggs in order to get the
company’s fiscal house in order.
But over time the noise from the finance organization only increased in intensity. The marketing, sales,
and operations departments were in an uproar about some of the finance organization’s decisions and it was
not long before Segog, Inc.’s financial performance began to collapse. John was in the position for less
than a year when the CEO asked him to leave, and many were only too happy to see him go.
Unfortunately, there are many people like John who have worked incredibly hard to gain entry to the Csuite only to be shown the door a short time later. One might argue that some of these individuals were
never C-suite material to begin with, but more often than not easily avoidable on-boarding mistakes doom
well-qualified new hires to failure. Because there is no roadmap for successfully moving into a C-level
position, the purpose of this article is to describe a process that helps C-level executives successfully
integrate into a new company. Business Unit Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Directors can also make
successful transitions into new companies by adapting many of these same lessons. Internal candidates
promoted into positions of increased authority can also benefit by adopting some of the key steps in the
transition process.
In general, the first ninety days are critical to the successful integration of any new executive, as it is within
this short period of this time that the seeds for great success or derailed careers are sown. As such, new
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
Executive On-Boarding Process
Time Line
Preparing for
the First Day
Pre-hire data
The First
Meet the CEO
Town Hall
meeting with
The First Two
The First Two
Meet team
and staffing
Get feedback
Meet peers
Meet Stars
Other meetings
Other info
The Third
Team off-site:
Ops rhythm
executives need to take this time extremely seriously. There are several major objectives that new
executives need to accomplish during their first three months, and these include:
• Gaining alignment with the CEO.
• Building relationships with peers.
• Developing department strategy and structure.
• Creating a new department leadership team.
• Staffing the department.
• Changing the department culture.
As depicted in the graphic, successfully transitioning into a new company consists of five distinct phases.
Preparing For The First Day describes all the steps executives need to take once they have been hired but
before they have shown up for work. Many of these activities center around getting up to speed with the
company and function, arranging first day meetings, and ensuring administrative details are completed.
The First Day focuses on of two major events, which include meeting with the boss and meeting with the
entire function. In The First Two Weeks new executives spend time getting to know the staff and building
bridges with peers. Strategy, structure, and staffing decisions happen during The First Two Months, and
communicating and establishing the function’s values, metrics, operating rhythm, and culture happen in
The Third Month. A more detailed description of the key events associated with each of the five phases
can be found above.
Preparing For The First Day: Do Your Homework
Pre-Hire Data Gathering
Executives usually begin gathering the information they need to make successful transitions well before
they are even offered positions. In preparing for the interview process candidates are likely to have
navigated through the company’s web site, reviewed the bios of the key executives, and read the 10K and
proxy statement. In addition, at some point during the interviews they should ask why the company is
going outside for the position, what can make the function or department better, what works particularly
well in the department and what does not, what would they like to see changed in the function, and what
about the function keeps interviewers awake at night. Candidates also need to ask if there are any
significant substantive issues that require immediate attention. Candidates should not take notes during the
interviews but should write down what they heard after each meeting. In particular, focus on what the boss
says – these points should be the focus of immediate attention upon arrival.
Post-Hire Activities
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
Once you have landed the job your most important priority should be to learn more about the company.
New hires should go over the material studied and obtained during the interview process and begin deeper
dives with help from the company. They should review any analysts’ presentations listed on the company’s
investor relations web page and read the by-laws, the corporate governance guidelines, committee charters
and other relevant information on the governance page. Asking the investor relations team to provide
analyst reports on the industry, the company and its key competitors and going back to recent analyst or
earnings calls will also help the recently hired become aware of what the CEO, CFO and analysts are
focusing on for the company.
Continuing down this path, new executives also need to learn and
understand the company’s strategy. Asking for material presented in a board strategy session or from
someone in charge of company strategy can provide new executives with this information.
In addition to understanding the industry, business context, and company strategy, new executives also
need to start more in-depth learning about their department. They should ask their human resources contact
to provide bios or resumes of all the key leaders in the function. Also ask human resources to provide the
organizational charts for the company and the function, the performance appraisals, succession material and
compensation information for the key leaders in the department. Finally ask for copies of any presentations
relating to the department made to the board or senior management and the department’s budget and actual
spend, not only for the current year but the past two years as well. Focus on the areas and geographical
location of spend and the use of outside consultants.
Highlight: Should You Hire Your Previous Executive Assistant?
More often than not, the executive assistant will be the assistant of the departing executive. On balance
this usually is a good thing, as the predecessor’s assistant will know the company and department well and
can help guide new executives through the “unwritten rules” of where to park, what can be expensed, what
to wear and how to interact with the CEO, the board and other leaders. Predecessors’ assistants can also
flag and advise of any concerns or questions they see regarding compliance with any policies of which new
executives may not be aware. (It is usually a good idea to put this request in a memorandum, as new
executives cannot afford to get “hung up” in this area). Although new executives will have to evaluate the
challenges of divided loyalties, they are generally better off keeping incumbent assistants than taking the
risk of either bringing along ex-assistants or hiring brand new assistants.
Oftentimes new executives have assistants assigned to them prior to their first day. If not, then they should
ask the human resources department to provide someone who can help in the preparation of the first day.
New executives should contact this person, introduce themselves and make sure that that they will have all
the items they will need on day one – computer, office phone, blackberry, cell phone, etc. They should
also ask the assistant to provide any materials on the department (there may have been a strategy offsite or
objectives drafted for the department) that can be helpful to read in advance of the first day. This person
should arrange all of the new executives meetings for the first two weeks. Some of these meetings include
an in-person “Town Hall” with the entire department and initial meetings with the CEO, direct reports, key
business C-level peers/clients and controllers/budget coordinators. Assistants should also be tasked with
placing these events as well as all board meetings, leadership team meetings, analyst call dates, etc. on new
executives’ calendars.
The Critical First Day: You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression
Meet with the CEO
On the first day new executives will want to meet with the CEO for at least an hour if possible. After
exchanging the normal pleasantries, the focus should be on clarifying the CEO’s short and long-tem
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
expectations and how he or she prefers to work with members of their staff. Some of the topics that should
be covered during this initial meeting should include:
• Identifying key objectives, metrics and any important projects or short-term issues on which new
executives need to quickly get up to speed.
• Understanding department strengths and weaknesses and identifying areas of focus.
• Gathering opinions of individuals within the department and tactfully determining if anyone is immune
from any restructuring decisions down the road.
• Obtaining an overview of the board members and their areas of interest or concern.
• Working through communication styles and preferences (e-mail, voice mail, memos, meetings, etc).
• Describing the new executive’s plans for the day and next several weeks. New executives will want to
show that they have a plan and know what they are doing.
At the end of this meeting new executives should schedule the next meeting or conversation with the CEO
and ask whether weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings would be valuable.
Meet with the Entire Department
Sometime during the first day new executives should do a “Town Hall” type meeting with everyone in their
function. The purpose of this meeting is for the new executive to set initial expectations and define what
type of type of department they are looking to create. New executives should start the meeting by sharing a
brief summary of their background and experience and then transition into the attributes, values, and
culture they deem important to success. For example, some executives may want to create a department
that is strategic, proactive, creative, diverse, hard working, performance-driven, results-oriented, and
responsive to clients. Other executives may articulate a different set of values. This opportunity should
also be used to clarify expectations regarding illegal/unethical actions, harassment or inappropriate
behavior in the workplace and to describe the new executive’s leadership style. It is also helpful for
employees to hear about their new boss’ personality (and associated challenges), preferred ways of
interacting, work habits, family, recreational activities, and what they plan to do and who they plan to meet
over the next few weeks. The meeting should end with a question and answer session, but new executives
are unlikely to get any questions and that is fine for a meeting like this, as it is more of a one-way
communication than a “meeting.”
The First Two Weeks: Laying the Foundation
New executives should spend their first two weeks on the job meeting with many people inside and outside
the company. Because many of these people have other commitments, the administrative assistant needs to
schedule these meeting well in advance. The key objectives for these meetings are to: (a) learn as much as
possible; (b) develop relationships; and (c) determine future allies. As with all meetings, new executives
need to be very cautious about what they say or write, as they have no idea with whom they can confide.
Rest assured there is someone out there who, for whatever reason, is not happy with the new executive’s
arrival and will not want him or her to succeed.
Meet the Leaders in Your Department
New executives should use their office to conduct three-hour meetings with each of their direct reports.
They should prepare by reviewing the bios and resumes of direct reports and then using the meetings to ask
each person the following seven questions:
1. What are you working on? The answer to this first question could take half the time and include a
description of all the major projects in which he/she is engaged. This allows new executives to quickly get
up to speed on the major issues in the department and the company. Some individuals may not have
significant or large matters they are working on – with these ask them to “bucketize” their time. What type
of issues – in percentages – do they spend their time on during any given week? (Usually new executives
will set up further or follow-up meetings with these direct reports on important issues discussed in this
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
2. What are your objectives? New executives need to make sure they ask this after the first question, as
they will often be surprised at how unrelated an individuals objectives are to what he/she is working on
day-in and day-out.
3. Who are the “Stars” a layer or two down in the organization? New executives will usually hear the
same name(s) from multiple people, which lends more confidence that the named individual is indeed a
Star. Getting this right is critically important, as Stars play a vital role during the first two months of a new
executive’s tenure.
4. What are the “people issues” in the department? Asking this question is a little more challenging, as
new executives do not want staff members to think they are asking them to disparage others. But new
executives need to find out if there is someone who is not displaying appropriate behavior, withholding
information, impossible to work with, leading a dysfunctional team, etc. Executives need to do their best
on this one in order to avoid being surprised with an employment issue within the department. Assume that
this question will quickly leak to the other direct report meetings, but new executives still need to ask it.
Addressing any festering people problems in the first sixty days will make it clear who is in charge and
what behavior new executives will not accept.
5. What can the department do better? The answers to this question not only provide new executives with
ideas to improve the department, they also indicate whether the person has ideas or can think about, accept
and drive change. This will often be a tough question for new direct reports, because if something should
have been changed then it important to know why it hasn’t happened yet.
6 and 7. What advice do you have for me and what can I do to help you? New executives should close the
meeting with these two questions and pay particular note to the things they can do to help their direct
reports. They should avoid making any immediate promises but should close the loop on those requests
they will and will not fulfill sometime during the next two months.
Although new executives will want to start building rapport, they should minimize their “personal”
interactions with direct reports during the first two months on the job. Employees eager to build
relationships with their new boss will often offer to host dinner, assist in house hunting, do tours of the
local schools and community, etc. These offers should be respectfully declined. Business lunches are fine,
but getting together with spouses or families can make later decisions more difficult. New executives need
to make any restructuring decisions with only business factors in mind.
Meet Other Executives
During the first two weeks on the job new executives will also want to meet with their key C-level
peer/executives. These meetings are important first steps in building relationships that will prove critical to
long-term success, and should be treated as such. In general, these meetings should be about an hour in
length and take place in peers’ offices. This approach allows new executives to observe cues (sailing,
skiing, pet or family pictures, awards, knick knacks, etc.) that will allow them to better connect with their
peers. New executives should ask peers about:
• Their objectives, challenges and what the department can do to help them be successful. What the
department does well, what it can do better and their views of individuals in the department.
• How to best communicate with the CEO and other peers.
• How problems are identified, analyzed and decisions made.
New executives should make it clear they want and appreciate their peer’s help, as people like being asked
to help. Scheduling regular meetings in order to better appreciate peers’ values, goals and interests will
allow new executives to better communicate and interact with their peers. It is also important to note that
the CEO will be asking peers how the new executive is doing, which makes it even more important to
continue building bridges with peers. Along these lines, it is entirely acceptable to have more “personal”
interactions and accept “house hunting” assistance, family dinners, etc. from peers.
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
The Stars Will Have the Best Ideas for Improvement
Another key set of meetings during the first two weeks on the job is to have one-on-one sessions with any
other key members of the department and the Stars, the strong performing individuals whom direct reports
and others have identified. Stars will be the ones who will generally benefit the most by any change and
will likely have the most ideas for improvements. It is probably best to meet these individuals in a social
setting, but take a pad of paper - their ideas will fill it. These Stars are also likely candidates for the new
leadership team. If chosen then they will be incredibly loyal and well respected by others since they were
viewed as the organization’s Stars.
Other Meetings
There are several other meetings that new executives should schedule early in their job tenure. It is usually
beneficial to meet with those individuals who were in the department at one point but transitioned to
another leadership position in the company. These folks will know the players, will be happy to provide
their insights, and can provide extremely beneficial non-biased information.
New executives should also meet with their budget coordinators in order to fully understand the
department’s budget and areas of spend (internal and external), year-to-date spend and forecasted full-year
spend. Compare this to past years’ results and benchmark data. This can provide high-level insight into
areas that may or may not be led well.
Other Information You Need
There are two other areas of information new executives need to gather through their series of meetings.
First, they should identify what the company views as the most important roles in the department. This
information will be important as decisions are made on where to allocate the department’s best talent, and
this information may be obtained from the CEO, members of the department’s leadership team and peers.
Second, new executives need to know whether there were any internal candidates for their position and
why were they not chosen. New executives need to find out if someone is “festering,” hoping they fail, or
what the company was looking for in the position that was not present in the internal candidates. This
information may come from the CEO, human resources, a search firm, members of the department
leadership team or peers. Keep in mind, some of the peers may have supported an internal candidate, so
new executives need to be careful how they solicit this information from peers. It may be best to phrase
questions around why the company felt it necessary to go outside for this position as compared to focusing
on particular members of department.
The First Two Months: Strategy, Structure and Staffing
Obtain External Perspectives
As new executives learn about the industry, the company and department they will want to be accumulating
benchmark information on how other in entities in the industry, of similar size and presence, structure their
departments and their internal and external costs. The Conference Board and other associations can
provide some of this benchmarking data. C-level counterparts at other major corporations in the area can
be another source of benchmarking data. Many are more than happy to meet fellow professionals over
lunch or after work.
New executives may also want to meet with any consultants who are doing work for the department. These
individuals will both help new executives get up to speed on the some of the issues that the department is
facing and be able to explain the qualities of department employees with whom they interact. Be very
careful making any quick changes to the consultants the company has historically retained. Almost all
consulting firms have excellent consultants. Often the consultants currently working know the company
and interact well with members of the department. There is no reason to disrupt that relationship without
careful analysis - well beyond the first sixty days.
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
Strategy → Structure → Staffing
With all the data gathered from all the sources mentioned previously, new executives should be in a
position to determine the proper strategy, structure and staffing for the department. On restructuring, keep
in mind that structure should follow strategy and the needs of the business. What is the optimal structure
for provisioning department services based upon the company strategy and business? Centralization or
decentralization and matrix structures can all be effective based upon the business needs and culture. The
inputs received from the CEO, peers and the Stars will probably help the most in thinking about department
structure. Because they will be personally impacted, direct reports will more likely have more biased
views of how to organize.
The department’s key strategies and structure need to be finalized before any positions are populated.
Almost always, improvements can be made in all three areas. Along these lines, it is important to
remember that a predecessor’s decisions were not necessarily wrong. They were probably right at the time
made, but the company, strategy, and people have changed, and predecessors may not have evolved the
department to accommodate these changes or may have found it just too difficult to execute the necessary
changes. Everyone has “dogs” – department issues that leaders tend to avoid for months/years that
successors address in their first sixty days.
If the department is fairly large then new executives should be able to find all the talent they need to
populate the direct report team from within the organization. There are several consequences associated
with these internal promotions. First, new executives need to remember that every internal promotion often
Highlight: Don’t Disparage the Past
It may be easy or correct to be critical or say negative things about the earlier department and how it
operated, or to immediately implement a program or process that was very successful for a new executive
in the past. But these actions tend to have very little up-side and some significant down-sides. First and
foremost, new executives want their leadership team and department focusing on the future and not on the
past. Second, there are often individuals who made these past decisions who are still in the department, and
new executives need these individuals to support the new changes and not feel uncomfortable. Third, there
are often very good reasons for the decisions of the past. New executives will do better to understand and
learn from them than to immediately reject them. New executives should also keep in mind a program or
process that worked for them in the past may not work well with the new company or its culture, and any
successful change will need understanding and buy-in from the leadership team. Making numerous
references to “the way we did it at company X” only angers employees and reduces buy-in.
If it is appropriate, based upon the circumstance under which new executives assumed their position, then
they should consider meeting with their predecessor during the first sixty days. For one thing, there is no
reason to take the criticism that something was changed without any input from the person who made the
decision. And predecessors will value the fact that their successor showed respect to him or her and there
will always be people who liked the predecessor. New executives should also remember they too will be a
“predecessor” some day.
results in another two or three secondary promotions. Second, internal promotions also sends the message
that department members are valued. Third, new executives will get criticized for “cronyism” if they go
outside and bring in outside leaders from former employers. Executives who surround themselves with
folks they have worked with in the past, even if they are better than anyone currently on the leadership
team, will cause the entire department to believe that the culture is not a performance-driven meritocracy.
Even leaving a position empty to be filled later with an external search is a better message to the
department than hiring someone from the past. As staffing decisions are made, new executives also need
to keep an eye on diversity. Only a diverse team will give the different perspectives new executives will
need to be successful. It also helps establish a visible culture of opportunities based on performance, not on
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
other factors. After six months or a year in the position new executives can introduce people they have
worked with in the past, but be cautious bringing these individuals into the group. Regardless of what new
executives do, these hires will be viewed as “friends” and could negatively impact department morale and
“Socialize” and Obtain Support for Your Decisions
Within the first sixty days new executives should meet with the CEO to discuss their recommendations for
changes in the department. In all likelihood this will be the best opportunity for driving change for the next
five years, so new executives need to: (a) be bold; (b) address problems now; and (c) do what is right.
Make sure that the CEO understands and supports the recommended changes. After the CEO meeting, new
executives should talk with their peers about their department changes, although they may well have
covered the what and why of these changes during ongoing conversations with them. Since success will
depend more on the new leadership team than peers these are more “advising” than “consulting”
conversations. However, if peers are going to be working with new individuals who are different from
whom they liked and trusted in the past, then new executives need to explain the rationale for these
Don’t Forget the to Address the Substantive Issues
Of course, new executives must do all of the above at the same time they are engrossed in learning about
the department and business issues, strategies, goals, products, services, processes and policies and
preparing for board and executive leadership team meetings. New executives can’t neglect these activities
and need to do them exceptionally well. Although this transition will be extremely stressful, the high
visibility of a C-level position requires that new executives stay positive, engaged and energetic. No one
said the job was going to be simple, and past experiences and abilities should help new executives cope
with the demands of the position. Being a C-level executive now in corporate America is not for the faintof-heart, and it may be advantageous if new executives are commuting long-distance to the job for the first
several months as it allows for sixteen-hour days and airplane reading.
Reach Out for Feedback
It is worth noting that new executives will probably receive very little or no feedback on how they are
doing during their first sixty days. New executives will be driving blind and very possibly making repairs
and course corrections as they rocket down the highway. The best sources for feedback will be peers and
possibly the search firm that may have placed the new executive. They should keep in contact with the
search firm, as they will have sources back into the company. Ask them to reach out and provide feedback
on how it is going. The search firm is a friend and will have every incentive to ensure a new executive is
Notify Department Leadership Team Members
Once the CEO and peers buy in to the department changes, new executives need to have individual
meetings with all the old and new members of the department leadership team. These meetings should be
conducted in the new executive’s office and take place a day or two before the new department strategy and
structure becomes public. During the meetings with new department leadership team members new
executives should share their selection rationale, performance expectations, preferred working
arrangements, and the role the leadership team needs to play in the department. New executives also need
to meet with those individuals who will no longer be part of the department leadership team. These
meetings are necessary but will likely be very uncomfortable for both parties. New executives need to
share their rationale for why these individuals are no longer members of the department leadership team
and what their role will be in the new department structure. If new executives want the individual to
continue working in the department, albeit in a different capacity, then they should say so and encourage
them to stay. If not, then new executives will want to have worked out severance options with human
resources before these meetings, as it is likely that some of these people will opt to leave the department.
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
The Third Month: Communicate and Drive Change
Communicate and Establish the Culture
Once the CEO and peers are on board with the change recommendations, it is time for new executives to
communicate their departments’ key areas of focus and how it will be structured and staffed. The
communication to the department is again usually best done in person in a Town Hall meeting or similar
setting, with the ability for those who cannot attend to listen in.
In this meeting, or in any announcements for that matter, new executives need to specifically and directly
tie their recommended changes back to the attributes and values outlined in the first Town Hall meeting.
That is, new executives should explain why the new leadership team or particular structure or staffing
decisions are consistent with an organization which will be performance-driven, results-focused, partners
with the business, strategic, proactive, creative, hard working, responsive to clients, ethical and diverse
team players. New executives can change a culture more easily and quickly than they think. Change is not
about what executives say or the charts they put up, but rather the actions that they and their teams take that
are consistent with those words and charts. And the actions employees’ watch most is who gets hired,
rewarded, promoted and terminated. Employees watch their leaders like hawks. If executives want a hardworking and cost efficient culture, then they must work long days and not waste the company’s resources
in visible areas, such as office decor, travel, etc.
Actions for the Department Leadership Team
Executives should meet with their new leadership team rather promptly after the second Town Hall
meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to begin the process of molding this new group of leaders into a
cohesive, high performing team. In order to avoid interruptions stemming from issues du jour, this initial
meeting is usually a one and a half day off-site that is directed at the following six areas:
1. Determine the role of the department leadership team. Perhaps the most important objective of the offsite is to work out what role the leadership team will play in the overall management of the department.
For example, should the leadership team collectively determine department strategy and staffing decisions,
or should team members only be asked to exchange information and team leaders make all key decisions?
Getting the role of the leadership team right is critical to both department performance and morale. Our
recommendation is that the leadership team should be the decision-making body for all major department
issues, such as strategy, structure, staffing, succession planning, budgets, compensation and culture. There
are times when team leaders need to make unpopular decisions or make calls when the leadership team
cannot agree on a course of action, but in general team members will be more engaged and committed
when they have a hand in important department decisions.
2. Get agreement on the attributes or values of the department. During the first Town Hall meeting new
executives outlined the attributes they valued for individuals in the department. Now they need to ensure
the team is aligned on the department’s values. The values as well as their associated positive and negative
behaviors need to be clearly defined. Because the culture of a company or a department stems from the
collective values of its leadership, the leadership team must agree on and be aligned with the values that
will drive the department’s future employment, performance, and compensation decisions.
3. Get agreement on how the team will develop a department strategy with concrete specific objectives and
metrics to support and advance the business. Most likely, the other departments in the company will be
metrics driven, and the department will earn their respect by defining and tracking metrics to show the
value added to the business or areas that need management attention.
4. Establish an operating rhythm. Once the department’s strategy and objectives are determined, the team
then needs to agree on when and why it gets together. Leadership teams can improve efficiency and
effectiveness by establishing meeting frequency, attendance, goals, roles, rules, and formats ahead of time.
During the first several months the team should get together at least bi-weekly to address department issues
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
and drive change. Over time the purpose of the leadership team meetings will likely evolve to driving
execution of department strategy and the team’s underlying objectives.
5. Launch task forces to address areas of concern or improvement. The leadership team should identify a
number of areas in need of improvement based on the department’s new structure, objectives, and metrics.
Rather than resolving these issues during the off-site, new executives will get more buy-in if task forces are
used to formulate solutions to these problems. These task forces should be staffed with high-potential
individuals--the Stars in the department. This allows new executives to determine how strong these highpotential people are, or aren’t, and shows that new executives have been listening.
6. Ask each direct report to conduct a structure and staffing analysis for their organization. Now is the
best time for the leadership team to “size” the entire department correctly, as their chances for significant
change and improvement do not come often and it will get more difficult to make these changes if they are
not part of the initial transformation. Evaluate the benchmark data and ensure that when fully populated the
organization is below benchmark, or otherwise structured, to allow for future expansion with high quality
employees who meet your attributes and values. If the level of talent to fill certain positions currently does
not reside in the organization, then do not to hesitate to leave positions open to be replaced later. As the
leadership team completes their staffing decisions, again communicate and make clear why any decisions
or changes support the company’s strategy, help advance the business objectives and are consistent with the
department’s values.
Remember that any executive’s results will only be as good as the strength of the individuals on their
leadership team. Now is the best time to choose and empower the team that will make the company – and
the department - very successful.
After Ninety Days: Focus on the Future
At this point new executives should be well on the way to establishing the department’s new culture.
Executives should now focus on the continuing department work, the strategic provision of department
services to advance the business, the efficient deployment of department resources and continued
department improvements. The lonely work is completed—executives should now be working closely with
their leadership teams, which in turn are running well-structured departments. At this point the success of
the executive, team and department are inextricably tied together.
We started this article with a story about John, a new CFO who failed in less than a year of being hired.
We have found that many C-level executives and other leaders who fail during their first year often
overlook or dismiss many of the steps described in this article. This is unfortunate, as many of these
mistakes can be easily avoided. Although our advice may sound “formulaic” or easy, carrying out these
steps can be very difficult.
New executives have a unique chance to build leadership teams that can drive department change and
achieve great results. Executives who do this right will learn a lot, love doing it, and create direct reports
who are likely to emulate this process as they become senior leaders in other companies.
Mark Roellig is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
Company (“MassMutual”). Before joining MassMutual in 2005, Mark served as general counsel and
secretary to the following three public companies prior to their sale/mergers: Fisher Scientific International
Inc., Storage Technology Corporation (“StorageTek”) and U S WEST Inc. Mark received his bachelor’s
degree in applied mathematics from the University of Michigan, earned his law degree from George
Washington University, and his M.B.A. from the University of Washington.
Gordy Curphy is the President of Curphy Consulting Corporation, a leadership consulting firm based in St
Paul, MN. Prior to starting his own business in 2003, Gordy was a Vice President and General Manager
for Personnel Decisions International and an Associate Professor at the USAF Academy. Gordy earned his
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
bachelor’s degree from the USAF Academy and his PhD in industrial and organizational psychology from
the University of Minnesota.
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
Executive On-Boarding Checklist
Preparing For The First Day: Do Your Homework
Pre-Hire Data Gathering
Information to Gather from Public Documents
□ Review the company’s web site
□ Review the bios of the key executives
□ Read key SEC filings - the 10K and proxy
Questions to Ask During Interviews
□ Why is the company going outside for this position?
□ What can make the function better?
□ What works particularly well in the function, and what does not?
□ What about the function would interviewers like to see changed?
□ Are there any significant functional issues that require immediate attention?
□ What about the function keeps the interviewer awake at night?
Post-Hire Activities
□ Review analysts’ presentations listed on the company’s investor relations web page
□ Read the by-laws, the corporate governance guidelines, committee charters and other relevant
information on the governance page
□ Obtain analyst reports on the industry in general, the company and key competitors
□ Listen to analyst and earnings calls
□ Review strategy material
□ Read the last year of board and committee minutes
□ Review presentations to the board and the committees over the last year
□ Obtain bios/resumes of all the key leaders in the function
□ Obtain organizational charts for the company and function
□ Obtain function compensation information
□ Obtain the performance appraisals and succession material for the function
□ Obtain presentations relating to the function made to the board or senior management
□ Obtain the function’s budget and actual spend, for current year and past two years
Actions Items for the Executive Assistant
Items for Day One
□ Computer
□ Office phone
□ Blackberry
□ Cell phone
□ Key company policies
Events to Schedule Over the First Two Weeks
□ One hour in-person Town Hall on Day One - provide for phone or videoconference for non attendees
□ One hour initial meetings with the CEO on Day One
□ Three hour meetings with each direct report
□ One hour meetings with key business C-level peers/clients
□ One hour meeting with the budget coordinator
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
Events to Put on the New Executive’s Calendar
□ Board and committee meetings
□ Leadership team meetings
□ Analyst call dates
□ Annual meeting date
□ Other key dates or items
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
The Critical First Day: You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression
Meet with the CEO
□ Clarify the CEO’s short and long-tem expectations for the position
□ Identify objectives, metrics and any important projects or short-term issues to quickly get up to speed on
□ Discuss the strengths/weaknesses of the function
□ Identify where to focus on regarding the function
□ Get the CEO’s views of key individuals in the function (try to find out if anyone is “immune”)
□ Understand what the CEO sees as the most important roles in the function
□ Clarify the CEO’s preferred communication modes (email, voice mail, memos, meetings, etc.)
□ Ask the CEO to share the expectations the board has about the function
□ Ask the CEO to share his or her impressions of the board members and their areas of interest or concern
□ Ask the CEO how the company communicates with the board
□ Tell the CEO about your plans for the day and the next several weeks
□ Ask the CEO if he or she thinks weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings would be valuable
□ Schedule next meeting or conversation with the CEO
Meet with the Entire Department
□ Background
□ Experiences
□ Expertise
The Attributes You Value
□ Share the attributes you value with the department. Name no more than ten attributes, clearly define and
give examples of each attribute, and describe why the attribute is important
□ Share the expectations you have for all employees in the function. Be specific about what you will and
will not tolerate regarding employee behavior
Other Items
□ Tell the department what you intend to do over the next two months
□ Tell the department what modes of communication they should use to best interact with you
□ Share the personal you—faults, family, hobbies, etc.
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
The First Two Weeks: Laying the Foundation
Meet the Leaders in Your Department
□ Ask direct reports what they are working on or how they “bucketize” their time
□ Ask direct reports to share their objectives
□ Ask direct reports to identify the “Stars” in the function
□ Ask direct reports if there are any “people issues” in the function
□ Ask direct reports what the function can do better
□ Ask direct reports for their advice for running the function
□ Ask direct reports what you can do to help them be successful
Meet Other Executives
□ Ask peers about their objectives and challenges
□ Ask peers what the function can do to help them be successful
□ Ask peers what the function does well
□ Ask peers what the function can do better
□ Ask peers what they see as the most important roles in the function
□ Ask peers to share their views of individuals in the function
□ Ask peers how to best communicate with the CEO
□ Ask peers how company executives communicate with each other
□ Ask peers how company problems get analyzed and decisions made
□ Ask peers about any “unwritten rules” or practices you should be aware of
□ Tell peers you want and appreciate their help
Other Key Actions During the First Two Weeks
□ Meet the Stars
□ Meet others who were once in the function but now have other jobs in the company
□ Meet with the person in charge of the function’s budget
□ Identify if there were any internal candidates for the position and why were they not chosen
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
The First Two Months: Strategy, Structure and Staffing
Obtain External Perspectives
□ Gather benchmark information about the structure and costs of similar functions in the industry
□ Meet with the consultants doing work for the function
Strategy → Structure → Staffing
□ Determine the overarching strategies and objectives for the function
□ Determine the best structure to achieve these objectives
□ Identify the right people to put into key roles in the new structure
□ When possible, promote from within
“Socialize” and Obtain Support for Your Decisions
□ Meet with the CEO to review the function’s new strategy, structure, and staffing
□ Meet with peers to review the function’s new strategy, structure, and staffing
Don’t Forget the to Address the Substantive Issues
□ Ensure the function continues to deliver during your transition
Reach Out for Feedback
□ Ask the CEO, peers, recruiters, etc. for feedback
Notify Department Leadership Team Members
□ Meet with all new department leadership team members
□ Determine positions for former department leadership team members
□ Determine severance options for former department leadership team members with human resources
□ Meet with all former department leadership team members
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010
The Third Month: Communicate and Drive Change
Communicate and Establish the Culture
□ Schedule a Town Hall meeting to announce the new strategy, structure, and staffing
□ Ensure all structure and staffing decisions are aligned with the function’s attributes
Actions for the Department Leadership Team
□ Identify dates and a location for the off-site with direct reports
□ Determine the role of the department leadership team
□ Gain alignment on the attributes driving future employment, performance, and compensation decisions
□ Gain alignment on the function’s strategy and major objectives
□ Establish a new operating rhythm
□ Launch task forces to address key challenges facing the function
□ Ask direct reports to evaluate the structure and staffing in their departments
© Mark Roellig and Gordy Curphy 2010